How to have a happy Christmas - Chapter 4
8th March, 20100 Comments
So if we need to celebrate and by association we need to celebrate Christmas what can we do that relieves some of the stressors and make it more enjoyable for everyone? Well the first thing I will say, which may seem surprising is start as early in the year as you can. In fact, I would go as far as to say it would help if it was something you thought about occasionally throughout the year. If nothing else it would prevent that sudden moment when you think “Oh cripes, just another 4 weeks and I haven’t even started yet!”. Let’s look again at the individual stressors I listed in chapter 2 and see how starting early can reduce the stress levels of that item.
The earlier you start the more you can spread the cost over the year. You may not be able to get that big present that they tell you about three weeks before and where children are concerned they change their minds more often than they change their clothes. Well I did. After all, who can tell what the big present craze is going to be? Soon after one Christmas and then again several times throughout the year there will be sales. Bargain times. If you are want to wander round these bear Christmas in mind. Who do you know who always says “I don’t know. Surprise me” when you ask them what they want for a gift. Well now you can. Keep your ears open. If you hear someone saying “I would love to have a ….” And if you see it in a sale get it. Think how wonderfully surprised they will be when you have at last got them some thing they want. I remember once hearing my mum say one August how she would love to go up in a balloon. I wrote down the idea in my diary and when Christmas came guess how she felt when she opened the package saying that she had a balloon trip booked for her? It was worth every penny and a whole lot more.
Another trick with starting early is to join a Christmas club. Again I remember back when I was but a lad my mum belonged to a Christmas club at her butchers. From about mid summer I think it was she put a small amount away each week in the butchers and when Christmas came she had enough for the chicken, the ham and all the other meaty ingredients she needed. Now I know in recent years there have been bad stories of such clubs. The money in one case I think was in a savings account that went sour and another where the people running it were less than honest. But those are just a few cases. I am sure there are many more where such a scheme is very profitable.
Conflict of family
Many people I spoke to when I was researching this said that to them Christmas should be a time when the family get together and have a real good time. Just like they used to do when they were kids themselves. But now when they do invariably it gets tetchy with frazzled tempers and often some argument along the way. Why does this happen and how can you prevent it? Well I think it is down to a number of things. The first is that you have all been going through the stressful time of preparing for Christmas. You come together expecting different things and when some don’t get what they are looking for it can lead to tetchy moments. I think boredom could be another factor. Just think. You all congregate about mid morning. Many start drinking then and there. Many who are not used to drinking in such quantities. Then they fill up on stodgy food. Drink more. Have a few laughs. Drink more. Eat more and then slump in front of the tele. You then fall asleep. But what then? Eat more? Drink more? Sleep more? If that’s what everyone wants to do then ok. But since there will be more eating and drinking later might I suggest a different option. Do something different. If you do the same thing every year try something different. Why not go away for a Christmas? You can get some amazing deals for Christmases even in this country. Some holiday camps have three days where even if it is lousy weather there is plenty of entertainment. Quality performers too. The food is good and because you will be amongst a lot of people if you do still fall out with a family member there is space to get away and mix with others. Another option is go to a health spa. Now this isn’t as bad as it might sound. It is quieter than a holiday camp but you get top class food and drink. Limited yes but still lovely. It isn’t carrot juice and lettuce leafs anymore Space to rest and relax. A series of treatments to spoil you. When you want to be active there is plenty to do. Swimming, snooker, the gym, walking. Believe me you do leave feeling great. As for the cost of all this it isn’t so much an extra cost as you will be saving on all the food you have had to provide or the extra gas and electricity you would burn and if you go back feeling better than you did before isn’t it worth it? I think so and you are still friends with the rest of the family.
