It's that time of year again, adverts pop up on our televisions with Utopian versions of peaceful family dinners, relationships within the family are full of jovial good will, it's snowing, there's an abundance of financial plenty and dozens of presents under the tree. It can really feel that you are the only one not caught up in the whirlwind of festivity, we can often feel the need to pretend that we enjoy it - or we courageously come out of the closet as someone who doesn't enjoy this period and we can then encounter judgement.
The newspapers, adverts, magazines and television shows we are surrounded by can create a false feeling that most people outside of your life are enjoying the festive season this, in turn, can contribute to a real sense of loneliness and isolation.
Anyone struggling with family dynamics, emotional and mental health issues or grief will know that time off work and away from our usual structure coupled with the pressure to step up and enjoy this Christmas period like everyone else, can create additional pressures. For some it can feel like looking into a lighted window from the outside, there is a holy grail of festivity and familial warmth if only you could get past the issues you currently face.
Let's get down to brass tacks - within the UK there are a vast number of people who will be finding Christmas difficult, the glowing fire and snowy wonderland image of Christmas is a media portrayal designed to get you to buy more things you don't need. The real fact is that many people will be serving up food amidst family strife, many people will be alone and many people will be unhappy this Christmas time. I'm not wanting to be a harbinger of doom - I'm wanting to let you know that it's ok to feel as you feel, you're not alone.
Here are my top tips to help you survive what can be one of the most difficult times of the year:
- Let yourself know that Christmas is a difficult time for many and that if you are finding the run up to Christmas hard, that's ok, you're not alone. In fact, Christmas is known to be a realm trigger for people's emotional health issues.
- When families come together it can often bring conflict this, in turn, can make underlying conditions feel worse, pre-plan your day beforehand, think about previous triggers for changes in how you have felt, weigh up how much time you really want to spend with people, plan breaks between contact with people.
- Think about what you need and want from your Christmas day, whilst many of us are juggling family time or work commitments, think about how you can be kind to yourself this festive period.
- Plan rest days or time slots so that you can recharge, look after your basic needs like sleep and eating good nutritious food.
- If you are spending Christmas alone as many people do, try to plan in things that you would enjoy during your day, buy the food you like, plan the things you want to watch. Our thoughts can often drift to feelings of loneliness, if this happens, notice it and then move onto your next planned activity. Try to shift your perception of Christmas day as a day of self-care for you.
- Don't fall into the trap of comparing where you are in your life/your Christmas with other people. Beware social media as this can really create a sense that people are having a better time/are more loved/are having more fun. Always remember that people use social media to create an impression - they can create a view of themselves that they want people to see, so whilst someone might put up a festive family photo in front of an extravagantly decorated tree, what they won't show is the family argument that ensued afterwards or how their depression nearly stopped them from being able to participate.
- Try techniques that are known for helping us to stay calm such as mindfulness - Headspace is a great app for that.
Most importantly try and get your needs met and remember that if you do find this period difficult, you are not alone, be kind to yourself.
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About Kirsten Antoncich
Kirsten Antoncich is an UKCP/MBACP integrative psychotherapist and counsellor working with adults, families and young people via face to face contact in the rural Yorkshire Dales and via video contact nationally.