Surviving Christmas stress
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Lisa Mayall, Senior Accredited BACP Counsellor, BPS
27th November, 20140 Comments
Christmas often brings with it feelings of great stress as well as the opportunity for seasonal joy. We can all feel the strain of the 'massive to do list', all the presents to buy, cards to send and meals to organise. There's also the added strain of kids off on holidays and families descending which can frequently prove stressful for all sorts of reasons.
The ultimate goal of course, is to have the best, most joyful holidays we all can and at the very least survive it with your sanity and relationships intact!
Here are some top tips for surviving Christmas:
1. In the run up to Christmas, each day, try to take a few breaks of at least three minutes each throughout the day. Decide to make yourself a cup of tea, sit down, and turn the phones to silent. Close your eyes and take seven really deep breaths... notice all the thoughts coming into your mind and see them passing through you, like clouds across a blue sky. Notice the thoughts coming and then going whilst you are sitting still and with yourself for these few minutes. This exercise will allow you to slow down and help you to come back to yourself so you can re-focus as you carry on with your day.
2. Know when you've had enough and listen to your body! If your feet are screaming and your arms are aching from too much shopping; if you find yourself irritable and snapping at people or feeling tense and tearful - these are signs that you are stepping outside of your tolerance limit. Feelings are like a smoke alarm. They need to be listened and tended to... what are you experiencing – what are the messages that both your body and your emotions are telling you? Tune in, be present to yourself and ask yourself what you might really need - half an hour alone reading a magazine with a coffee, a hug, a hot bath, a night out! Try to ‘allow’ yourself to have what you need if at all possible.
3. Be your own best friend - recognise your inner critic! The one that tells you haven't done enough, bought enough, cooked enough, played with the kids enough. Be as kind to yourself as you would to your best friend. Notice the negative committee in your head and remind yourself of how hard you're trying; all the things you've achieved and acknowledge yourself for having such positive intentions to create a lovely experience for all your family and friends - you're doing the best you can and you're doing well!
4. Know when you need to take time out! We all need a combination of time in the company of others, play time, talking and connection time but we also all need a certain amount of time on our own - even if it's pottering around the house, listening to music, disappearing into our own space or having the kitchen to ourselves for a couple of hours. If you fall more on the extroversion side of the scale, you may find you thrive more when you have the company of others but still you may need those quieter moments to yourself too. Falling more on the introversion side of the scale will mean you need lots of time on your own but we all still need to have our ‘people- fix’ to feel connected and in the world. Tune into your own needs - when you need to chat or have a hug or play a game with the kids and also when you need to disappear away from others to be with yourself - knowing the right recipe for you is a useful skill to master.
5. Managing your emotions. We are all triggered all the time by the people we come into contact with... nice words or a smile can make us feel happy, whilst someone else's stress or bad mood can rub us up the wrong way so that we end up feeling 'infected' by the other. The trick is to cultivate that inner voice in you that is able to say “OK, she's in a bad mood, this is nothing to do with me and I am going to take myself off here” or “I can see he is upset about that but I'm allowed to say no, I need to prioritise myself today”. It may be on reflection that actually you are able to understand why someone is responding the way they are and feel able to respond emphatically or feel able to diffuse a situation rather than getting caught up in reacting back. This takes practice but it may be useful to bear in mind over the Christmas period particularly when families are spending lots of time together and that this can be an emotional melting pot.
6. Know your own limits... when emotions are running high, the best tip may be to absent yourself and take a few minutes out to centre yourself again. If you feel like you're going to blow then try to walk out into the garden or up and down the road for a few minutes or even sitting in the toilet will do. Take 20 deep slow breaths... notice where in your body you feel the stress.... acknowledge your anger, your hurt or upset. Explain to yourself why you feel as you do. Say to yourself "I have these feelings right now; they will pass... I have these feelings and I am more than my feelings". Try to decide what your next step might be - that may be to ask someone for a quick hug (support), to write down or tape on your mobile how you are feeling and feel able to park it for now; or if the time is right and you have found yourself calmer and clearer after taking a few minutes out to yourself, you may choose communicate.
7. Communication tip. In choosing to communicate with someone about how you are feeling about something, try this:
(a) Get clear on what you want to say. Name your feelings and experiences by starting every sentence of with an "I". "I feel" "I've been experiencing" - that way no one can dispute anything because they are your feelings. The opposite of this is to point the finger with "you, you, you" statements - this can only ever be perceived as an attack and can very quickly escalate into non productive fights.
(b) Set the scene. Tell the other person that you want to talk with them and that you'd like them to listen. Also include that you are prepared to listen to them also. Try to take turns to really listen and to talk. Ask yourself ‘do I really want to fight or do I really want to share, be heard and find a way to connect or make things better in some way’. Knowing what your intention is for the communication can really help you if things start to escalate.
(c) Know your moment. Often we can feel so full of feelings that we cannot make the best choices time-wise to get our points across. If you feel brimming over with emotions - try writing this down or saying to yourself "I will want to speak about this but I will do right by myself and the other person by choosing an appropriate time when I have a chance of being heard and met". Again remember your intention – you may be fuming but the point for saying something is probably not just to dump your feelings but more about wanting to include yourself and effect something different - i.e. to connect and resolve something.
8. If you feel upset, hurt or angry over someone else’s behaviour towards you, if you can, take a minute to think about what button this has pressed in you. Has her look made you feel judged – triggered your own sense of low self confidence perhaps? Did his comment that angered you make you feel unappreciated – triggering your sense of feeling invisible and under-valued maybe? In this way you are taking steps to develop your own emotional IQ and understand your personal reactions and emotional triggers. What we are aware of gives us greater capacity to make different choices.
9. Remember you are only human! You are allowed to make mistakes; it is inevitable that you won't always be able to behave with perfect integrity or in a Buddha calm and generous manner. For the most part, you have an effective antidote at your disposal at any time - this is the ability to be humble, to make amends, to say these three words "I am sorry". You have the ability to forgive yourself or any others' for any trespasses.
What is past is in the past, we only have each moment here and now and you have more control than you think to be in that moment positively to the best of your capability. Happy Holidays.
About the author
Lisa Mayall is a Counsellor and Life Coach over over 15 years experience. She sees clients at her practice in Potters Bar in Hertfordshire.
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