Time of year
A friend once told me that he can’t understand why they always have Christmas in December when the shops are always packed. Well if you follow my recommendations about less stressful Christmas shopping later that will deal with that. But you are right. It is a dreary time of year. Mid winter. Short days. Long nights. Cold, wet and damp. How can you make things better without going to the southern hemisphere where it is sunny and warm? Well one way is to get some daylight bulbs for your lights. These give off a whiter colour of light and make the place brighter. You can buy them on the internet from Amazaon.com. Alternatively you can get special light boxes. BUPA on their website at http://hcd2.bupa.co.uk/fact_sheets/html/sad.html have several recommendations that ties in with suggestions I am making for helping deal with other stressors. One they suggest for dealing with the time of year they have listed under treatment for SAD (seasonal affective disorder) They suggest regular moderate exercise. I would also suggest that this exercise be done outside and nothing could be simpler than going for a walk. Need only be a half hour. Perhaps round the block. Just the act of getting up and doing something can liven your mood. This is because activity boosts the body’s production of serotonin.
Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter that is primarily found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and central nervous system (CNS) of animals. Approximately 80 percent of the human body's total serotonin is located in the enterochromaffin cells in the gut, where it is used to regulate intestinal movements. The remainder is synthesized in serotonergic neurons in the CNS where it has various functions, including the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, muscle contraction, and some cognitive functions including memory and learning; and in blood platelets where it helps to regulate hemostasis and blood clotting. In addition to animals, serotonin is also found in fungi and plants
This is why many people, having completed a period of exercise feel much better in themselves. Of course, the time of year and it’s effect on people is another reason why there can be conflict between family members at Christmas. So after you have all had a nice big dinner, go for a walk together. You will all feel the better for it I am sure.
Early start/time management
Ok. Many people who I have spoken to about why they are not looking forward to Christmas say it is because they had enough of it come November what with all the ads and stuff starting as early as late September. Well what I suggest about dealing with this problem is that you simply continue with it in the back of your mind all year. Maybe this sounds crazy but to me it makes sense. The sooner you start planning it the more time you will have to arrange a fabulous time for all. That means it won’t be a rushed and harassed job in the last four weeks of December. It means you can take it at your own pace which will ensure you get time for yourself. By starting early you will not have 101 things to do if suddenly the roof caves in the week before or if a family member falls ill. You will be able to make contingency plans for such events. You will be able to ensure your plans and careful preparation will work meaning a good time will be had by all. Starting early will appear as a relevant factor in many of my suggestions for having a happy Christmas. I have already suggested it as a relevant factor in making sure you have enough money for it.
Unfortunately no matter what we do we cannot control everything. We cannot control when countries will flood or earthquakes happen. What we can do is respond appropriately. The first thing to remember is exactly that we aren’t in control of everything. Yes bad things can happen at anytime. Even Christmas day. If it happens on Christmas day you can remember it but just get on with your celebrations. After all, doing anything else is unlikely to affect anything. A day or so after, however, is different. You could respond to any charity appeals that are relevant to it. If there is nothing you can do then that is it. Talk about it. Pray about it. Just don’t let it interfere with your enjoyment of the day. This may seem cold to some people but these are the basic facts. What good does getting depressed and despondent about the event do for anyone if it isn’t helping deal with the situation?
Remembering lost loved ones
Because of the family gatherings that go on at Christmas, the absence of a loved one who died in the past year can seem especially poignant. Their presence, rather than their presents will be especially missed. There are several things you can do to deal with this. One might be to drink a toast to them. It can be specifically to that person or to “absent friends”. You could still involve them in conversation by talking about past times and remembering specific instances where they were funny or skilful or whatever. If the person died just before Christmas you can discuss among you what would that person have wanted if you could have asked them? Would they have still wanted you to enjoy yourselves? If yes then do. It isn’t easy and can be very hard regardless of what you do but it can be done. I say this from personal experience.
Charity events and giving
Sometimes it feels that at Christmas, charities are popping up everywhere. Everyone asking for donations of one sort or another. Money. Old possessions. Time. It can be so easy to think that they are only doing it because it is Christmas and besides, you give to that cancer charity every month so no need to bother now. Well I will say that by getting involved with a charity to some degree at this time of year could make it one of your best Christmases ever.
