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How to celebrate the holidays away from family

For a lot of people, the holidays are already a stressful or sad time, and with limits on gatherings and travel during the pandemic those changes can hurt families.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It's only October and at the speed this year is going, Thanksgiving and Christmas are eons away.

But as people start to plan for the holidays, some may be spending them alone for the first time.

"These holidays this year make even more reason to check in with family and extended family," said Ben Harrington, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee.

Harrington said the holidays are already stressful to begin with, so distance from loved ones doesn't help.

But there are ways to prepare for it.

"Start spending a whole lot more time on FaceTime with grandma and grandpa and letting your children actually do that frequently," said Harrington.

Getting everyone used to the technology will make a Zoom Thanksgiving dinner more normal.

For those still wanting to travel, overall safety from spreading or catching the virus is a toss up.

Dr. R. Michael Green said any travel puts everyone at a higher risk.

"I think all of these decisions that we make are a calculated risk on whether going and seeing some of those families are worth it for them and for us," he said.

He recommends getting a COVID-19 test a few days before any planned travel, enough time so you'll get your results before leaving.

Leading up to a trip to see family, consider self-quarantining ahead of time to minimize your exposure to others.

Harrington said now is the time to start talking to your family if you don't feel comfortable gathering this year.

"It doesn't mean you don't like them as family members, it means you do love them and you want to protect everybody to make sure they can be with you next Christmas for sure," he said.

This year try hosting a watch party on Zoom so you can still see your favorite holiday movies together.

Cook food for your family to come pick and eat it together virtually.

For kids who won't see Santa at the mall, don't worry. He's got you covered.

"Santa knows," said Harrington. "Santa sees you 365 days a year so just remember he's watching."

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