The holidays can be a hard time for some, whether it’s the pressure from families, the financial burden or personal anxieties, we all experience some difficulty. When we compare how we are feeling to how we are ‘supposed’ to feel (damn societal norms) i.e. merry, full of joy and generosity, it can make us feel even worse.
Don’t let the holidays become something you dread every year and make you feel like an outsider. Instead, here are some practical tips to help you minimise the stress that comes with the holiday pressure and hopefully, help you enjoy it just a little more this year.
Some of these heightened feelings can be bought on by many factors: happy memories from when you were younger, a loved one, the pressure to be merry when you are already have an ongoing mental health disorder, etc. There’s lots of money involved this time of year (and growing with the ridiculous capitalism and societal norms for bigger and better gifts) families argue, people are alone, people are knocked out of their usual routines, and so on.
Whatever it is you are suffering with, please don’t feel alone. Reach out to someone you love (or a friend, or a GP) and get some help dealing with it, because, no one should ever feel like this. No matter what time of the year.
Anyway, here are some things you can try and implement to minimise their impact this holiday.
Acknowledge your feelings and know it’s okay
I think one of the worse things we can do (and probably all do more often than not) is dismiss our feelings and bottle them up. Acknowledging your feelings is hard, but it’s a huge step forward. It will help with what you decide to do over Christmas, what space/boundaries you set yourself and how you can cope with stress and anxiety over the holidays.
It’s okay and totally normal to feel stressed, anxious or even depressed, especially this time of year. You shouldn’t feel like you have to force yourself to be happy if you’re not. Find what works for you – write it down, speak to someone or even speak to your GP.
Keep a routine
If you are someone who thrives off routine and gets anxious/stressed when something is not planned, then definitely try and keep up your routine over the Christmas holidays. This will help you keep some control over the busy period. This includes food, morning and bedtime routine, the time you take any medication, exercise, etc.
Have some ‘opt outs’ up your sleeve
I personally find it easier to go into a situation when I know I have an ‘opt out’. This works so much better because sometimes, situations are different and not as bad as I envision them to be. But I hate feeling trapped.
At first, I would tell people I might have to go/have a specific time to leave. Then if I want to, I have an out. Now I am much more comfortable with telling people that I sometimes get uncomfortable/anxious or just not in the right headspace at the time, so may not attend or I may leave early. This means I go in much more relaxed and at ease. This in itself reduces my stress and helps you take a bit more control of the situation.
Other ways you can help is:
- Setting boundaries with yourself and your family members
- Figure out what triggers you and be prepared (is it a particular setting, or family member, of so, can you limit this?)
- When you feel stressed, head outside and say you have to make a phone call, grab a drink, step out to the toilet or blow your nose (not encouraging lying, but I know what it’s like when you cannot tell people how you really feel)
- Speak to your therapist around coping skills in social situations
- Take a few deep breathes and realign yourself.
With the above points in consideration, remember to be realistic. It’s difficult when you see the perfect make up of families on the TV this time of year, but remember every family is different. Family members get older and change and that’s normal – not everything has to be perfect. Hold onto to what you have, but be open to change and new traditions.
Make time for yourself
Make sure, in the hussle and bussle of this festive season, you take the pressure off yourself a little and give yourself time. Whether this is a few hours or a few days, just make sure you schedule in some quiet time to reflect, let yourself feel and even do something YOU enjoy. Seek inspiration and try let lose, let out your creative side.
- Find a group activity
- Take a yoga class
- Listen to your favourite music
- Read a book
- Take a walk
- Book a spa treatment
- Spend time with your bestie
Don’t isolate yourself
While making time for yourself, be wary of isolating yourself. It’s a hard time of year for many people, and no one should have to go through it alone. Find a good balance between giving yourself time, and spending time with other people. The people you know will make you smile and make your time together enjoyable. If you struggle with that (I personally don’t have many friends) you can always volunteer or do some local group activities.
Do some things you enjoy
What do YOU enjoy doing? Really think about the different activities that bring you joy, and while balancing some quiet time, make sure you take part in something that will make you smile. Everyone is different.
