Images on social media, together with nostalgic, airbrushed memories of Christmases past, inevitably lead to impossibly high expectations. In order to avoid stress, disappointment and frustration, practise some of these tips. (From Lori Stillman, Bing Images)
- Accept it won’t be perfect. Each Christmas is different (be honest: no Christmas you have ever had was perfect, was it?) and the chances are that, a few years from now, you will be looking back fondly at the things that didn’t go to plan this year and resulted in new ways of celebrating and lessons learned.
- Learn to be comfortable with saying no. This avoids overwhelm, resentment and reinforces your self-confidence.
- Acknowledge how you feel. If you need to grieve because you have lost someone, or if you feel anger, find a way to express it rather than bottling it up.
- Have a game plan that helps you take back control. Accept that there are likely to be issues involved in long to-do lists and spending time with family, and have a contingency plan.
- Ask yourself what really needs to get done. What’s the worst that will happen if the turkey isn’t put into the oven at the appointed time or your son doesn’t get the latest Star Wars gadget?. Do the things that are genuinely important, and let go of things that don’t really matter. Some people find it helpful to note ‘essential, desirable and not important’ next to list items.
- Spread the festivities over a longer time period. Don’t try to cram in all the family visits, all the social events, even all the holiday food into two or three days. Sometimes it is more fun (and less stressful) to take your time.
- Set and stick to a budget – this avoids anxiety both during and after Christmas. If necessary, let people know you have set a budget and find more creative ways to show you care: homemade gifts, agreements that you will only buy gifts for the children in a family, giving the gift of time etc. A friend of mine gives ‘vouchers’ for nice dinners or activities to be enjoyed (and paid for…) later in the year. This helps spread out the cost of Christmas.
- Recognise that there is always a choice. You don’t have to see both sets of relatives on Christmas Day, you can alternate. Similarly, it isn’t necessary to spend all day with people you find it difficult to be with. Find a reason to arrive later or leave earlier.
- Let go of grievances and be understanding. We all have our problems and chances are that everyone in the room is also struggling to be perfect, to get things done etc. Cut some slack.
- Take a moment before you open your mouth. If something really needs to be said, pause and remind yourself of at least one thing you appreciate about the person who has wound up before you say anything. This interrupts the negative thought pattern and encourages some empathy.
Look after your health
- Maintain healthy habits. Making sure you get enough sleep, keeping an eye on alcohol consumption, and making enough healthy food choices to stave off holiday weight gain (aim for a slightly modified 80/20 rule) will ensure you feel as good as possible over the holiday period and minimise guilt afterwards.
- Exercise. Fit some form of exercise in every day. Not only will this release feel-good endorphins into your system, it will also help burn off extra calories, increase your self-esteem, and help you sleep more soundly.
Other things you can do
- Practise mindfulness. Even if it is initially just for a minute. Become aware of your body, notice the feeling of the breath moving in and out, park your thoughts outside for a moment. Pay attention only what you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste – without judgement.
- Get creative. Make Christmas cards, gifts and wrapping paper. Or simply get yourself a colouring book and enjoy the focussed concentration and gentle hypnotic state of immersing yourself in colour and shape and patterns for half an hour. This rest and digest state has benefits ranging from lowering blood pressure, boosting the immune system and calming nerves.
- Enjoy humour. Have a funny podcast or TV show on hand. Even a smile has considerable health benefits.
- Go for a walk. Preferably in nature. In addition to the benefits of the exercise, research suggests that natural surroundings greatly enhance feelings of wellbeing (this is one reason for the plethora of CDs featuring nature sounds, and the fact that many meditations and hypnotherapy sessions will use nature imagery).
- Step back. Before jumping to a conclusion or really getting wound up, consider the facts, ask yourself if something is really true or necessary before you react.
- Seek help. From friends, family, even a professional. There is considerable strength in being able to do this.
- Consider the meaning of ‘good will’. Do something kind for someone every day.
- Take time for yourself. Every day.
Above all, be realistic, plan ahead but allow yourself to jettison plans where necessary, look after your physical and mental health – and that of others – and seek support. This will help you take a preventative approach to any holiday stress.
To help you maintain balance, enjoy some slowing down and discharge any toxic emotions, please enjoy this little recording as a Christmas gift from me.
Release Negative Emotions