Coping with Christmas
You’ve boiled the pudding dry, your partner has had a blazing row with his uncle, your child has just broken the latest technological gizmo that you drove all over South Wales to find when they added it to the Christmas list at the last moment….. just a typical Christmas! The expectations are high – and it can be a wonderful time – but the pressures are often hard to handle.
So, as we hurtle towards the big day, we’re following up our ten top tips for resilience with ten top tips for coping with Christmas. Here goes:
1. Remind yourself that being human is also about being imperfect. You do not have to create the perfect Christmas. The tree doesn’t have to be colour-coordinated, the tableware does not have to replicate the layout you saw in that magazine, and it is a fact of life that not everyone will be pleased with the gift you chose for them. You do your best, and that is good enough.
2. Delegate! This can be a challenge, but if you give it some thought in advance, your life will be much easier, and you will be much nicer to live with. Who could walk the dog/take the kids to the park while you manage a tricky part of the food preparation/hang out the washing/make a bed for Grandma? Start thinking now…
3. Remember to spend some time outdoors every day. There is nothing like stepping outside to bring you back to earth, and remind you that there is a whole world out there beyond the immediate concerns of your own Christmas. It’s about achieving some perspective, and allowing the stress to fall away for a moment. If you can take a walk, even better. Exercise helps with stress.
4. Think about whether you are connecting with people in a way that is helpful – or unhelpful. If your Christmas is dominated by social events and family gatherings, allow yourself a bit of time alone. Some of us need this ‘downtime’ more than others – are you one of them? If, on the other hand, you are worried that you are going to be on your own too much, start thinking now about how you are going schedule your time, and talk to friends or family about arranging to meet.
5. Watch the alcohol. Have a glass of water or a soft drink between each alcoholic drink. Have an alcohol-free day or two. Beware of the tendency to make those gin and tonics into triples when mixing them at home. Too much alcohol will interfere with your sleep, making you much less resilient. And its effect on our inhibitions is not always helpful…
6. Develop the habit of taking two or three longer, deeper breaths every hour or so throughout the day – it’s sometimes known as 7/11 breathing. You will need to relax your stomach muscles so that you breathe right down into your diaphragm. Count seven as you breathe in, and eleven as you breathe out. Relax your shoulders. This exercise may sound very insignificant, but it will make a real difference to your ability to survive the festive season. It will help you manage your adrenaline, and cope with stress. If you are spending a lot of time in the kitchen, put a little post-it note somewhere to remind you to take those longer breaths.
7. Look out for ‘thought traps’…patterns of thinking that are unhelpful. So, for example, you may be prone to ‘mind-reading’ (“my father-in-law thinks I’m an idiot”), ‘catastrophising’ (“we always fall out at Christmas, our marriage must be terrible”) or ‘prediction’ (“I’ve got to get everything wrapped tonight or I SIMPLY WON’T COPE”).
8. Listen to your moods. They are a call to action – or sometimes to acceptance. If you feel angry, or hurt, or irritable, take some time out to reflect what it’s really about. Do you need to talk to anyone about something? Do you need to make any changes? Or it is about developing a sense of perspective and acceptance? Dealing more consciously with our emotions can help us to avoid finding solace in the mince pie tin.
9. If things become really difficult, and you feel there is no one you can talk to, don’t forget about the Samaritans. They take calls 24 hours a day, right through Christmas. You can talk to someone in confidence anytime on 08457 909090. Don’t suffer alone.
10. And lastly… why not make this the Christmas that you discover mindfulness? There is a wealth of evidence about the difference a regular mindfulness practice can make in terms of dealing with stress and depression. You could download an App; we often suggest trying Headspace, or Breathe, but there are lots of others. A quick search online will bring up plenty of books on the subject, including ‘Mindfulness’ by Prof Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman. Look at the time you spend on mindfulness as a well-deserved Christmas gift for yourself….the present that keeps on giving.