Coping With Christmas – tackling the additional stresses and strain at this time of year

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for many of us. There can be such a stereotypical and commercial view of what Christmas should look like, complete with family around a food-filled table, hundreds of presents under a giant fir tree and getting a little too merry at work gatherings, that the pressure of “doing it right” can quickly get too much.

There is no right way to do Christmas.

If what I’ve described sounds like a good Christmas to you, that’s great but for many of us, trying to live up to these expectations can make Christmas one of the worst times of the year for our mental health. The pressure of meeting the societal expectations of Christmas, of ensuring our families are happy and well-fed, of having time away from work which often means we have more time to dwell on things and focus on the negatives, etc can quickly pile up into overwhelming stress.Picture of some Christmas decorations

In this blog, I want to share some tips on how to cope with Christmas and the additional stresses and strain that come with this time of year. I hope that you find them useful in helping you to reduce the overwhelm and be able to relax and enjoy the holiday a little easier this year.

It’s ok to skip the commercials

Much of the pressure we feel at this time of year comes from the TV adverts, programmes, magazine articles, and store displays that are presenting us with a vision of what we should be doing to celebrate Christmas aka, the way that earns their advertisers more sales.

It’s ok to minimise this as much as you can by flicking to a different channel during a commercial break (or fast-forwarding through catch-up), shopping online to avoid the in-store Christmas music and hype (who wants to deal with the crowds anyway!) and making shopping lists and sticking to them to avoid giving in to those expensive spontaneous purchases.

Christmas itself doesn’t have to be the commercial vision others have hyped it up to be, so it’s more than ok to stand firm and do things your way.

Decide on the Christmas you want to have

What does Christmas really mean for you? Is it the religious aspect of this time of year or do you simply relish the opportunity to spend more time with family? Do neither resonate with you and you just enjoy having a few days off work to recharge the batteries and do your own thing?

Have a think about what you feel Christmas represents for you and how you’d choose to spend this time of year if you had full choice and control over things. Discussing this as a family can be a great way to gather everyone’s thoughts and feelings about things too.

Now decide how you can get as close to that vision as possible. Spending it alone might not be an option but can you carve in some “me time” where you are able to go for a solitary walk, or the kids can do an activity unsupervised allowing you the chance to relax and recharge for an hour or two?

You don’t have to have the traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Why not have a buffet-style spread that your family can dip in and out of during the day as it suits them instead? You can always visit a local pub or restaurant for a more traditional meal a few days either side of Christmas if it is important to you (and let others handle the pressure of cooking it instead!)

Manage relationships and expectations

Much of the Christmas pressure comes from the expectations of others, particularly family members. There are strained relationships in every family, yet we’re supposed to pretend they don’t exist at Christmas and all get along quite happily. Obviously, thoughts and feelings don’t work like that, you can’t switch them off to suit a particular date and so the stress and strain can get too much to cope with.

It’s ok to set boundaries, indeed you should! Decide on what works best for you and the compromises you’re able to make ahead of time. If you can only manage an hour or two with the full family, then it’s ok to leave early before you’ve reached your tipping point.

Decide on the topics you absolutely will not talk about and practice some conversation changers so when it seems like talk is heading in the wrong direction you can divert it quickly. It’s perfectly ok to say you’re not willing to discuss something and move on.

If others aren’t willing to stick to your boundaries, it’s ok to get some distance and put yourself first.

Christmas is a sad time for many of us

With such an emphasis placed on being with family at Christmas, it can make this time of year even harder for us when we’ve lost loved ones. It’s natural to miss those we loved so much at this time of year and it’s ok to remember them and grieve.

How you choose to do that is up to you. Some people will visit graves or special places to remember their loved ones, others will set a place at the family dinner table, make a toast or go through old photos talking through their memories.

We all grieve and remember differently so find a way that works for you but realise it might not be the same way for everyone else, so allow others the space and means to manage their emotions the best way for them too.

Christmas is what you want it to be not what society tells you it should be. You don’t have to buy into the hype and do things in the “right way” if that way is going to pile so much pressure at your door that you risk your mental and even physical health.

So, try doing Christmas your way this year, and I hope my tips help you cope a little easier with this time of the year.