How to prepare for the reality of Christmas
Picture this… all around you, you start to see glistening lights, you start to hear music that is reminiscent of better times and is covered in rose-tinted glasses, you see on the TV generations of families sitting down around one table at one time with so much food and laughter it’s hard to take it all in. You see and hear “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” at least once a day and people around you are talking about what they have planned and what they have bought for everyone and anyone.
You see and hear all this, year and year again and you believe that your festive period should look like the above. But wait, it hasn’t in the past and it most likely won’t this year.
Your festive period is full of; rushing around, last minute buying of gifts, children unwrapping presents then throwing it behind them and onto the next not realising just how much you’ve spent on that gift that is now under a pile of used wrapping paper; kids screaming, people getting up and down from the dinner table, your parents saying something that makes you feel five again, your grandparents making a comment that doesn’t feel ok, bickering with your partner. Now you're left feeling deflated and like everyone is having a better time than you.
Hey, what happened? These two images are so different, right? Well, no wonder we end up feeling like we fall short. The first is full of magic and wonder – and that’s what it is. It’s not most people’s reality and it would do good for our mental well-being to remember this.
So, let's prepare for a Christmas that is based on reality and not based on the dream that we are sold. Maybe this can lead us to more joy. Here are some points that could be helpful to think about when preparing for the festive period…
1. Pre-plan who you want to be
Take some time to think of who you ideally want to be, how you ideally want to react to situations, and how you ideally want to interact with others. Create this image of yourself in your mind and make it clear, see yourself reacting to situations that you know will most likely come up, and see yourself interacting with others.
We’re not pretending here. What we are doing is creating choice. A difficult situation will come up and if we’ve already got a mental map of how we want to act, we can choose this version of ourselves.
2. Be conscious about focusing on one thing
It can be tempting to rush about on Christmas Day, opening presents, getting children dressed and making food. What ends up happening is we are not focused on any of these individual things and we miss those regular moments that are actually special.
So, commit to focusing on the thing you are engaged in at that moment. If you are opening gifts then allow yourself to take in everything about that. Then if you are cooking food, allow yourself to notice everything about that moment – the smell, the colours of the food the noise in the background. Focus and recognise the “small” moments.
3. Be intentional about boundaries
Think ahead of time about what feels ok and what doesn’t. That’s what boundaries are. You may want to communicate these with others beforehand – I’m here to remind you it’s ok to do so (even if it doesn’t feel like it is).
4. Bring your best friend along with you… in your head!
Our closest friends or those who have been truly supportive in our lives are usually the ones who give us compassion instead of being critical and shaming. Compassion is about recognising our own and other peoples suffering with a commitment to doing something about it. So these people probably would recognise when you’ve been going through a hard time and would help you figure things out.
Use their voice, what they would say and how they’d say it when you notice feelings of failure or not being good enough this Christmas. It’s ok to feel like that, after all, we’ve been sold a lie about Christmas throughout our lives, give yourself the same compassion that your friend would give to you.
5. Notice thoughts of failure and allow them to move on by
This brings me to my next tip which is to recognise when you are having thoughts of not doing well enough this Christmas and recognise that they are just thoughts. Recognise that you don’t have to believe them. That you don’t have to get stuck to them. That they can float on by like all the other hundreds of thoughts you have that day. Recognise that they increase because of the story you are telling yourself about your Christmas needing to look like the fairy tale that we are sold on TV and by society.
All these things are not easy, they are tricky and can feel messy and uncomfortable. Therapy can help you with these things and help you prepare for Christmas in a different way this year.