Most adults rate Christmas as stressful as divorce, having a baby, moving house or changing jobs.
The big difference is that unlike other big-life events, Christmas shows up at the same time each year and is pretty predictable. With a shift in mindset Christmas can be a holiday to look forward to rather than resent. Start by identifying your key stress triggers.
What stresses you the most about Christmas?
- Is it energetically coping with all of the preparation, parties and present buying?
- Is it the financial burden?
- Is it managing family expectations and dynamics?
- Is it the painful reminder of what was after a loss or separation?
Rather than ignoring the truth of what makes Christmas challenging for you, be brave, accept your limitations, face your frustrations and make a decision to approach things differently this year.
Many people are already running on empty at the start of December and simply don't have enough fuel in their tank to see them through all of the social activities, school shows and fetes or late night shopping events. When Christmas day arrives they end up so burned out that they can barely bring themselves to get out of bed, let alone attend to the turkey and trimmings.
This experience can be avoided by letting go of anything not absolutely essential from the to-do list, to-buy list or to-attend list.
Top up your tank as much as possible in advance of the big day. Block-out some time in your calendar to be reserved only for rest and relaxation. Take a pre-Christmas mini-break. Pamper yourself. Only you can make it happen. It might mean saying no to some people and bring up feelings of discomfort, but remember that every no you give to over-stretching yourself and your finances will bring you closer to a calmer Christmas.
Let go of any burden you have placed upon yourself by releasing associated feelings of guilt. Give yourself permission to put YOU first.
Like Queen Elsa in Disney's popular children's movie Frozen that my daughters so dearly love... we can all benefit from taking a break, relieving ourselves of some of the expectations of others and showing ourselves some love and self-acceptance.
The most valuable gift you can give yourself and your loved ones is YOU - healthy, well rested and feeling enthusiastic about spending Christmas day with those you care about the most.
If you neglect to look after yourself, everyone's Christmas could suffer - as Dr Herbert Freudenberger recalls:
"The more tired I was, the more I pushed myself. When my wife tried to caution me, I responded with irritation... During this period not only wasn't I listening to myself, I wasn't listening to anyone...Things continued this way for months as I continued to deny that anything was wrong despite my lingering cold, my fatigue, and my constant irritability. During the Christmas holiday my wife insisted that we take a vacation with the children... I felt I should go to make up for all the time I had spent away from home. My wife made the hotel and plane reservations. All I had to do the night before we left was pack my own clothes, but when I dragged myself through the door at 2am, I was too exhausted to do anything except fall into bed. I told my wife that I would pack in the morning, but in the morning I couldn't get up. I slept for two solid days and ruined the family vacation."
There may be things about Christmas that you feel are beyond your control, for example spending the day alone or with family members with whom you don't see eye to eye. While you can't change someone else or their behavior you are in control of how you choose to respond to them. Conversations and interactions can be dramatically different when you pause for a moment and contemplate how you truly want to respond rather than operating as if on autopilot.
Rather than stuffing down your emotions, like you would your Christmas dinner, take the time to digest the differences in outlook that exist between you and your family. It is okay to disagree with another person. Your differences do not need to result in a disastrous dispute.
"It takes courage to meet and greet emotions, beliefs and thoughts in your body
when you disagree with another person, especially family." Karen Brody
This fantastic Saturday Night Live video brilliantly demonstrates that by noticing when we are about to react, rather than intentionally respond, we can see beyond the other person's behavior and reconnect on a deeper level. It's also a great reminder of the healing power of music - and singer Adele's incredible talent!
So, if the very idea of Christmas has previously brought you out in a cold sweat, sent your blood pressure soaring or had you hiding under the covers wishing it would all disappear let this Christmas be the one to make a change:
- What would be the most powerful, self-preserving change that you could make?
- What would help you to make that change?
- Who could you talk to in order to gain support or encouragement?
- What might you need to believe differently about yourself, someone else, or Christmas in order for you to follow through with making that change?
Wishing you a peaceful Christmas spent in a way that brings you the most joy and spreads the most love.