Coping with Christmas

This year not only do we have all the usual pressures and expectations to deal with but we also have the aftermath of what has been an incredibly challenging year for many people.

Let’s start with a little experiment. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably and just consider the word, ‘Christmas’…

Notice what happens in your body and in your thoughts as you stay with that word. Perhaps you feel a knot in your stomach, a tension in your chest. Perhaps you start to worry about everything you need to do. Your mind may begin to fill with memories of Christmas as a child or past Christmases. What sort of feelings do those memories evoke? Joy, warmth, anticipation? Or do you feel stressed, fearful, disappointed maybe?

Take a moment and write down everything that comes to mind. Get to know what Christmas really means to you. From here you can start to work out what it is that you need this Christmas.

If you’ve clicked on this blog then my assumption is that you’re looking for ways to cope with Christmas. Coping doesn’t always have to mean we’re in the middle of something negative or painful, but when it comes to Christmas, whatever your experience, coping is often about setting boundaries and taking time to consider what works best for you. Creating the Christmas that you want often means avoiding the pull to meet other people’s needs, or society’s expectations.

This year not only do we have all the usual pressures and expectations to deal with but we also have the aftermath of what has been an incredibly challenging year for many people. Whether that’s through loss, redundancy, isolation or the ongoing background anxiety of a global pandemic (!), we have all gone through huge disruption and change this year to life as we knew it. There is a sense of collective fatigue and we all need a break.

Whilst we continue to experience uncertainty about the future, Christmas 2020 may feel more poignant than ever. How do we begin to draw a close to such a strange year and how do we navigate ‘Christmas bubbles’, tier systems and conflicting social demands? There are so many invitations to conflict wrapped up in the process of Christmas.

For me, the starting point has to be empathy. So when that frantic family member calls you making demands, remember the experiment at the start – consider what Christmas means to them and why they might be so frantic. Resist the urge to react from your own mindset and just create a space for understanding first.

Empathy is about taking the time to imagine where someone else is coming from, what led them to where they are now and what might it feel like to be in their shoes. When you take the time to do this and to communicate your understanding you create a more authentic interaction: “You sound frantic, are you okay? How’s your day been?” can often open the door to a more genuine conversation and create space for listening in return. This can prevent you from absorbing someone else’s stress and feeling resentful as a result.

Of course, if your own stress levels are high then you may need to be more assertive. Think twice before you answer the phone, agree a mutual time to talk that suits you both. Tend to your own needs first.

With empathy in mind, I’ve put togther some more practical steps for a more peaceful festive season that you might want to hold in mind as the day draws closer.

  1. Vent your concerns – talk through your hopes and fears with a trusted friend, your partner or someone impartial. Voice it, say it out loud to another human. This simple and important step can be so important in recognising where the problems lie and finding clarity in your feelings.
  2. Imagine your ideal Christmas– put all of your feelings of obligation, financial worries or work commitments out of the window and for a moment allow yourself to imagine your ideal Christmas. How can you work to create this? Even a small peice of that ideal image at some point during the festive period? What can you do that’s just for you?
  3. Set boundaries – watch out for pleasing others at Christmas. Get to know your limits. Consider what you have learned from previous years and could do differently this time? Whilst you may not be able to avoid all of your obligations, consider prioritising and then saying ‘no’ to anything that feels too much. If saying no isn’t a familiar thing for you to do, this may take practice. Stand firm and find confidence in protecting your own needs. That advice you might give a friend, it applies to you too!
  4. Surrender – sometimes our resistence to old traditions or family demands can cause more frustration than simply surrendering. This doesn’t mean letting go of your own right to make choices and decisions but sometimes it can be helpful to zoom out, consider if the things stressing you out now will have been worth it in a few weeks time. Compromise and take time to find perspective.

Whatever Christmas holds for you this year, be sure to take 10 minutes to yourself to acknowlegde your own thoughts and feelings before being swept along with anyone else’s.

Wishing you a healthy and safe festive seasion!

Author: CounsellingwithJo

Humanistic Integrative Counsellor working online and outdoors in East Sussex.

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