“Tis the season to be Jolly…” Or is it?
Imagine the scene…
The perfect Christmas dinner has just been demolished and all the family are sitting round the roaring fire. Granny’s supping a sherry, the kids are playing Buckaroo and the adults are enjoying a game of Charades, laughing their heads off. Perfect. Will your Christmas be like this?
Here’s a few ideas on how you can enjoy or maybe even just get through Christmas this year but first I’ll share with you why ‘the season to be jolly’ can be far from this for many people. Please visit my website for how I can help further with more detailed information on mental health issues at horleytherapy.co.uk
Illness and bereavement this Christmas
Why does it seem that so many people fall ill or even pass away over the festive period? Last year my beloved father in law died and our family were in Sweden for his funeral the week before Christmas Day. Now my Dad is ill. Are you going through bereavement or caring for poorly loved ones or are you suffering with an illness whether physical or emotional?
Caring for yourself and others can be very stressful and left untreated may lead to depression. Often the situation is not in your control. Having control is an important emotional need for all of us. Think about what you do have control of right now. Making sure you have sufficient medication in the holiday season is very important. Visit poorly loved ones as often as you can and if you do have a concern, give yourself ample time to make a GP appointment. GPs are stretched to unbelievable limits, especially in the Christmas week and New Year, same for A & E departments. With the flu season upon as make sure those who are vulnerable have had their flu jab.
As a carer you may well be thinking constantly of others and not yourself. It is not selfish to think about your needs so give yourself a break. You are no good to anyone if you burn yourself out. If you can, try to normalise the end of an elderly loved one’s life. We are born and we will die. Us humans do have a lifespan. The best we can do is to be kind, forgive (if there have been broken relationships) and spend time with those we love at the end of their lives. If a loved one has passed away, however difficult the end may have been try to remember a time when you were together and happy. Sit quietly and bring the memory into your mind for a few minutes. Breathe slowly and really emerse yourself in the memory, where you both were, what they were wearing, even the smell of their perfume or aftershave. This can be a great comfort.
Stress this Christmas…
The list is endless of what can make you feel stressed at Christmas and the section on
at my website horleytherapy.co.uk goes into more detail about the symptoms both physical and emotional. Stress and anxiety are closely related and the best advice I can give when your heart starts racing, you feel angry, jealous, worried, you breathe too quickly and you can’t think straight is this. Calm yourself down with your breath.
This has worked for my clients and myself so many times and it is amazing to believe that such an easy exercise can reverse a panic attack, prevent an argument and help you to think clearly, quickly and safely.
When you can feel the stress symptoms just beginning or you know there is a stressful situation coming up take yourself to somewhere quiet. If you are in the car, pull over where it is safe and get out and move away. Better to be sitting but standing is fine too. Close your eyes and breathe in slowly for the count of seven then out for the count of eleven. If this is too much you can try five and eight or whatever feels comfortable. The idea is that you need to breathe out for a longer count than you breathe in. Feel the breath coming in and out in the stomach, not your chest. Keep this up for 2 minutes. Put all your focus on your breath and not your stressful thoughts. Any unwanted thoughts you can notice but then imagine moving them away and return to thinking about your breath.
This exercise works for many reasons but two are: it helps to rebalance the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body and also it enables you to step back and observe the situation more calmly and with logic.
Anxiety this Christmas…
Whereas stress is something that is real and actually happening, anxiety is what you think will happen or what you thought happened in the past in a negative way. One of the main reasons that anxiety can take hold is a misuse of your imagination. Your imagination can be used so successfully to solve problems and find solutions. This is what we were born to do. When your imagination backfires and becomes damaging is when you begin to think of all different scenarios that could happen. Thoughts go round and round in your head and it becomes impossible to think clearly. Catastrophic thoughts or black and white thinking come into play. This will not help anyone. Examples of these are “My friend didn’t call me back, she hates me” or “My homework is rubbish, I never get it right”
To calm down begin the breathing exercise for stress as above. Step back from yourself and mentally observe the situation from a distance. Do you have evidence that the bad thing will happen? What is the very worst thing that can happen? Is this likely? Think back to a time when you thought something really bad was going to happen and either it didn’t or it wasn’t nearly as bad as you thought it would be. Reframe the issue and see if you can think of an alternative scenario. An example of this is when a checkout assistant in the supermarket seems sullen and unhelpful, making you feel angry. What if they have just found out they are going to be made redundant and this is their last shift? Try this with other scenarios during your day and reframe them. It will keep you calmer and p erhaps help you to be a bit more understanding.
Depression this Christmas
Depression is normally brought on by a period of stress or anxiety when you have not been able to see a way out of a problem and the future looks bleak. Separation, the loss of a job or loved one can all lead to depression. Please see the section on depression at the website horleytherapy.co.uk for a more detailed account and how I can help. Christmas can be a particularly difficult time. There may be something that happened to you at Christmas time so when the season is coming up you can pattern match to the bad memory. What if you prepare yourself this time and stop repeating the same experience?
If the memory is about a place, a group of people. a particular date or an event you are expected to attend which all have reminders say to yourself beforehand that you will break the pattern and do something else. You don’t have to put yourself through the bad stuff. Make a plan to do something completely different at the ‘trigger’ time and please, make it a pleasant experience. If a loved one passed away at Christmas, think about them the week before, visit their burial place then. They will understand. If a partner finished with you or you with them it may not be a good idea to get out all the photos, put on the records you loved together and drink a bottle of vodka.
You have choices!
Money worries cause anxiety which can lead to depression. Peer pressure and the need to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’ can be avoided. Be honest with your family early on. Explain that there just isn’t enough money in the pot this year for the Samsung Galaxy S8 or Pandora charm bracelet. If your children are lucky enough to get pocket money then ask them to make a contribution to their presents. A secret Santa gift for little cash means you have remembered loved ones. Don’t feel guilty. It’s just stuff.