The idea that it is better to give than receive has long been part of our moral fabric. It's virtue has been much discussed by religious leaders and even Darwinists. They talk of the importance of charity and that giving is very much part of the human make up. Psychologists, as well, tell us that giving releases happy hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin.The Institute of Risk Management asked 3,000 volunteers to repsond to 17 questions about how they felt when they acted charitably. 90% reported feelings of physical relaxation, lower levels of stress and fewer feelings of hostility or isolation. In giving are you helping the individual to reach their actualisation? Are you helping them reach the who that they are trying to be. Their full potential? Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs claimed that the activity of transcendence is the very pinnacle of our own pyramid. That helping others reach their potential is our summit in our ascendency to self acualisation.
This means that in giving we are very much receiving. Now like many people, in the past I have got involved in various projects leading up to Christmas. I have been involved in various entertainment productions including pantomimes, song and dance shows and the like. All voluntarily and all for charities or similar. The buzz I and others involved have received from it is amazing. As you prepare and rehearse for the event or whatever it is you do you forge new friendships or develop current ones. You develop an affinity with people. A bond and it does give you an immense feeling of happiness.
A large number of scientists, ranging from psychologists to economists, have studied the purpose and ramifications of gift giving in humans and have learned a surprising number of things about it. Even though many people claim they are going to opt out of gift-giving altogether because they think the holidays have been overcommercialized, gift-giving actually serves a variety of social goals. Basically, giving a gift is used to strengthen an already existing social bond between two individuals. Thus, gift-giving has strong evolutionary selection because males exchanged gifts for sexual access and thus, enjoyed more reproductive success than those who were less generous, while evolution favored females who chose specific items that would sustain her relationship with her mate and nurture her offspring.
These evolutionary differences in gift-giving between the genders appear to be subtle, but actually have strong repercussions today. For example, men are generally very conscious of the price of the gifts they chose, whereas women tend to prefer items with emotional significance.
Interestingly, people who refuse gifts are cutting themselves off from important social cues by encouraging their social group to ignore them and their needs. Basically, by refusing gifts, they are isolating themselves from their loved ones and are weakening their relationship with others in their social circle.
"That doesn't do a service to the relationship," pointed out Ellen J. Langer, a Harvard psychology professor. "If I don't let you give me a gift, then I'm not encouraging you to think about me and think about things I like. I am preventing you from experiencing the joy of engaging in all those activities. You do people a disservice by not giving them the gift of giving."
This is also a philosophy that is being spoken of more and more in the business and commerce. It is referred to as “givers gain”. The principle being that if I give you some business then when the time is right you are more likely to come to me rather than one of my competitors.
Time for self
So there you are running around making sure things are done on time in the right way and trying to make sure that all the necessary day to day things are done as well. No wonder you feel tired. You are probably packing the workload of a 60 hour week into 40 hours. Now then. What about you? When are you going to find some “me” time? Me time? I haven’t got time for me time, and there can lie a root cause of some despondency at the thought of Christmas. Everyone is so busy rushing around thinking about other people they never have enough time for themselves. Oh yes, chances are someone else is thinking about you but thinking isn’t always good enough. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just sit down and someone make you a cup of tea? But who? If I sit down who will get the tea or check up on the food order and has anyone checked the delivery date for the goose and so it goes on. By considering Christmas throughout the year you will have planned and reworked upsets until there is nothing to worry about. I am not advocating that planning and preparing for Christmas is something we should be constantly thinking about. That would not be possible and would certainly take the shine off the event. All I am saying is don’t be scared to think of it in mid summer if the occasion is right. If you happen to be out in the summer sales and see a pair of shorts that would suit cousin Andy to a T then get them. By starting early you should then be able to allow some time for you in December. What I have done in past years is once everything is pretty much in place but before bedlam starts, I have gone away for a long weekend. Somewhere nice and quiet and therapeutic. I went to a health spa for several years and I have to say it set me up perfectly. It was, in fact, part of my Christmas present so the cost was allocated as a present and because I took it when I did I got a special 2 for 1 deal so my wife was able to come as well. We were both set up for Christmas. No hassle. Little stress because we had planned it right. Subsequently we had a great Christmas.
