It’s that time of year laden with so many expectations to be the most wonderful time of the year, a time for family, treats, presents and celebrations. Often the reality is people are mentally, emotionally and physically hanging on to the thinnest of threads .By the time Christmas is here relationships are strained, expectations are massive and the bank account is looking overwhelmed.
While I may be sounding like the Christmas Grinch, over the years in my therapy clinic I see people become more stressed as the days approach Christmas .
Data from the American Psychological Association showed that 38 per cent of people say the holidays increase their stress levels. Another 26 per cent of people feel sad or lonely during the holidays.
But a new study has revealed the key to surviving Christmas, without letting stress give way to more serious mental health problems, is to lower your expectations, practise forgiveness and operate at a slower pace.
So what are some tips to not only survive but thrive the silly season?
- Make a realistic plan
Work out a plan of who you are catching up with, what food/gifts to bring and don’t over reach expectations. If its “bring a salad” do just that and resist the urge to become Jamie Oliver in the kitchen. Make it realistic and add double the time to get prepared so you’re not rushed.
You can’t please everyone so you may need to cancel or limit what is on the Christmas visiting list and offer to catch up after the crazy season has passed.
- Indulge but stick to some good health routines
Traditionally it’s a time to indulge and let go so we can really have something to feel terrible about for our New Year’s resolutions. Excess of food and alcohol can create swings of anxiety, depression and also trigger conflict. So be kind to future you and keep up the healthy routines of exercise, plenty of water, sleep and rest so your mind and body can fully enjoy the holiday season.
- Minimise time with people/things which are negative
There are often people ,places or things which create a negative impact. Not all family/Christmas occasions are happy, life affirming experiences and while you may attend out of duty it can be best to set a time limit on these. Avoid having people who you may not get on well with at your home but instead arrange a meeting place which is neutral or you can leave with little fuss.
- Maximise time with those/things which are good for you
This follows on naturally from above, so maximise the people, events and experiences which are positive and rewarding to make the most out of the season. Remember everyone else is possibly stressed so a smile, kindness and assuming the best of intentions can help maximise the enjoyment.
- Christmas isn’t the same for everyone
Not everyone experiences Christmas the same, this may be due to religious, cultural or other reasons. For some Christmas is a time which can be very sad as it can be a reminder of a death, tragedy or loss and its important to be aware of this not only for others but for yourself. If this is the first Christmas without a loved one create some space or time to honour and acknowledge this and be compassionate as grief is like waves coming and going.
- Get away from Social Media/TV
Switch the TV off, get away from the FOMO ( fear of missing out) of social media and be more present with the time with family and friends. Maybe offer to give back to the community in some way, donations of food, gifts or time can help connect to a deeper sense of meaning.
- Reflect and gratitude
Take time to reflect on what you are grateful for and if you have cultural/religious/spiritual beliefs around Christmas reconnect with these. This time of year can be an opportunity to reflect on the past period of time, recount your blessings and share kindness with others regardless of personal belief systems. Kindness is always beneficial!
- NO delving into big issues
Put big ticket issues on the shelf for this period of time if possible, acknowledge there are issues but give yourself/others permission to come back to these at a time when there is less stress and chaos happening.
Also there is often more alcohol/drugs being consumed at this time of year which combined with family stress and end of year fatigue normally results in unnecessary conflict and relationship problems.
With so many families being blended, separated ,custody access issues etc this time of year can be a complicated series of manoeuvres and extra tension . It can sometimes be a minefield of arrangements but if you can have clear and realistic plans in place then issues can be reduced. Allow some stuff to just ‘roll off’ and not make mountains out of mole hills as this is only a short period of time and there are many other opportunities to connect with family throughout the year.
Most of all enjoy what you can and be extra nice to those who are still working!