Christmas is nearly here. If you're not already feeling the hectic buzz of the upcoming festivities, it won't be long now. Whether you love or hate the holidays, they're all around you. Juggling family, work, finances, plus your mental and physical health is quite overwhelming for most of us. Here is a guide through some of the trickier aspects of Christmas.
The feeling of letting go and giving into excess is part of why we love Christmas. It’s freeing to stop worrying about calories and control, and just do what makes you feel good. However, the hangover isn’t pleasant – neither from excess alcohol, nor from overeating. The side effects range from low mood and increased anxiety to guilt, shame and regret.
There’s nothing wrong with indulging yourself, but try to check in with your gut feeling about when you’ve actually had enough. Try to pre-emptively care for yourself tomorrow, as well as the you in the moment. If you’re losing control, ask yourself if everyday life is too hard, or too controlled, and whether you need to have more freedom there.
If it’s about having fun or feeling close to others, a walk in the hills or a cup of tea can be as connecting as a round of pints or a box of chocolates – and without any of the side effects. If you ask around, you’ll find that many others will be relieved at the opportunity to do something besides going to the pub.
This season is full of events and commitments and it’s easy to get lost in the sense of duty, and forget that it’s meant to be fun. If you’re over-committed, or if you’re an introvert and become overwhelmed by the many events, try to sit down with a list of them and prioritise. Being invited doesn’t mean you have to go. Just because others will stay all night doesn’t mean you have to as well.
Try to figure out which events are important to you, and those you really care about, and be clear when RSVP’ing. Everyone knows it’s a hectic time and few will be really upset if you decline. If you’re more of an extrovert, if you’re lonely, or you’re far from friends and family, you may need to plan ahead for the quiet parts of the holiday. Arrange to see people you know ahead of time or see if there’s anything to do in your local community – volunteering is a great way to spend time and meet new people.
If you don’t have the option to meet others, be structured about how you spend your time – make sure you leave the house at least once a day, and that you have one activity which gives you pleasure, and one which gives you a sense of achievement.
It’s easy to get carried away by consumerism during the holidays. Especially if you have any sense of guilt or of missing quality time with your loved ones, trying to compensate by getting them the stuff they want is a common mistake. There’s nothing wrong with showing your love through picking out items that will communicate your care, but if you can’t really afford it, you’re left with stress and worry which might ruin the special occasions or the time following.
If you’re on a limited budget, try to discuss a strategy with your loved ones: Can you set a spending limit? Agree only to get presents for the children? Do a Secret Santa, where each person buys just one present? Or decide to all chip into the food and accessories for the day itself and focus on the experience?
The empty spaces
If you're recently bereaved the holiday can feel perilous. The traditions you used to share with your loved one can feel like trap doors into your pain and loss, and the pressure to enjoy the festive activities can feel intense. Try to free yourself from expectations created by others and the past. Accept, and ask others to accept, that this year will be hard. Take time outs to check in with how you're feeling and what you need. Allow yourself to linger on bittersweet memories, let the tears come, and express what you miss about your lost one. But don't pressure yourself to engage in activities that feel overwhelming, or that you're not ready for.
You might need time alone to reflect, but take care not to isolate yourself. You need time to adjust, but you also need the nourishment from connections with those who are still around you and care. It may feel right to visit the grave or to have a memorial gathering of family or friends - talk to those who share your loss about what feels right for all of you, and understand that we all grieve differently.
In general, it’s helpful to be clear with yourself about your expectations and to check whether they’re realistic. Each year is going to be different and expecting yourself, others and circumstances to stay the same will likely result in disappointment.
If you’re used to a big family Christmas, it may be hard to accept that your children are now choosing their new family over their origins (at least for this year). If this is the case for you, try to give yourself credit for raising individuals with the ability to form lasting connections and traditions of their own.
See if you can spend time with them in other contexts – in the days after Christmas, or offer to mind (spoil) the grandchildren and give your son/daughter time with their partner. Enjoy quiet times with your own partner, or take the opportunity to visit or invite relatives you don’t see as often.