Oh dear. What if this happens or what if that happens? What will I do? You will manage. You will deal with it. You will cope. You have to. It is as simple as that. Yes it may make Christmas a less than perfect time for all but that can’t be helped. Hopefully family and friends will gather round and help out. Again I speak from experience here. My family had a big tragedy a week before Christmas. Did we wring our hands and bemoan our fate and rue the bad luck that had befallen us? No. We clubbed together. Picked ourselves up and determined ourselves to have as good a Christmas as we could. It wasn’t going to be perfect. There would be sad moments. But that is life. It happens. You carry on. There was going to be another Christmas in 12 months time so we could make up for it then….and we did. Despite all its traditions and meaning Christmas is just another day.
Shopping and present choosing.
How to make Christmas shopping enjoyable or at least less of a pain than it already is. A tough one but not an unbeatable one. Again the secret of getting all the presents bought and be as pain free as possible is to start early. In fact why not start straight after the last Christmas? Ok, you may still be recovering both physically and financially from the previous Christmas. I understand that. But let’s look at the times when it is best to go shopping if you really must. I say that to attract the attention of those who might enjoy root canal surgery in preference to shopping. What are two big problems with shopping? Money and crowds. When are goods supposed to be the cheapest? The sales. These invariably happen after Christmas and in the summer. When are shopping centres the quietest? Weekdays and in the summer. So when might it be best to go shopping. Weekdays in the summer around sales time. Now if you have started planning early there would be no harm in you saying to your family “what would you like for Christmas” in August because you are going to the sales. Their response may be one of astonishment that you should be thinking of mid winter just after mid summer but you need only explain that you are doing so in order that you can get them what they want. If they turn round and say “but I may have changed my mind by then” tell them tough and that as you are going to do the shopping now they had better choose or lose. Be determined with this. It is your peace of mind and the success of Christmas that is at stake here. When they do tell you what they want, if they are a bit vague press them for more explicit information. That way, when you do lay siege to M&S or wherever, you know what you want and where you can get it and roughly how much it should cost. Again because you starte dearly you will have budgeted for everything so the credit card bill won’t too much of a shock. You never know, having bought everything in the sales you may have saved enough to afford that weekend away just before Christmas. Another bonus with shopping in mid August is that the weather should be better. You might be able to take a break in the park for an ice cream and sitting in the sun, suitably protected of course, is much more preferable than being pushed and shoved in a supermarket cafeteria amongst wailing and irritable children. Of course, 21st century technology has made shopping so much easier. All we need do is log on to the internet and we can do all our shopping from our armchair. Some people have said to me that they’d like to but aren’t sure about the security of it all. I remember in the 1960s and 1970s it was not unusual for people to buy things from catalogues. They selected their items and sent a cheque. Is that really any more secure? when shopping on the internet be sure that when you come to the payment details a symbol comes up somewhere on your screen, usually on your toolbar, showing that a security programme is being used. Admittedly the catalogue items weren’t always top quality and sometimes they didn’t fit. Those problems will still be the same with shopping on the ‘net but you can still return them and get refunded if need be. It is an inconvenience, yes, but if you are planning early for Christmas it is not an insurmountable one.
Being given the right pressies.
Have you ever had that experience where you have spent ages making sure you have got the right presents for people only to find that in return they have done no more than give you money or a cheap calendar or a pair of ghastly socks? I bet you thought “well thanks for thinking so much of me”. After all the effort I put into getting something suitable for you this is the best you can do….and after all I’ve done to prepare Christmas too. Demoralising isn’t it? I don’t doubt that a lot of us have been there. But let me ask you this. When they have asked you what you want for Christmas what have you said? Have you asked for anything specific or have you said things like “oh I don’t know” or “you choose” or “anything will be nice” ? If you have then when they do that then you get what you asked for. The fact that you hate the perfume or loathe the actor in that DVD or intently dislike that music artist is not the point. They have done exactly what you asked them. Yet another bonus with starting early is you know that question will come. You know that sooner or later you will be asked what you want for Christmas. You may not be a materialistic person. You may not need DVDs or gadgets or toys. There are, though, some very interesting alternatives that are becoming more and more popular. Some people asking for people to donate to charities instead. Some are doing this instead of sending Christmas cards and others are doing it instead of giving presents. Sometimes these charities are involved in sponsoring animals or trees even. Children’s charities are always evident at Christmas too. If not charities as such there are plenty of organisations involved in conservation that can be donated to and you get something in return such as adopting a tree. Another benefit of these as gifts is that you know they are doing some good somewhere and you won’t have to find storage space for them. You never know, you might start a trend and other members of your family might start doing the same which will save you your shopping time.
