Christmas can be a wonderful time of the year – with sparkle and magic, heart-warming get-togethers and days filled with laughter and joy – but it’s not like this for everyone.
2020 has been a year like no other and December continues to be a challenging time for many. Christmas can also be a period when family expectations add pressure, financial burden creates anxiety and relationship problems are heightened. And the festive season can be particularly hard if you’re experiencing difficult times like bereavement, infertility, depression, separation, or divorce.
So, here are some suggestions to help you take control, reduce stress levels, and treat yourself to a little more peace and kindness during the holiday season:
(1) Have realistic expectations If you’ll be spending a lot of time with extended family, be realistic about what you can expect. Unless something has specifically changed, don’t set yourself up for disappointment and expect your family dynamics to be different. Prepare yourself for what’s likely to happen. And while you can’t change others, you can focus on the things you can control, such as yourself, and work out some coping strategies (see below).
(2) Plan ahead and set a budget To help reduce pressure and anxiety, make a list of everything that needs to be done in the run-up to and on the day itself. Plan how much you’re going to spend, and what needs to be done when. And ask family members to help with tasks where possible. As for gifts, bear in mind that people and children will remember the quality times they have with you far more than the presents they receive.
(3) Make new family traditions There may be several family festive traditions you take part in, perhaps making your own cards, Christmas cakes, attending certain gatherings etc. People often feel compelled to continue these rituals long after the enjoyment has gone. But it is possible to break from tradition, or even create your own, and reduce the pressure on yourself.
(4) Learn to say ‘No’ It’s very easy to overcommit at Christmas. There’s a multitude of party invites (which might be replaced with festive Zoom calls this year!) that flood in during the holiday period, but it’s fine to politely decline these if it feels too much. Think about what your priorities are and should be, and try keeping your mental wellbeing at the heart of these. After all, it’s much easier to say ‘no’ if you know what you’re going to say ‘yes’ to.
(5) Allow yourself to feel sad Christmas can be very hard if a loved one has died, whether the loss is recent or several years ago. You may feel you need to hide your sadness and put on a brave face. Instead, give yourself permission to lean into your grief and talk about how you are feeling. It can help others around you too, by letting them know you are comfortable talking about the person you’ve lost.
(6) Take some time out Give yourself some quiet time and a chance to breathe. Escape the hustle and bustle for a few moments to focus on relaxation techniques, such as practising mindfulness. If you’re grieving, as well as feeling sadness, try to also take time out to remember and smile at the good times you’ve shared with the person you miss – the memories of Christmas past can help to sustain you in the present.
(7) Do something different If the thought of facing your regular Christmas arrangements fills you with dread, think about alternative plans. 2020 is a year like no other, so it might be a good excuse to do some things differently, especially if you feel family members may be resistant to change. If you’re going through a difficult time, the key thing is to focus on what you need and not always on what others want.
(8) Find ways to be with others If you’ll be celebrating Christmas on your own, or perhaps without your children, look into other ways you can connect with people. Not only can you do this virtually, but there are also plenty of volunteering opportunities you can do to meet others and lend a helping hand or provide some company. And if you won’t be seeing your family over Christmas, remember this isn’t the only time magical moments can be created.
(9) Think “Good is enough” We often feel a lot of pressure to make sure everything is perfect at Christmas – the food, the gifts, the decorations, the state of the house and so on. And aiming for perfection can place a lot of pressure on our marriages and relationships at this time of year. Instead, decide that ‘good is enough’ and focus more on simply enjoying the process than in trying to achieve perfection.
(10) Don’t let others push your buttons Remember that if someone says something hurtful or critical, it says more about them than you. Their words may provide an insight into what they might be feeling and what might be the cause. Jealously, loneliness, a sense of being overlooked – these can all drive negative comments. Moderating your response and acknowledging why the person might be feeling frustrated can go a long way in helping you diffuse the tension.
(11) Get outside The shorter daylight hours and lack of sunshine can negatively impact our mood. And over Christmas it’s easy to spend whole days indoors. Exercise and daylight can help combat the effects of depression, distracting you from your thoughts and stimulating ‘feel good’ endorphins. After being cooped up, getting outside can also help reset things at home, reduce tensions and allow children to expel some energy!
(12) Know where to turn to for support The old saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” is true; talking things through can definitely help to reduce your anxiety. But if you don’t feel you can open up to those around you, a counsellor might be able to help. They can put things you may be overthinking into perspective and teach you coping strategies to help you through the holiday season.
While for some of us Christmas can be something of an endurance test, the season can also provide a sense of hope and new beginnings. This has certainly been a difficult year, but it’s shown us all the importance of supporting and reaching out to others – not to mention being kind to yourself and asking for help when you need it. With the new year around the corner, it’s good to reflect on these things and look towards a more positive 2021.
All of our Talk in the Bay counsellors and therapists are qualified to help you. So, if you would like to find out more, please get in touch here or speak to us on 0292 010 3173.
If you need professional help getting through Christmas, you can also speak to your GP or call Samaritans free from any phone on 116 123.