Some thoughts for those feeling a bit nervous about Christmas
Christmas anxiety is a (common) thing
I adore Christmas. Somewhere deep inside of me I’m a Christmas person. I want to do all the sights and smells and tastes of my Christmas dreams and walk in the snow and sit by the fire and enjoy the carol singers and decorate the tree, slowly with the Christmas tunes playing
But over the years I’ve learnt that reality isn’t always like that. Some recent Christmas periods have been extremely challenging in fact. I know I’m not alone in that experience
Christmas is a time of coming together and as we are just humans with all our ups and downs and there’s a huge dose of pressure to be purely loving and tolerant and happy at this time of year, Christmas can become a great big, high-pressure, anxiety-provoking mess
In all I’ve been working on in myself these past couple of years I’ve found a few things have started to help and thought to share a few with you
So here are some little ideas for those whose hearts are beating a little faster with each passing day of advent (and not necessarily from excitement!).
1. You’re normal
“Christmas approaching” (now changed to “major holiday approaching”) is listed on the Holmes Rahe scale (of the most stressful life events).
If you’re stressed, you’re not alone, no matter what you see in the films and ads and hear in the lyrics of Christmas songs. Give yourself a break and for goodness sake don’t blame yourself. This doesn’t mean it’s ok or we should just all be stressed and be done with it, but there’s nothing worse than beating yourself up for feeling how you feel because you “must be the only one and everyone else looks so happy”
We can work on the whys and how to work towards making some changes another time 😉
2. Remember it will pass
Celebrate it. Don’t celebrate it. It’s just a festival that isn’t even thought about in many parts of the world.
Your health and that of others around you is far more important than doing it “properly”. Take away all the shoulds and just do “what you can, with what you have, where you are” (Theodore Roosevelt). Gently does it. Getting all stressed and annoyed because “things would be so much better if…..” isn’t going to help right now. If you have those thoughts, how about scribbling them down somewhere safe and then parking them. Maybe you can work through them another time or break them down into little steps towards a goal to make that change.
Even if it all goes wrong and it’s a “rubbish day”, it’ll be gone soon enough and the Spring will come again. Remember the flower buds popping in the gentle sunshine? That’s coming soon folks. Hard to imagine right now, right?
3. Set a timer
Kids screaming and running about and energy levels escalating? Dog barking or whining at you? But you have this and this and that to do, and, and….smoke pouring from your ears.
Grab a timer, set it for half an hour and let go of everything. Stop “doing”. Phone down. Computer off. Worries away. No journals. No camera or “hmm wouldn’t that be nice on Instagram”. Just be. Gently turn your attention to those around you. Phones can seem like a great way of hiding from that sort of mayhem, but sadly this often backfires.
If your kiddy or doggo picks up a toy don’t think “great they’re occupied I’ll go do xyz”, sit with them, engage in their play, watch them play. Watch for the ones that don’t naturally get your attention. Don’t let them be last on the list because they’re the least demanding of you.
It’s hard enough to do this in everyday life, but when Christmas is here it’s well and truly out the window! See how you (and they) feel when the 30 minutes is done.
Yikes, these are difficult. Especially if you’ve never learnt them. If you haven’t, Christmas is going to be a challenge as you are suddenly faced with most people you know in some way or form.
The first challenge with boundaries, is that you need to be able to recognise your needs and wishes. If you’re a chronic helper this is going to feel virtually impossible. If you try to think about your own needs and they quickly get mixed up with someone else’s in your mind, you may realise this is quite possibly the default in all your interactions.
Next you need to be able to communicate those needs to others clearly and not in some sort of confusing, passive-aggressive, hinting, full-of-guilt, trying-to-control-the-outcome way. For many, that’s not all that easy. For others, thought can pretty much only be about the self. Hearing the needs of others will totally throw them off balance….proper, deep, primordial, unconscious fear. Can you see how complicated this can get!
Finally, with yours in place and expressed, you’ll need to be able to hear those of others, tolerate their reactions and vice versa.
All this is leading me to state the obvious…this is not an easy dance to perform!
If we’re going to all be together at Christmas it’s absolutely normal for there to be some hiccups. We all slot back into old dynamics when we’re with our family of origin and those can be VERY old patterns that no longer fit our age or situation
This is especially relevant if you’re in the process of change. As you start to change your own behaviour and boundaries, it’s inevitable you will upset the balance a bit and there will be reactions as others have to adjust theirs.
So look after yourself, stick to your path, but remember change doesn’t happen overnight in you or your significant others. Neither of you can be expected to get it right straight away. Now’s probably not the time to push it too hard and expect it all to be perfect.
