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Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic.

EAU CLAIRE — With COVID-19 cases at an all-time high in the country, gatherings and celebrations in 2020 will look different than in previous years. Many will not happen, while others will take place over computers instead of in-person as public health precautions.

With the holiday season beginning next week, Craig Sawchuk, clinical psychologist and co-chair of the Integrated Behavioral Health Division at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, provided guidelines for navigating decisions and conversations with loved ones in the weeks and months ahead.

Sawchuk laid out five tips to think about when determining travel plans for the holidays: make a decision based upon your values; have the conversation early about what you decided; don’t turn your decision into a debate; be flexible and open to doing holiday activities differently; and be realistically optimistic for the present and future.

When informing people of your decision not to gather with them, for example, use simple, declarative messaging such as. “I love you, we want to spend time with you, and we’re choosing to stay at home,” Sawchuk said.

Sawchuk said the best course of action is the “broken record routine” of a brief statement that clearly explains what you are doing without over-explaining why you are doing it.

“If you’ve made this decision and it’s based upon your values, it really is not a debate,” Sawchuk said.

Ideally, people can amicably agree to disagree. If that is not possible, suggest talking again after the holidays.

When talking about decisions with a spouse or partner that lives in the same household, people should communicate and be on the same page regarding what they decide.

Sawchuk also said the only thing you can control is what you say and how you say it. You can’t control how others interpret what you say, so choosing words carefully is crucial.

If conversations could result in you causing or receiving guilt, ask, “Is it more important to be right, or is the relationship more important?” Sawchuk said.

Ideally, relationships have a strong enough history to overcome current difficulties.

If you are physically separated, reach out early and try to figure out how to keep any traditions going virtually. Other options include sending care packages and writing letters to loved ones.

“We’re adaptable; that’s the nature of being human,” Sawchuk said.

To aid one’s mental health, have some sense of positivity while still accepting the significant losses for so many people this year.

“Be optimistic but not deluded,” Sawchuk said.

If a person is grieving the death of a friend or family member, the first step is accepting how difficult this year has been.

“It really is OK to not be OK,” Sawchuk said. “It’s normal to not really feel normal at this time … It’s been hard, and we have to acknowledge that it’s been hard, but maintain that optimism. Just imagine how good these get-togethers are going to be once we’re able to get back to living life normal.”

There are fewer events to look forward to, like holiday celebrations, weddings and graduations, but some sense of optimism is vital in the months to come.

“We will get to the other side of this, but we also are taking a lot of hits along the way,” Sawchuk said. “We will get through this. Sometimes we don’t actually know exactly how we will, but we’ve gotta trust that we are adaptable and we will get to the other side … Maybe we’ll celebrate twice as hard in 2021.”