OK, so a lot of us will be joining family for ‘The Dinner’. And for a lot of us that’s super cool and lovely and something we look forward to and truly relish.
For some of us though, that dinner is the most ‘Hell’ part of Christmas. Sitting with, eating with and spending time with people that drive us nuts, push our buttons, trigger us….at worst, we are sitting with people that are harmful.
I’ve been meaning to have a wee rant re the whole “Twelve Pubs” thing.
I know many young (and not so young) people who are about to go on this new-and-not-so-noble tradition of mass alcohol poisoning with a view to consuming at least one unit of alcohol per pub (X12) in a few short hours.
Christmas, warm, fuzzy and fun as it is, can also be painful, lonely and sad. For many of us it’s all of these things together, swinging from one to the other, day to day, hour to hour.
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This piece is dedicated to those feeling loss around this time of year – particularly parents of younger children. Another piece will follow soon for younger people themselves. Sign up over on the right there to get an email from me when that’s posted (or scroll down to underneath this post if you’re on your phone) Don’t forget to check your junk mail to complete the sign-up!
We all think of Christmas as a time for giving to others. And that’s nice, it really is, but when did you last give to yourself? Not necessarily a material gift, but time to yourself or with a rarely seen loved one, fun, nurturing things?
We often forget about ourselves and fret instead about the people we love. Are we not allowed to love ourselves?
So here’s part two of guide to staying sane for the holidays (part one here)
The social part of Christmas is fun.
It’s when we get to connect with old friends, family, maybe make new friends. It can be an incredibly nurturing time and full of genuine care and love. There’s nearly always an accompanying pressure though isn’t there? Like, how can I get to meet everyone? How do I choose who to meet? where to meet them? How do I tolerate the people I find difficult? How do I cope when I have to spend time with a person (or people) I usually avoid?
You’re not alone.There is indeed a frenzied feeling about, and we get caught up in it alarmingly easily.
I spent last Saturday in Cork city. This isn’t unusual for me, it’s one of my favourite things to do actually, to spend a day in a city by myself. Driving up I noticed I was really looking forward to my day and as the taller buildings came into view I was quite excited. I love the atmosphere of Christmas and being in a bustling crowd.
The lights were up, it was seasonably cold and crisp and the air had that tantalizing scent of outdoor food stalls. I planned my route, got my (extra) hot chocolate to go and got busy people watching. Camera ready, warm cup in hand, I was in heaven!
Well, kind of.
It didn’t take long to realise that my fellow human beings were swarming. They were intent on buying loads of ‘stuff’ and were completely oblivious to my existence. Not that I needed their attention, but I didn’t enjoy being bumped into, with surprising force in some cases, and (literally) being shoved out of the way. I was very glad that I wasn’t small and feeble.The stress was etched, carved onto these faces. The deep frowns, the clenched jaws and then it dawned: I was frowning too. I’d caught the stress bug, it’s highly contagious.
I decided years ago to do my best not to allow this season and its occasional toxicity to infect my good mood. Sometimes, of course I slip. I am not the paragon of Zen. I was irritated on Saturday, but I did manage to keep it in check by grounding myself and reminding myself that I didn’t have to join in on the frenzy – I didn’t have to give the stress free rent in my head and body. So I put my attention back onto the lovely smells, stepped back down to my own normal walking pace and located feelings of compassion I had for these stressed shoppers who were banging into me.
It wasn’t personal. They didn’t mean it. They weren’t even present. I could choose to observe without being affected.
I believe there are common worries at this time of year that we all share. So it occurred to me write this piece to address a few of them. Maybe you’ll find it helpful, I hope you do.
I’ve listed the worries and then wrote out some quick solutions that work for me. I know this does not necessarily mean it’ll work for you, but see what you think:
The worry: How can I afford to buy everyone everything that I want to buy for everyone?
1 .Be realistic. You have a limited amount of money. That won’t change in the next month. Sit down and write a list of who you want to buy for and how much you are willing to spend.
2. Remember that your friendship/relationship doesn’t depend on how much you spend on your gift. If it does, then perhaps your concern belongs with the relationship, not the gift. It is unlikely that your friends who care about you want you to be under financial pressure in order to give them a gift that they might not even want or have use for.
3. Sit down with your friends and make an agreement either to not buy each other gifts, or to have a strict limit on how much you spend on a token gift and stick to it. You’ll most likely hear a series of relieved breathes. You’ll also possibly get a lot of creative and interesting little gifts!