Oh and a big old “don’t forget!”…you can’t make another person change. You just can’t. So you’ll be steps ahead if you can really and truly let this go. Keep that attention back on the one person you can attempt to control - yourself!
5. Happiness is but one emotion
You don’t have to be happy. Nor should you demand it of anyone else (see previous sentence!)
If you’re sad or lonely or struggling with loved ones, all the pressure of getting Christmas right might feel a bit rubbish. Let your feelings come. Let them go. You can’t suddenly fix a load of difficult stuff just to be ok for Christmas.
Other people’s happiness or excitement might be difficult to see right now but we are separate. Them matching our misery isn’t going to make ours disappear, it just doesn’t work like that. Nor should our sadness ruin their joy. Give yourself a mental cuddle and remind yourself that things CAN be different and you have a fresh new year ahead to make little changes towards that. Be gentle with yourself today. If you need a bit of space, take it. If you need support ask for it. Look after yourself.
If you’re alone, single, divorced, missing a parent no longer around, grieving, depressed, just lost a job etc etc etc, YOU ARE NOT ALONE and that counts for Christmas time too. Never forget that.
6. Head outside
Oh lovely old mother nature! All the creatures living just another day and going about their business looking after themselves and their dependents and all that fresh air and space and sky.
Get out and drink in some perspective (as well as some fresh air and sunlight). Get those muscles working and that heart pumping. So much of this “stuff” is just in our heads
Plus all that Christmas food….keeping everyone in one room after all that…not a great idea :) Sprouts anyone? Get the lot of them outdoors!
7. Easy on the drinking
Yes, yes I know. Society (and a fair few of you!) will think me a bore for saying this, but alcohol really isn’t the answer. In fact it can often be the problem!
Let me tell you something, you can be quiet..or shy..you can be serious and sensible..you can have nothing to say or really rubbish jokes. You can “not get” banter or not understand what someone else is talking about.
You can have awkward conversations and just survive them. You can be having a nice time without having to smile or laugh non stop, or without making a complete fool of yourself to help others laugh even more.
You don’t have to make people feel comfortable all the time. In fact you can’t!…even if you try your hardest. So let this go and only have a drink because you want a drink not because you NEED one (and certainly not because someone else feels they need one and wants you to come along on the ride to help them feel better!)
You do NOT have to get wasted to make this all feel ok.
Why is Christmas a boozy time of year? Because it’s a coming-together-of-people time of year and people don’t deal with real feelings very well! Another thing you can work on slowly throughout the rest of the year
Please also remember there are a huge number of people out there fighting a daily battle against addiction. Please don’t push anyone to drink. Just don’t. If you’re noticing your drinking or that of someone you care about is feeling out of control there is support out there. Look up AA or Al Anon for starters or talk to your GP. They can help lead you elsewhere if meetings don’t feel right for you at the moment
8. You matter too
We don’t exist only for others and others don’t exist for us. Each of us will have different Christmas dreams and each of us can bring something to the table. Literally, if you like! Perfect example. Is the Christmas table serving something each of you likes?
Have a look around the family….are there some who have their demands clearly met? Are there others who will do everything for everyone else but you actually haven’t got a clue what THEY would like to do. How about you ask them.
Just something to watch out for…these characters will no doubt say “I don’t mind, what do YOU want to do”. But I bet they have plenty of great ideas they haven’t even worked out yet
9. Take action
If you get into sinking thinking, can you do something tiny towards stopping it? Lonely? Call someone you love and have a quick chat. Bored? Think what you’d really love to do and suggest it. No-one interested? Do it yourself. Angry? Take a little breather and see if with a bit of distance you can work out why. Can’t be solved today? Put it aside for another. Most stuff can be resolved with a bit of time and space and thought. Christmas day might not be the time for it!
10. Grilled halloumi?
Yes! I did say that. Last but not least, if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, take your thinking out of the Christmas fog and have a few moments letting your thoughts go elsewhere.
Write a short travel wishlist, look up some new performances happening in the Spring, think about Summer days out. Plan your next birthday party. Write a food list for a BBQ. There are many more days in the year and although it can sometimes feel like everything, Christmas is just another day. Give yourself a little break if needs be
Wishing you all the best of luck for the Christmas period. I hope you can find and hold on to some lovely moments no matter what’s happening for you right now. And if you’re really really struggling, reach out. This too shall pass!
Pop 116 123 in your phone if you or anyone else you know is feeling very vulnerable right now. The Samaritans are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year including Christmas and can be a lifesaving first port of call. I’ve used them myself. There’s no shame in asking for help when you feel you have nowhere to turn