How Do I Survive Christmas?
The holiday season is upon us and with it the rush to buy gifts, plan visits, prep meals and wrap presents. The kids are ‘high-as-kites’, and yet for many of us Christmas brings a mixture of joys and sorrows. The un-feted delightful anticipation of childhood has been eclipsed by memories of loss, reminders of loneliness, and broken relationships. Many feel unable to cope with the demands thrown at us by our family and friends and struggle to manage our consumption of alcohol or food, or our bank balance. We promise ourselves it will be different this time.
If you are reading this, and find yourself feeling a little out of touch with the popular Christmas-mood then I invite you to take time to slow down, reflect and set aside some time to prepare so that this season you can offer yourself, and your loved ones, a more peaceful and joyful holiday season.
1 Set Realistic Expectations
Our expectations of the holiday season are heavily influenced by what Christmas was like for us as a kid. Many of us want to capture the ecstasy of our childhood Christmases, or maybe we want to give our own children everything that we never had, and now want for our own family. Our childhood Christmas wasn’t so great, but theirs will be different, possibly spectacular.
Our idea of our perfect holiday season is also heavily influenced by what all that we see going on around us. From mid-Nov until Christmas day, and beyond, we are bombarded by happy-songs, heavy marketing for gifts we can’t afford, and images of the so-called ‘perfect family’ gathered round a table overflowing with every culinary delight you can imagine. And perhaps you are one of those ‘lucky’ ones, and are surrounded by a large cohesive extended family and ample good will and wellbeing – and that is wonderful. And yet, for many, that idealistic image has a slightly different hue. Like the traditional family of mom dad and 2 kids, our seasonal gatherings have shifted. For some there is a new relationship, for the others the end of an old relationship and the challenge of working out how-to-do-Christmas in two single parent homes. For many there has been a death in the family, and many more some chronic underlying tensions in family relationships. These all take a toll on our hoped-for Christmas celebrations.
So, set realistic expectations. If Aunty Ella hasn’t spoken to her sister Sarah for 10 years then it may be somewhat unrealistic for you to expect her to snuggle up to her Christmas day. If Dad and uncle Tom always go out to the garage and have one too many to drink then it may be expecting too much to ask him not to drink – though you could work towards him consuming a little lesWork with what is, if you are in a new relationship then openly discuss with your partner how you see Christmas working out, when you want to spend time together, and when you will visit your respective families. Don’t assume they can read your mind. If you are newly divorced then openly acknowledge to yourself that Christmas comes with some pain and some loss, even if you know that you needed, or wanted to, separate. If you have experienced a death in your family – not necessarily during the last year, but in previous years, bear in mind that there will be times of remembering and with that moments of sadness – and that this Christmas will be different, different to those you celebrated with them when they were here. Take time to talk to your loved ones about how you want to remember and honor the one who has died. You can have a moment of silence before your Christmas dinner, or light a candle in the home in remembrance of them.
2 – Plan Ahead
Most of us cope better when we take some time to plan ahead. This Christmas take time to plan who you are going to see, and when. These discussions can be quite challenging – it may trigger unresolved conflicts about how much time you spend with his family or her parents. Take time to listen to one another. Sit down without phones, or other devices, and ask your loved ones what they want to do over Christmas. Imagine you are tasked with writing an essay about their Christmas wishes, listen and ask questions. Put aside your counter arguments and redirections, and be curious about how they tick and what matters to them. And when you have given them that gift of a listening ear, then ask them to do the same for you. Be willing to compromise, be willing to set up new boundaries. Maybe you visit for 2 hours rather than the whole day, or see one family on a day after Christmas rather than Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Remember that you and your immediate loved ones come first – not that you or anyone else doesn’t care for others; but you don’t want to win the battle over who you eat Christmas dinner with, and lose the war over the peace and joy of the holiday season in your own home.
3 – Be Mindful of Consumption
The holiday season pivots around overconsumption; whether it is food, drink, or spending. Our society coaxes and cajoles us to eat more, drink more, and spend more. For many this is the season’s downfall. For many an ongoing struggle with over eating, or chronic anxiety about our shape or weight, hangs over our Christmas like a big black cloud. Our minds condemn us with thoughts about what we did or didn’t eat or do. Negative thoughts and negative feelings rumble unseen beneath the surface of our happy façade. If this is you this Christmas, then pause, breath, remind yourself that you are not alone, reach out for a friend, or find someone else to talk to. And remember; it isn’t all or nothing, you can enjoy and limit the luxuries, without eliminating everything.
For some it is alcohol, not food, that is our personal challenge – and one we need to make peace with. Some know, or are beginning-to-know, that it is best for them not to drink – if that is the case, and I encourage you to seek out the support of family and friends, and find other ways of toasting the season. Others are still trying to manage their drinking without quitting all together - although they are aware that they can run into problems with overconsumption. For those of us in that boat, it may be a good idea to put in place a few well documented strategies to limit consumption. Eat! Eat a meal before you drink. This drastically reduces the amount of alcohol absorbed into your blood stream and how ‘drunk’ you will be. Decide not to drink before a set time of day, whether it is a mid-day event, or an evening event. Limit day time drinking. Enjoy a non-alcoholic drink between alcoholic drinks. And, if you really want to stay on top of it, keep a tally of how many drinks you have had – jot it down on a notepad in the kitchen or on your phone. Tracking how much you have actually drank can be very effective in reducing what you consume overall. And if you’ve had too much stop – and don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it is a lift home, or quiet place to lie down.
For many the holiday season comes with financial demands that we feel ill-prepared to deal with. Many stick their heads in the sand and carry on spending. We tell ourselves that we need this, and we put off the financial reckoning that follows in the new year. This short-term denial of the shortfall creates a negative inner turmoil. Our ‘guts’ know we have overspent, and are going to run into debt we can ill-afford. Although we do everything we can to suppress those anxious feelings, they don’t go away. They poke at us, wake us up at night, and demand our attention. Maybe this year we could do it a little differently. Maybe it is okay if the kids have 1 or 2 presents rather than 10, or that stockings don’t cost more than $30. Maybe you can arrange a Secret Santa for your extended family rather than buy every single niece and nephew their own gift. My brother aptly reminded me that we should all be willing to ‘cut our cloth according to our means’. In other words, if you have $10 to spend, spend $10. If you have more to spend, spend more. But only spend what you already have sitting in your bank. Don’t spend what you don’t have. It isn’t worth it.
4 – Make Time for Yourself
The holiday season is a big break in our regular routines. The kids are up at dawn, and the in-laws are here till mid-night, or even sleeping over. Our usual routine that allows for a quiet moment alone, or going to the gym, is taken over by a whole host of new demands. This abandonment of our normal healthy coping mechanisms, and regular self-care, can wreck-havoc on our minds and bodies. This is especially true if you are struggling with any kind of mental health condition. This year prioritize spending time for yourself. Find out when the gym is open, schedule down time for yourself. Bundle everyone up and go outside – walk, sledge, or just watch the night sky, or try a winter bonfire. Listen to your mind, body and spirit; listen to what you need moment by moment, and take time to give yourself what you need. If you notice that you are overly tired, or a little anxious, or your mood is low, take a moment to ask yourself what it is that is troubling you, and what you need to do to re-center.
The holiday season presents many challenges, as well as many, many, opportunities for us to connect, to love and be loved, and to reflect on times gone and times to come.
I wish you and your family all the very best this Christmas and New Year.