The past 18 months have been challenging for expats around the globe as we have faced the arrival of Covid-19 and watched our world completely transform around us, forcing all of humankind to learn how to adapt to a new way of life.
It hasn’t been easy for anyone, and for expats and those living globally, travel restrictions have prevented many of us from seeing family or traveling to our home countries for longer periods of time than any of us would have ever anticipated.
Because of this reality, it has made ‘making plans’ or planning ahead difficult when one day the world situation is improving, and the next day it’s so much worse.
Last week was American Thanksgiving, and at Trova Health our Executive Team decided to have a ‘Week of Gratitude’ in honor of our American friends and family around the world. We decided Thanksgiving was the perfect time to give attention to the many things we are grateful for in our lives and share our thoughts with our global expat community on our social media.
I decided to share that after 2 1/2 years of being separated from family, my husband, kids and I were finally traveling home from Botswana to the UK to be with his family for Christmas. It was a long overdue trip, and one that we were so excited to finally be taking!
Up until recent months, Botswana has been on the Red List for travel along with most countries in Southern Africa because of the high number of Covid-19 cases in the region, and when those restrictions were lifted back in October, we jumped at the chance to finally book flights home and make plans with our family to be together at Christmas.
Following my gratitude post last week on our Trova Health Instagram page (@trova.health), a new variant of Covid-19 was discovered in Botswana called ‘Omicron’, and many countries around the world, including the UK, reacted by closing their borders to all incoming flights from Southern Africa. Botswana was immediately put back on the Red List, and we are now facing the reality that Christmas at home in the UK is no longer an option.
How this news affected us
On the morning that we learned about this new variant Omicron via an expat WhatsApp group that I am part of, my husband was out of town on a work trip, and as I packed my kids lunch boxes and got them ready for school, I shakily held back the tears that threatened to fall, not wanting to break the unfortunate news to my kids before my husband returned and we could do it together.
My kids were so excited about our Christmas plans and could talk of nothing else, and as a family we had been enjoying many weeks of making plans with their Grandparents, cousins, and Aunties & Uncles who were desperate to see them after such a long period of time. The idea of telling them about the change of plans was too much for me to bear alone.
When I dropped the kids off at school that day, my tears flowed uncontrollably as I drove home and wept for a situation that was out of my control. I wept for a plan that was now broken and there was nothing I could do about. I wept for my kids and their aging grandparents who so desperately wanted to see them, and I wept for my husband who needed a break from his busy work schedule and some much-needed downtime with his family.
I shared my sadness with a few expat friends and also my fears about breaking the news to the kids.
A good friend of mine and one of Trova Health’s Expert Therapeutic Counsellors – Truida Botha – gave me some great advice by suggesting to me that the best way for us to move forward as a family was to be completely open and honest with our kids, and to not hide our feelings of disappointment and sadness.
I appreciated hearing this and decided to give it a try.
When my husband returned home later that day, we sat the kids down and explained the situation. This time I let the tears flow in front of them (it was impossible not to), and my husband told them how angry and hurt he felt about a situation that we had no control over.
To our complete surprise, the kids were amazing about it. They expressed how much they missed their grandparents and had really hoped to see snow for the first time, but then they started pointing out all of the positive reasons for staying in Botswana over the holidays - like the fact that on Christmas day we could open a gift, then jump in the pool, then open another gift, then jump back in the pool. They pointed out that we couldn’t have a Christmas like THAT in the UK, and that’s all it took for them to see the bright side of the situation.
Looking at our situation through the lens of my kids, I suddenly had a very new perspective, and from that moment forward we began to focus on all of the positive reasons for not traveling over the Christmas holidays, as difficult as that reality was to accept.
Here are my 5 tips for staying positive when Covid-19 changes your holiday plans:
1. Be honest with yourself about how you feel
It sucks when plans change, and we may experience a variety of emotions, but that’s okay because it’s your body’s way of reacting to something that you care about. If you feel the need to cry, let the tears flow. If you feel angry or hurt, admit this to yourself and know that it’s okay to feel this way too. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve what has been lost, and whatever way grief arises in you, allow those feelings to surface so that you can eventually move beyond them.
Once I stopped fighting my tears and allowed myself to cry, I felt so much better afterwards.
2. Share your feelings with other people
Expressing how we feel, out loud, is very important. Talking to our spouse, a close friend, or even our children can help us all to feel more connected to each other. By sharing our feelings with other people, it helps us to unload our burden, and permits them to feel safe in expressing their feelings too.
When we showed our kids that I was sad and my husband was angry about the situation, it didn’t frighten them as I thought it might, but instead they felt safe to talk about how they felt and I know they appreciated us being completely honest with them because at the end of the day, that’s what kids want from us parents.
3. Try to look on the bright side
There is always a bright side to every situation if you choose to look for it. We have always been a ‘glass half full’ family, and once we started looking for the positive reasons for not traveling over the Christmas holidays, we actually started to get a bit excited about the many possibilities for fun we could have together by staying at home. I even felt a bit relieved at the thought of not having to travel during the busy season and instead stay safe together at our home in Botswana.
4. Speak with your family back home
This change of plans has not only affected us, but our entire family who have been anticipating our arrival home after such a long time apart. We knew the conversation would be difficult, but once we jumped onto FaceTime with them, shared our disappointment, and agreed on the absurdity of the situation, the conversation quickly turned to making new plans for our next trip home, whenever that may be, and agreeing that when that time did come it would be a wonderful celebration for us all.
5. Start making new plans
The idea of making new plans can be hard when the previous plans haven’t worked out, but hard as it may be, allow your mind to look ahead and imagine the possibilities the future may hold. We can’t control everything in life, but what we can do is make plans for the future and hope for the best. Rather than dwelling too much on what was lost, try to focus on what might be and allow yourself to get excited about the new possibilities. It may turn out better than you think.
The expat life can be challenging, especially now with Covid-19 looking like it’s here to stay, at least for a while. Our plans may not always work out as planned, but sometimes they work out even better than planned, so be open to new possibilities, and try to believe that everything happens for a reason.
Look for the positive aspects of your new circumstances and you might be surprised by what you see!
Are you an expat facing a similar situation where Covid-19 has affected your travel plans? Join the discussion with us about this post topic over on Facebook or Instagram (@trova.health)