Christmas is almost upon us and, if you take your cue from TV-ads, you’d think everyone was absolutely thrilled about that. However, the chances are that there’s a part of you that’s a bit nervous because, in reality, the expectations we place on Christmas, and the pressure it puts on our relationships, can be massive. Whether you’re attending or hosting a family Christmas, or planning to avoid it altogether, here are some tips for managing your Christmas stress more effectively this year:
1. Christmas is the perfect storm when it comes to emotions: people are tired, away from their home environment (or have guests), there’s a lot of rich food and alcohol, a huge expectation of ‘fun’ and ‘togetherness’ – not to mention the old ‘family buttons’ waiting to go off at a moments notice. Add all these factors together, and the chances are that something or someone’s going to have a wobble. It’s not the end of the world if it does; the trick is not to overreact. Keep an eye on your feelings and if you notice that you’re getting wound up, step outside or pop into the bathroom and take ten mindful breaths: focus on the feeling of the breath as it comes in and flows out; notice the feeling of your stomach rising and falling. Once you feel like you’re really ‘in’ your body again (rather than going ‘out’ of your mind), you can rejoin the fun!
2. The pressure to ‘conform’ at Christmas can be really challenging if you’re single, divorced, childless, without family or estranged from your family. It can be easy to feel oppressed and alienated by the status quo, especially as Christmas now seems to start on November 6th! If you’re feeling ‘left out’ or the family oddball, it’s important to get some perspective on your situation and not allow yourself to feel victimised. The media portrayal of Christmas is a fantasy that, in reality, exists in very few homes, and the fact is that nobody can make you feel like an ‘oddball’ without your permission.
3. The social pressure to overextend yourself financially at Christmas is very strong. Your relationship with money is one that comes under a lot of stress at Christmas, and you may find that a lot of old unconscious patterns get played out in this arena. When you add that to competition dynamics between siblings, wanting to impress your parents, or trying to give your children ‘a good Christmas’ to make up for a relationship breakdown, things can spiral out of control quite easily. This year, see if you can bring your awareness to your relationship with money, and try and make it a healthier one. A calm and loving Christmas is the one that will be remembered fondly, not the one where the most debt was incurred.
4. Bringing together your extended family for a few days sometimes feels more like a psychology experiment than a good idea for a party! Depending on your family, the chances are that some of you are more psychologically mature than others because psychological maturity is not something that comes with the length of life, but the depth of it. Grandparents are just as capable of behaving like children as anyone else, particularly when they don’t get their own way! All families are ‘systems’ and each person in the family plays a role. This year, try to see if you can feel when you’re moving into that role, and work out whether it’s really ‘you’ anymore… Just one person shifting their awareness to a higher level, and refusing to ‘buy into’ the family dynamic, can help everyone remain in a more adult frame of mind. Be the change you wish to see, and see what changes…
5. No matter what’s going on around you, keeping yourself physically and mentally healthy during Christmas will reap huge rewards. If you’re planning to have a blow-out on Christmas lunch, be aware that the sugar-crash in the afternoon after it is likely to lead to a lot of frayed tempers. Add to that the exhaustion of the hosts and cooks, and the effects of alcohol, and there’s a strong possibility that someone will lose it. The best thing to do is to get out of the house and go for a walk – the exercise will help you physically and emotionally and you won’t be around when someone wakes up grumpy as hell from their post-lunch nap with a hangover and sugar-crash! In fact, the more people you can persuade outdoors for a walk, the better.
By having a healthier perspective on Christmas this year, you stand a greater chance of creating happy memories for all of you. Dial down your expectations, and dial-up your compassion for yourself and for others on this stressful day. Whatever your family dynamics, you can make it a more enjoyable Christmas for yourself and whoever is around you by being aware of your feelings, and managing them intelligently.
Peace and goodwill to all men. That includes yourself, and even your annoying relatives.