The holidays are both fun and stressful. For all the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ jingles, it’s also the toughest for many people.
Many people feel lonely or abandoned on the big day while some people over-commit to family, friends, volunteer tasks and find themselves over scheduled and overwhelmed. Others dread the inevitable, obligatory socialising and the pressure to create the perfect instagram Christmas and end up in debt or stressed over money.
Remember that people often put their best side on social media so when you check into facebook and see everyone else with perfect homes and happy families don’t compare yourself with them. Chances are they have arguments and a messy house too – they just don’t post about it.
Reframe obligations and set boundaries
Some people stress about how much they have to do to prepare. Ask yourself do you really need to do all the things on your to do list? Could Christmas dinner be simplified? Or could you ask guests to bring a dish each to cut down on your work. I know a family who has fish finger sandwiches on Christmas day, every year. If you like fish finger sandwiches and you don’t enjoy cooking why not?
If you were looking forward to a quiet time at Christmas don’t be afraid to set boundaries and decline invitations you don’t want to commit to. Or reach a compromise – perhaps have family over in the afternoon but have a relaxed Christmas morning?
Spend time with people who care about you
Some of us are not close with our families. For some people, family relationships are rarely nourishing and often painful. Sadly Christmas can sometimes heighten feelings of sadness or strain already strained relationships. If this is you – remember you are not alone.
Create a holiday plan with the people you most enjoy and cherish. If there are people you cannot avoid then plan time to unwind with the people who will let you vent after a stressful family interaction. Try to create a little escape for yourself – a walk alone or even go to bed early and spend time alone reading.
For people dealing with domestic problems Christmas can be really hard. A combination of spending 24/7 together and alcohol can cause arguments and stress.
(If you are in danger Refuge have emergency help available https://www.refuge.org.uk/)
If you feel alone Christmas can make these feelings much bigger and loneliness can be much more acute at this time of year. Campaign to end loneliness reported that 9 milion people in the UK experience loneliness so know that you are not alone. Try to plan in some fun activities over the festive period and meet up with friends or family if you can. Involve Northwest can put you in touch with local groups that might help.
Step back from the gift-giving or just change it dramatically
Some people feel obligated to buy big gifts that they struggle to afford and end up in debt after Christmas. Don’t feel you need to buy the latest designer item if you can’t afford it. Your friends and family don’t need to get expensive gifts to know you care about them.
If you have a friendship group, how about a secret santa so you only need to buy one gift or plan to go out for a special meal together instead of buying gifts for each other.
Rethink your assumptions
Just because you’ve always done the holidays a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing that. It’s all a choice – but if you have an assumption or belief that Christmas has to be a certain way then it’s sometimes not obvious that you can choose differently.
A CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) technique that might be useful to look at your assumptions is to get a sheet of paper and work through the following:
- What is the belief or assumption?
- How does this affect my day to day life?
- What are the origins of this belief or assumption?
- Advantages of the belief?
- What are the disadvantages of the belief?
- Is there an alternative that would be more flexible?
A fictitious example – Emma always hosts the family on Christmas day but this year a couple of people can’t make it so she will only have a couple of visitors.
Her belief is that Christmas needs to be celebrated with a large number of people and it affects her because she feels upset and unwanted because they aren’t coming this year. Emma realises that this originated in her childhood as her own mother used to have all the family over on Christmas day and became angry if anyone turned the invitation down. Emma listed the advantages and disadvantages of this belief and then formulated a more flexible belief which was “It would be lovely to have family over on Christmas day but I can also have them on boxing day instead”
Sometimes you don’t even need to change the pattern, just recognizing that it’s a choice is enough because it takes the pressure off and removes feelings of resentment.
Carry out a random act of kindness
Can you do something simple to make someone’s day?
- Send someone a text or phone them to check in
- Secretly drop a surprise (flowers, home made scones) on someone’s doorstep
The first anniversary (birthdays, Christmas) after a bereavement can be especially difficult. If you have always celebrated Christmas with a person it’s hard to imagine it without them.
Many people find grief can come in waves where at times it seems almost overwhelming before subsiding. It’s important to give yourself space and remember there is no right or wrong way to feel.
Some things you might like to do could be;
– create a special way to remember the person. This could be a memory box or keeping photographs or special keepsakes in a special place or on display in your home
– if you have any spiritual or religious beliefs you might like to use this as support.
– Cruse are a charity who support the bereaved and have a helpline and lots of advice on their website
Above all remember that Christmas is a couple of weeks and then it will all be over until next year.
Alternatively drop me a line and I will do my best to help you or signpost you to a service that can help you.
My name is Anna I am a counsellor and massage therapist based in Birkenhead, Wirral. I trained as a counsellor after seeing so many people in my massage practice who I knew would benefit from feeling heard and having a safe place to work through their emotions.
Counselling is available at Relax Therapies from January 2022.