Christmas can be a stressful time of year and many of us can end up feeling overwhelmed more than overjoyed. Psychologist Marianne Vicelich gives us seven ways to avoid the stress this Christmas season
The holiday season is well and truly upon us. Presents, sparkles and sugary cocktails aside, the prospect of family get-togethers generates considerable anxiety for many people – especially with Covid-19 causing uncertainty amongst us all.
And truly, who among us has not braced ourselves to deal with possible family drama and conflict. It’s enough to make one want to throw the sleigh in reverse and hightail it back home.
These seven principles will help you to navigate stress-free through the holiday season, with your spirit and sanity intact.
#1 Open up about how you are feeling
Many people feel pressured into believing there is a particular way to feel at Christmas. We get sucked in by the media hype and believe that Christmas should be spent in a particular way.
However, if you’re far away from loved ones, or are having relationship or family struggles Christmas can be really tough to deal with.
Be very clear with yourself about what you are feeling and what you need.
Instinctively, when people are sad or lonely, we want to isolate ourselves, and our emotions can get the better of us. Be very clear with yourself about what you are feeling and what you need.
Find people you trust and share it with them. When asked, people are usually happy to help but you do need to ask. It may be something like ‘I need a hug’, ‘I am struggling in dealing with my family right now’, or ‘I feel immense pressure.’
#2 Help others
Figure out a way to help others, and by doing so, you’ll nourish your own spirit.
Covid-19 depending, look into serving holiday dinners at a homeless shelter, delivering gifts to the lonely or sick, visiting a nursing home to sing carols, sending cards and packages to less developed countries and remember what the holidays are really about—bringing more light into the world.
remember what the holidays are really about—bringing more light into the world.
#3 Stay outside the emotional fray
The holidays are not the time to resolve old issues, or confront other people. Enjoy the time with family, and set the limits that you need to keep yourself healthy emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Take care of yourself. Take walks outdoors, meditate and consume alcohol, sugar, and caffeine in moderation. If you’re tired, give yourself permission to leave a family event early. You’re not obligated to stay until the bitter end.
Fighting and drama tends to escalate as it gets late, especially if the alcohol is flowing. You are more likely to have troubles with family dynamics and impulse control.
Be mindful of how much you are drinking and think less is more when it comes to alcohol.
Take walks outdoors, meditate and consume alcohol, sugar, and caffeine in moderation.
Of course, continue any self-care practices you normally engage in. My favourites are meditation, getting regular exercise, and making time to do things you find pleasurable.
Don’t forget to breathe. Belly breathing can strengthen your diaphragm, slow your respiration rate, help you feel calmer in general and less reactive in stressful situations. It’s easy, feels good, and really works.
#4 Use positivity
Think of one positive thing you can say about or to each and every person at your table. Find a way to say it sincerely, sometime during the day or evening.
Do one thing for another person with no expectation of anything in return. Helping someone carry things into the house, or just listening without interrupting is a gift. It can bring you a good feeling and can make the person you are listening to feel valued.
#5 Take some adult time out
While it may be hard to take a walk around the block given the weather this time of year in much of the country, there may be other ways that you can take some time out during the holiday events.
Perhaps seeing what the kids are doing, going to the bathroom, or helping with the dishes or preparations can get you some time away from people who drive you crazy.
If the family dynamic becomes challenging step back from the situation – either literally or mentally. This can take the form of either reminding yourself that the visit is time-limited, so you will survive it.
Putting the situation in perspective can prevent you from having a dinner table melt down that may feel good in the moment but that you’ll regret later.
#6 Get real
You may have for years and years wanted to receive some acknowledgement or praise from either family or friends who have never done so before. You’ve worked hard preparing a beautiful feast only to have negative comments made about something they can pick at and you’re left devastated.
The best way to deal with this scenario is by practicing acceptance. Avoid expecting things to be good or bad. Accept things as they come.
Avoid expecting things to be good or bad. Accept things as they come.
Put the brakes on your impulses by counting to ten. When you are confronted with a family member who irritates you get ready to count before you say anything.
If there is family drama, step out of the fray and observe; pretend you’re watching a play, rather than allowing yourself to be pulled in.
Keep the big picture in mind. While we all may love to have an ideal holiday with family and friends, the reality is that most people really don’t have the kind of relationships that we wished we had.
The big picture is to survive without too much family drama. Keep the expectations reasonable and doable.
#7 Use the power of forgiveness
The festive season is a time when we think about forgiveness and yet sometimes that can be a challenge when faced with someone who hasn’t treated us well.
Forgiving is as important for our own wellbeing, as it is for the wellbeing of others. Be willing to forgive. Even though you may be so angry that you can’t forgive, try to be willing and open to forgiveness.
In summary, let yourself have fun this holiday season, try not to take things too seriously, and do what you need to self-regulate so that you are at peace.
Marianne Vicelich is a psychologist and author of The Love Trilogy of self-help books, the latest, Love Always.