Parties and forced socialisation/isolation
Who really wants to be alone at Christmas? Actually there are quite a few. In addition to the SAD that stands for seasonal affective disorder there is another one called “social anxiety disorder”. For those who are affected by this disorder Christmas can be akin to purgatory. Parties and social gatherings everywhere and if you don’t go with the rest of the crowd you are compared to something similar to a person with the plague. A social leper I believe the phrase is. But what if you do go with them? How will you stand the shakes, the sweaty palms, the raised pulse rates? Shyness and lack of confidence is something most of us experience from time to time during childhood but when it continues into adulthood it can be a great handicap to our social development. I have spoken to several people with just this disorder. What makes it worse is that often it is a condition that has been imposed on them by others. Often adults and parents who made unkind and disparaging remarks about us that they may have thought helpful but to us destructive. How can someone like this enjoy themselves at Christmas when there are so many demands to go to office functions or family gatherings? One option you might want to consider is going away. If your colleagues think it odd going away at Christmas simply say that you have had a stressful time at home and you need the break. If you can manage going somewhere sunny then say it is because you need the sun. Of course, going away might seem odd but if you go away you can be with whom you like and not face any questions. How about a self catering holiday where you can stay indoors, shut the door on the world and not see anyone for as long as you are there. If you get a place in a remote location, of which there are plenty even better. No one should feel as if they must bow to the majority. If you want to be on your own and not follow the crowds to parties then there is no reason why you should. You can easily have time relatively on your own at health spas and hotels. Authors such as J.K.Rowling go to hotels when they need time to themselves to work so why not people who want to escape crowds?
But what about the flip side of the coin? What if you are alone and you don’t want to be? You can’t force yourself on people. No you can’t but if you can afford it then going away is again an excellent option. Saga do some excellent holiday packages that provide full catering, daytime activities. Night time entertainment. The lot. (http://travel.saga.co.uk/holidays.aspx?pid=ppsg) A nice thing about these holidays is that there won’t be any children around and although their holidays are more for the older person there are likely to be some young people too. They even have Christmas holidays specifically for single travellers. If you are prepared to step out of your comfort zone a little you can meet all sorts of people and chat with many. I recognise that even in a crowd you can feel very alone if you aren’t talking to anybody. I would say that it is hard not to when in a crowded self service dining area. One of the tricky things in such situations is starting a conversation. An excellent starter is to make some comment about the environment you are in. You might comment on the food, the queues, the entertainment, the décor, the staff. Choose your timing. Be considerate of what the other person is doing. If they are otherwise engaged then leave it. Find someone else. If you don’t you may be thought of more as a pest than a friend. Supermarkets are an area where you can practice such things. As you are waiting to be served at the checkout look around you and if someone makes eye contact make a small remark about the stresses of shopping. How you can’t wait to get your feet up. How you only popped in for a pint of milk and ended up with a trolley load. Always be considerate of others and you may be surprised how much you get back that you want. You just never know.
The big day
So finally it arrives. Time to test all your plans and preparations. The thing is, wherever you are. Whatever you have planned. Everything should be great. Ok, small things might happen such as Tommy’s Action Man won’t work or the gravy gets a bit burned but hey. It isn’t a disaster. You are prepared for such things. You live with it and get on. You all have a great time or as great a time as you can. There is nothing more you can do.
Related articles from our experts
Hermione Brown - Counselling & Psychotherapy (Bsc Hons)September 11th, 2017
Chris Mounsher PG Dip, MBACPSeptember 16th, 2017
Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.