Christmas - the most wonderful time of the year?
The subject of Christmas is increasingly prevalent in the therapy room at this time of year. There are many factors which can make many of us feel the pressure and aggravate any existing mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Here are a few of the most common worries:
Family and social gatherings
As well the usual work Christmas ‘do’, there can be a lot of pressure to try and meet up with family and friends who you may not have seen much of during the year which can feel overwhelming. Family get togethers can often be a source of stress, especially if there are strained relationships involved. You may feel forced into spending time with people that you would not usually choose.
It can also be a difficult reminder of loved ones who are no longer with us. The happy memories of Christmas’ gone by can make us yearn for the deceased even more, and possibly feel guilty about celebrating without them.
Christmas can be an expensive time of year, and from October onwards retailers bombard us with advertisements showcasing the “must-have” gift, gadget, or even outfit. The experience of Christmas shopping can become a financial nightmare and spending can quickly spiral out of control, leaving us feeling the pinch in the New Year.
Pressure to be perfect
We can feel the need to have “the perfect family Christmas”, and there might be a lot of “should's” involved, such as “the house should look perfect” or “I should be doing...”. It is easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to the people around us and focus on what they have that we don’t. We often end up having the Christmas that we think we should have, rather than the Christmas we would like to have which can leave us feeling resentful.
So what can you do to help?
Plan and prioritise
Put time aside to write a list of tasks well in advance. Prioritise what needs to be done, and what is not essential. Consider what you might to be able to delegate to others, or if others could contribute, e.g. by preparing food for a meal.
Once you know what you need to buy, decide how much money you can realistically afford, set a budget, and stick to it. Consider items such as gifts, decorations, food etc, and apportion a certain amount of money to each. It might be useful to put a set amount aside each month so that when December comes it is not such a shock to the system.
Accept your limitations
You are only one person and it is not always possible to achieve everything you would like to do. Learn to recognise that “good enough” can be just as good as achieving “perfection”. Set limits for spending time with people who you find it difficult to be around for a long period of time. Saying 'no' is often a difficult concept for many of us, but it can be our best form of defence!
Take time out for you
Christmas can feel all consuming, so it is important to spend time away from the festivities. Even if it is only an hour, schedule time for a walk, exercise or doing something else you enjoy.
Self-care can be even more important at this time of year. It is a common time of year to fall ill, with many viruses and bugs going around. When we are stressed, our immune systems can become low, making us more susceptible to coughs and colds etc. Ensuring that you are making time to take care of you, such as eating healthily and regularly and getting enough sleep, will give your immune system a much-needed boost! Practises that encourage you to slow down such as mindfulness or yoga can be beneficial.
Drugs and alcohol
If this is something that is already an issue for you, the temptation can be even higher during the festive season. Christmas parties and gatherings can mean that it is easier to access drugs and alcohol and there might be added social pressure from others “because it's Christmas”. Ensure you have extra support around the holidays, whether it is attending support groups such as AA, therapy, or friends and family who understand the difficulties you face.
Do something different
We can all fall into a bit of a rut at times, and Christmas is no exception! It can be a good opportunity to try something new and perhaps even start a new tradition. Go to see a pantomime, play or concert; volunteer for a charity or get involved in the community; attend midnight mass, go ice-skating... the list is endless. Having a new experience can feel exciting and can give you something different to look forward to.
However you choose to spend the festive season, I hope that it is a peaceful and positive experience for you. If you would like more support with any of the issues above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a counsellor.
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.
About Jo Allen
My name is Jo, and I am an integrative psychotherapist and registered member of the BACP, working in private practise in Derby. I hold a BSc in counselling and psychotherapy. I work with a wide range of issues, but my area of interest is somatic illness and how our emotional and physical health are linked.