5 December 2021
It’s been a year when we have all had to cope with a lot of change and uncertainty.
The pandemic has been hard for everyone. Living with uncertainty over a long period can feel stressful and tiring. Many of us, may also be worrying about what next year will bring.
Christmas may feel like a welcome relief as you count down with excitement to the big day. Or, it can leave you with feelings of dread, and may remind you of how different things are. The extra commitments, expectations and expense can all cause Christmas stress.
As the days get shorter and the nights longer and darker, Christmas and New Year is usually when we take a break from our busy lives. It’s an opportunity to take time off and be at home more. It usually gives us a chance to pause and reflect on the year while we’re with those we care about. Many of us have already had months at home and we’ve seen our worlds get much smaller. Now, the thought of more time at home may be the last thing we want.
Many of us take comfort in the familiarity of traditions. We enjoy planning the celebrations we are going to have with out friends and families.
We may be dealing with friends or family having different views about following health or mask wearing guidelines this Christmas. This can be very difficult, especially if we’re expected to do things which make us feel uneasy.
For weeks, we are bombarded with images of perfect families having perfect Christmases. While this is often far from the reality for most of us, we still feel under pressure to create the perfect Christmas. We try to buy the best presents, create the most inviting meals and make it a day to remember; all the while imagining the perfect Instagram picture.
People dealing with bereavement, divorce or job losses at Christmas can feel more isolated and alone by the pressure to be happy at this time of year. For those who have suffered a loss this year, the celebrations can act as a painful reminder.
It could be the loss of loved ones lost to Covid or other illnesses. Or, the loss of a business or job. It may be a sense of loss from not being able to have holidays, or having to cancel weddings and other celebrations.
For many of us, money may also feel tighter than usual this year. It could be because of redundancy or fall out from the pandemic. We may also feel pressure to spend more to make up for last year . Or we may see spending more as a way to make our loved ones feel better about the things they’ve have missed this year.
A survey commissioned by the National Accident Helpline in December 2015 found 27% of us feel more stressed during the festive period, rising to 32% amongst women.
For more on coping with stress, have a look at Fight or Flight – how your body respond’s to stress.
There are ways to make Christmas less stressful. When I work with clients struggling with Christmas stress, we look at practical ways to avoid being overwhelmed.
Mindful breathing can help if you are feeling overloaded with Christmas stress. Put aside ten minutes a day to focus on your breathing. Find somewhere comfortable to sit and concentrate on breathing in and breathing out. Try and think only about the present moment. Notice what is happening in each instant. If your mind wanders to the past or future, just allow your thoughts to come and go without getting caught up in them. Keep bringing your attention back to your breathing.
Trying to achieve the unachievable can leave you feeling guilty, frustrated and disheartened. Allowing your Christmas to be less than perfect, can immediately make it more enjoyable. Think about what you value about Christmas and focus on that. Use your values as the basis for your Christmas rather than other people’s idea of how it should be.
Try and get outside. It helps to air your rooms and gives you a an energy boost.
Being active helps the brain to release chemicals to help you feel better. Norepinephrine helps to activate attention and motivation; serotonin improves your mood and dopamine to enhance your sense of contentment and reward. Exercise has also been found to increase resilience to stress. When muscles are used they release hormones into the blood stream that make you braver and lift your spirits.
Avoid doing the same as you do every year. You could change what you eat on Christmas day, spend the day with friends or go on holiday. This will help you to distance from unhappy memories and give you a chance to establish new traditions.
A little bit of planning can help to avoid a stressful last-minute rush. Give yourself a time budget for shopping, decorations and other preparations. Make sure you stick to it so you have time for other activities. Have a financial budget too, so you’re not facing money worries in January.
Remember if it all gets too much, you can give yourself a break. Prepare some excuses so you can escape for a while if the need arises. You could phone a friend, a walk or escape to the bathroom for five minutes of deep breathing. Knowing you can escape from the situation, can immediately make it feel easier. Being able to leave, even if it is for five or ten minutes, can help you to let go, clear your mind and feel more relaxed.
Enjoy yourself. It is your Christmas too so try and enjoy it.
If you need help and support on Christmas day contact the Samaritans
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