4. If you have a large family or circle of friends/ colleagues then arrange a Secret Santa. This is good crack as well as a great money saving idea.
5. Remember that in ten years’ time it is likely that your children won’t remember what you gave them each Christmas and how much it cost. They are far more likely to remember how they felt, the time you spent with them, the atmosphere in your home, the attention they received, your mood. The label and price tag on their toy /gadget will mean very little to them in comparison.
The worry: What will I get my partner for Christmas?
A good solution here is simply to ask. It might feel less magical, or unromantic, but if you are actually feeling stressed about it then a solution is to ask.
Will they like it? See above and also, if it’s not their ideal gift and the one thing they always wanted this is not a disaster. Your relationship will remain intact, and if it doesn’t as a result of a gift, then again, the issue for review here is the relationship, not the gift.
The worry: How will I fit everyone in? Visiting, inviting, feeding etc
Solution: Well, you may not fit everyone in. That’s the reality. If you accept the uncertainty around this then you will experience less stress. No one expects more of you than you do of yourself. Indeed everyone else’s expectations are so far away from yours that in distance terms they are visible only as a distant teeny weeny dot. Release yourself from these expectations – you are allowed to enjoy Christmas, other people’s enjoyment is not your responsibility.
The worry: I don’t want to visit X. I’m so uncomfortable in their house.
Solution: My suggestion here is either don’t go (that’s allowed too) or limit yourself to one hour and then arrange a reward for yourself afterwards. The reward will give you something to look forward to and something nice to think about if you need to “go to a happier place” while you’re there. And breathe….
The worry: When will I get my new clothes?hair done? nails done?
Solution: These things might be Christmas rituals for you that you think of as essentials, but ask yourself – are they really necessary? They are treats, and if you really have the money and the time, go for it. If they are actually adding to your sense of stress then these treats have become ordeals. You have a choice , do you want to increase your stress levels? Or would your time and money be better spent elsewhere?
Finally, here’s a little list of self care tips:
Christmas they say, is a time for giving. When did you last give to yourself? Here are some ideas for gifts:
To you, lots of love, from you;)
1: Buy yourself something small, chocolate even, wrap it, put it under the tree if you have one and WAIT until Christmas day to open it.
2: Arrange, some time alone. This might seem impossible, but it probably is possible. You may have to ask for help alright.. Even if this is just an hour away for a walk or hiding in your wardrobe(!!). Preferably the walk though. Exercise does enhance the mood!
3: Call a friend for a chat. An actual phone call, not a text, not a PM, not an email. We are getting frighteningly accustomed to not making real contact with people. Social media has become a substitute for human contact. The online world has its benefits of course, you’re online right now! but it can become an isolating habit. Do yourself (and a friend) a favor and give yourselves the lovely gift of real contact.
4: Give something away. Charitable work / donations, time volunteering or doing something for an elderly or ill neighbour – you choose. (Make sure it doesn’t compromise you- only give cash if you can afford it for example). We know now that giving things enhances our mood. It feels good to give.
5: Appreciate what you have. Take some time to look around and be aware of what’s working in your life, in your body. Gratitude is another thing that enhances our mood – let yourself feel it. We tend to focus on what we don’t have – has that ever cheered you up?
6: If you feel sad, and most of us do at Christmas, let yourself be without giving out to yourself for not feeling ‘festive’. It IS an emotional time, especially if you are grieving or have experienced some kind of loss. So mind yourself.
7: Ignore the TV. You are going to be bombarded by adverts telling you that you ‘need’ things for the ‘holiday’ season. None of it is true. You choose what you want. What you need is a whole other story and you can’t buy it from a catalogue.
Indeed, you probably already have what you need.
I wish you all a healthy and happy Christmas – mind your lovely heads.
Know this: Being emotionally and mentally healthy doesn’t mean never going through bad times or experiencing emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress. Christmas brings with it an extra pressure to be “happy”, even though many of us find Christmas exceptionally stressful, and most of us have some sadness around it, missing people who have died or who are away. Let yourself feel whatever you are feeling, be it sadness or excitement, without judgement. You are human.
Christmas is an incredibly stressful time, you already know this. In order to maintain and strengthen your mental and emotional health, it’s important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. This is hard when everything around you is about other people and their needs, friends, family, in laws.. Don’t let stress and negative emotions build up. Try to maintain a balance between your daily responsibilities and the things you enjoy. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be better prepared to deal with challenges if and when they arise. This is good advice all year ’round of course, but now in particular.
Challenges will arise by the dozen in the next couple of weeks!