Christmas Day with people you don’t get on with. Don’t put yourself through it – again! Arrange to see them before or after Christmas instead. Here’s some handy phrases to get out of it.
We’re not doing Christmas Day at ours this year. Our local pub are doing a festive meal and we’ve just managed to bag the last 4 places! We really want to see you though so how does (insert date) sound?
We’ve been invited for Christmas Day by our friends (insert) and we’ve put them off for years so we’re going to theirs. Will definitely meet up (insert date).
Do you know, we’ve never told you this but actually we don’t really like turkey, mince pies, Christmas cake etc so we’re going for sushi just for a change.
We’ve been a bit stupid and accidently invited the partner’s boss for Christmas Day! Can’t get out of it now. Will definitely see you before or after.
Overspending at Christmas
At this time of year you cannot avoid the huge, beautiful real Christmas trees that COST A FORTUNE. As for the baubles, tinsel, decorations, lights etc, etc. Give it a rest. Does your house and garden really need to look like a scene from ‘Deck the Halls’?
When I was a kid a wonderful memory was making paper chains. All you need is a pack of coloured paper cut into 2.5cm strips and some pritt stick. If you can drag your offspring away from their consoles/phones for an hour you’ll be giving you and them some real family time.
You may be able to cut a small tree from a local farm or choose a garden centre that doesn’t have Titchmarsh blaring out from the speakers and go for the cheapest option. Alternatively, go to the town outdoor market or get a small artificial one from Wilco’s.
Go to Church We live in a more secular society and you don’t have to be a born again Christian to go to a carol or Christingle service. I am not religious but there’s nothing I like more than belting out ‘O Come All Ye Faithfull’ and watching the kiddies all wanting to be angels – such innocence. Tell you who might like this – your elderly relatives!
Turkey Many of the traditions are so out of date. I am not a vegan or indeed vegetarian but do you really need to spend up to £100 on a goose or turkey? There they were, minding there own business, scratching around and being sooo looked after then CHOP! Surely you can have the food YOU like to eat at a price YOU want to pay.
Lonliness at Christmas Are you likely to be alone this Christmas? If you want to be alone and are happy about that then you have every right to be. You can get up when you want, eat and drink what you want and listen to your music or watch your TV.
What if the idea of being on your own makes you sad? Do you know someone who is going to be on their own this Christmas, a neighbour, someone recently bereaved, or someone who has no family or has separated? Can you lay one extra place at your table for that person? If they feel it will be too much of an imposition, can you pop round with a goody bag and an hour of your time for a chat?
Get out of the house If you are going to be on your own be good to yourself. Set your alarm and get yourself ready for the day. If you are able bodied make yourself breakfast and go for a walk. Walking in nature is uplifting, even in the rain, or just getting some fresh air and walking around where you live will fill some of the day.
Helping others Often when we feel sad or anxious we spend long periods of time on thinking negative thoughts of what could have been or what might be in the future. Focusing outwards can prevent this. Is there a local food bank or soup kitchen or somewhere you can help others less fortunate than yourself? An hour spent doing something for someone else will give meaning and purpose to your day. Perhaps there is an animal shelter that could do with some help?
Keep yourself busy Just because it is Christmas Day doesn’t mean you have to do Christmassy things. What about that cupboard you have put off clearing or the shed that needs sorting out? You can go to any charity shop and pick up a jigsaw puzzle. Any type of arts and crafts activity will give you something to concentrate on.
Listening to your favourite music relating to good times or watching comedy can help. So can picking up that book which you have been meaning to read but haven’t had time. Rather than spending long periods of time at home alone are their some shifts you can swap at work? Your colleague will be grateful for the time off giving you the opportunity of holiday time later in the year.
Pefection Very often at Christmas there is an expectation that everything has to be perfect. Do you know what? It doesn’t. If you expect that this will be the best Christmas ever, Uncle John will behave, your kids will love their presents, your partner will get that special gift for you, the meal will arrive on time and be delicious, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of pessimism. What will be will be.
Alcohol Have you been in a situation where alcohol has spoiled your Christmas? Bringing together groups of people who don’t normally get on or simmering arguments with partners become inflamed when alcohol is in the mix. So often the day starts early with Champagne or Prosecco, and continues with glasses continually being filled. It’s like no-one has ever had a drink before so they need to consume as much as humanly possible over a ten hour period. Danger!
Enjoying a drink is great when you can handle it. How about going out a few days before for a celebration knowing that just for Christmas Day you will cut right down or not even drink any alcohol. It is only one day and chances are you will wake up on Boxing Day with a clear conscience (and head), guilt free and feeling very pleased with yourself for a successful and happy Christmas.
There may be one family member or friend who you know will over do it. I appreciate this is not the easiest conversation to have yet you have the right to a happy day so speak to them beforehand and make it clear that although they are very welcome at your house you will not accept any bad behavior or repeat of a previous alcohol induced bad event. If they do play up they will be asked to leave. After all the day is for everyone to enjoy, especially where children are involved.
Remember what is important this Christmas
1. Tell the people close to you that you love them and mean it
2. Make time for others who need you
3. If you can’t say something nice then zip the lip
4. Make a conscious effort to include the children
5. Be realistic about expectations. You don’t need perfection
6. Think about what you are spending. Keep to a budget
7. Plan ahead for the meal. So much can be prepared beforehand
8. Watch the booze
9. Think about who you really want to spend Christmas with
10. Have fun!
I hope you have a fantastic Christmas. I will be here if you need me and invite you to send me an e.mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
With any worries now or in the New Year.