Managing at Christmas
While Christmas can certainly be a wonderful time of year, the festive period and lead up to the New Year also come with a lot of heightened emotions, demands and extra external and internal pressure. The social and cultural pressure to be happy and jolly all the time, to spend time with family when we might have difficult and fraught relationships or be estranged from them, or be struggling with grief and loss that’s fresh or really hits hard around the holidays. The pressure to be warm and fuzzy and connected to people and ourselves while feeling lonelier than ever, financial pressure and struggles heightened around Christmas and buying gifts. These added pressures of the festive period can be draining in themselves as well as having the potential to exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. It is a lot to cope with and sometimes that really outweighs the sentiment of “the most wonderful time of year”.
In addition, the lack of sunlight from longer nights and shorter days can also massively impact our well-being, interfering with our circadian rhythms and the production of serotonin in our brains. Seasonal affective disorder can contribute to feelings of low energy, low mood and depression, adding another layer of difficulty into an already demanding time of year. As we gear up to enter a New Year, there is increased pressure to change ourselves or examine our negative traits and habits more closely, which can feed into detrimental cycles of negative thinking, warping our mindset so that we’re only focused on seeing the bad. New Years resolutions can be totally harmless and a fun way of setting goals, but if you’re already not in a good place then the sentiment of “change!” “be better!” “new year new me!” can feel like an added weight. If this all resonates with you, you’re not alone. How you feel is completely valid and even if you can’t explain it or pinpoint exactly why you feel this way, it is okay and you are deserving of help and support.
I wanted to lay out a couple of important things to remember when it comes to looking after ourselves at this time of year, as a little Christmas self-help guide:
- Managing expectations – As I mentioned, we do tend to put extra pressure on ourselves and our loved ones to be the happiest we’ve ever been at Christmas time, maybe uncharacteristically so. It is important to realise that Christmas – while it can be special – is just another day and we are still the same people. Be gentle with yourself; remember that there is no reason to feel any guilt or shame for dealing with difficult thoughts and feelings at this time of year. You deserve support and understanding every day of the year.
- Take time for yourself – If you find socialising at Christmas stressful and know that it can trigger further thoughts and behaviours, it might be useful to plan some alone time in advance to help yourself relax and have a little bit of peace away from the eyes of others. Setting limits and boundaries and communicating them calmly and effectively to loved ones and family is important and beneficial for managing your well-being. You know the expression “you can’t pour from an empty cup”? Being able to re-charge and have some down time will make spending time with others a little easier and hopefully boost your energy levels a bit so you can have fun with your loved ones when the time comes.
- Don’t compare yourself to others – you might feel like you should be having the best time in the world on Christmas day, and feel pangs of jealousy or guilt if you see others on social media looking like they’re genuinely enjoying themselves while you’re struggling and can’t seem to make the best of it. Avoid snooping on what other people are doing, how they’re spending the day, how many gifts they got or gave – social media is only a tiny window into other people’s lives and is heavily curated to only show the highlights. Focus solely on you and being present in the moment with the people you’re with. Practice positive mantras or affirmations such as: “today I take a moment to count my blessings” or “today, the sights, sounds and smells fill me with joy”.
- Home make your gifts – Yes, time is a luxury especially if you are a parent and you work full time, but if you’re struggling financially setting aside some free time to home make your gifts – whipping up some baked goods or making candles – can be a good way of making something sentimental and thoughtful without breaking the bank. It is not simply all about money and putting the time, thought and effort into making something for a loved one to show your appreciation is a wonderful thing to do.
- Let somebody know you’re struggling – Having somebody that you can confide in and talk to about how you’re feeling is incredibly valuable. It doesn’t have to be somebody in your family, maybe an online group or community with people who you know understand. Letting it out and not bottling it up can be cathartic and help you to navigate the social situations you find yourself in with a little more clarity and peace of mind.
I hope you found that helpful! You can always reach out to me on social media or book in a Discovery call with me if there is anything you wish to discuss further in a 121 setting. If you’re struggling right now, I see you. Keep going – you’ve got this!
Stay safe everybody