December is rapidly approaching and the festive excitement is building up. Sparkling lights are being switched on, parties are nearing, the shops are filled with gifts, and snow is forecast. Christmas is bursting with family fun, mulled wine, log fires, carol singing and delicious food.
It's 'the most wonderful time of the year!'
Yet, for some people, the Christmas season is filled with stress and anxiety. They feel panicked by the heaving crowds and queues they have to battle through to buy gifts. Their minds race at night with thoughts of the complicated parties and meals they 'need' to plan. They feel anxious about making everyone happy and avoiding family arguments. They worry about the potential for colds and flu to strike them and their family down at an important moment.
This time of the year often involves financial worries for many, with the pressure to buy presents and host expensive celebrations. For some, the winter season is associated with low moods or even 'Seasonal Affective Disorder'. For those who have recently lost loved ones, this can be a particularly challenging time of year, with emotional thoughts about past celebrations.
But, although some people do have significant adversities or problems to contend with, more often than not, we create Christmas related stress and anxiety out of pretty much nothing - merely through our unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. Even in the face of real challenges, the way in which people interpret and react to situations has a profound effect upon how they experience them. We don't experience reality, but reality filtered through our belief systems and thinking styles.
One person, for example, might see Christmas as a great opportunity to relax with friends and family, whereas another might be anxiously worrying about how to make all the seasonal celebrations perfect. Some individuals relish the challenge of doing Christmas on a tight budget, finding creative ways to make things festive without spending too much. Others create anxiety about money and worry that the kids won't enjoy themselves if they don't receive expensive Ugg boots and iPods as gifts.
So, what can you do to ensure that your Christmas season really is a pleasurable time of year? How can you avoid creating excessive stress and anxiety and make sure that you enjoy the festive fun? The following three top tips are short insights from my Thrive Programme, a psychological training programme which shows people how to permanently change their limiting beliefs and thinking styles and guides them in developing the psychological skills needed to flourish in life. Putting effort into applying these tips will help you to take control of your thinking this Christmas, so that you can make the most of the holiday!
Three Top tips for Thriving This Christmas
1. Make sure that you process your positive experiences and achievements
This might sound rather obvious, but some people just don't notice that they experience lots of little positive things on a daily basis. This can especially be the case when people are very busy over the Christmas period; they can easily skip over their daily achievements and benefits. Others diminish positive events and think about them in a powerless way (normally because they have many limiting beliefs about themselves). This effectively means that they receive little or no psychological benefit from the experiences at all; they might as well have never happened!
Putting effort into thinking about your positive experiences (no matter how small!) for just five or ten minutes every day can really help psychological wellbeing. Why not make yourself a list on your phone so that you can regularly remind yourself of them? If your positive experience was something that you achieved, such as cooking a delicious dinner, you can also remind that you brought about the experience, helping you to feel empowered and capable.
2. Maintain perspective
Keeping perspective means maintaining a clear view or understanding of a situation. When you don't have perspective, you can't see the full picture and you are unable to have any objectivity over your circumstances. Over Christmas many people lose perspective over minor blips because they are so worried about making the holiday perfect. A minor family argument, for example, can be seen as a 'completely ruined Christmas day'.
You want to be able to keep a reasoned view of your worries or problems. We all experience challenges but you want to make sure that you are not making any experience worse by the way in which you are thinking about it. In the big scheme of things, does your current worry/problem really matter? Is it a matter of life and death, or are you catastrophising about it and making it seem really big? You want to take a step back and see the bigger picture.
3. Take control, and have a great Christmas
Christmas, just like any other period, is what you make it. Don't worry or anticipate things being stressful, the turkey being burned, loved ones not likening their presents... instead imagine what you want to happen. This 'positive anticipation' will have a direct affect upon your emotions and your stress levels. Do what you and your family want to do this holiday, and don't feel pressured by others. Decide what will make YOU happy and then act upon it. Celebrate family, love, happiness and just being alive - you'll have a great time.
For more top tips on how to cope this Christmas, check out Rob Kelly's book, Thrive - the Changing Limiting Beliefs workbook (£19.99. Available from Amazon, and all good bookstores)
The Thrive Programme is a NEW unique psychological programme which helps people with a number of different problems including, motivation, negative thinking, addictions, confidence phobias and a variety of other health and social conditions.