- Read a book
- Listen to good music
- Tick something off your bucket list that you have been too scared to do
- Book some activities
- Book some activities
Make time for mindfulness practices, in whatever form works for you. Meditation, breathing techniques, a walk in nature without using your phone, yoga (I’m always an advocate for yoga. And there’s no better time than now to set time aside for yourself and start. What have you got to lose 😉) There are many benefits of a good mindfulness practice, and it really doesn’t have to be long at all, but it can make a huge difference to your mental wellbeing.
Create boundaries and stick to them
Think about the things that you enjoy, the company you enjoy and those you do not. Set yourself some limitations that are comfortable and will bring you the least amount of stress. Determining these in advance can have a great effect on reducing the stress and anxiety in the lead up to Christmas, and in situations. Be strong and know when to say no, without being rude, of course 😉
Before setting boundaries:
- Become more self aware
- Think about the situations that make you happy and those that make you feel uncomfortable
- What would be a good balance for you?
- What do you need?
The less commitments and running around you have to do, the less stressed you are going to be. This can help mitigate any heightened anxiety or depression. I find it helpful to think about prioritising and using the Urgent vs. Important Matrix by Eisenhower (discussed in more detail here).
I can think about which tasks are urgent, important and ‘can wait’. Be strong and cross out the ones that can wait. If nothing can wait, think about how you can do them more efficiently, e.g. if you have Christmas shopping to do, is there anything stopping you from scheduling an hour of your time and ordering it all online?
Also think about the situations you are going to be put in and rank them in terms of which ones you are more stressed about. The most stressful ones:
- Do you have to attend?
- Can you limit your time there?
- Can you go prepared with some coping techniques?
Have a think about what you can do to eliminate the stress and:
- Stay calm
- Be clear
- Make your boundaries known to others
Hopefully family and friends will honor your boundaries and accept them. If this is the first time you are setting them, expect a little pushback. This is not personal, they just may not understand, that’s all. So remain calm and stand by your boundaries. The more you stick to them, the more understanding people will become. True friends and loving family members will respect these.
The pressure to say yes (and forget your boundaries) is DIFFICULT. The pressure and expectations are hard enough during the year, let alone at Christmas. Saying yes to everything can make you feel overwhelmed, therefore heightening your feelings. Try to stand strong and say no.
One thing I find that works for me, is to tell them you’ll let them know soon (this gives you a chance to reflect on everything, your time and whether you want to attend and make an informed choice based on your mental wellbeing. This will hopefully take the pressure off to answer straight away).
Set some new year goals and aspirations
The new year is a great time to start thinking about what’s next in your chapter. Think about what you want YOU want, in all aspects of your life.
- Physically, emotionally and mentally
Reach out to an old friend or someone in need
If you’re feeling alone, why not reach out to someone? Is there someone who used to be in your life that you haven’t seen for a while? Someone who has been quiet on your radar? Now would be a great time to reach out to them and see how they are. You never know what other people are going through. Write a letter, text or even pick up the phone.
If not, there are hundreds of people who will spend Christmas alone this year. Why not make their day and make a new pen pal?
Set aside differences
We all grow and change, and not everyone will get along. Try to remember that everyone is different and that’s a good thing! Try to set aside your differences and make the most of your time together. Accept people for who they are and let go of expectations (or the past!) Remember to be sensitive – some people grow, some people are really effected by the stress, some people show love in different ways.
Every day and every year is a new chance to enjoy the holidays with your family. It’s so easy to expect last year’s Christmas, or even look at other people’s Christmas traditions.
Whether it’s Christmas or a normal day, comparison is not a good idea. Everyone is unique – and that’s what makes us so special. Everyone has a different family, different traditions, different background, different incomes, different lifestyle. Focus on what you have and remember:
“Comparison is the thief of joy”
Finances – where do I begin? Doesn’t the cost of Christmas just seem to keep growing or is it just me? Big and better gadgets are realised every year, and the budget you had 5 years ago does not begin to cover it. But you shouldn’t let shame prevent us from enjoying this holiday season.
- Setting a budget
- Speaking to family
- Handmade gifts
- Experiences > Expensive gifts
Personally, I just cannot afford it and do not expect others to buy me loads. Some days I even sit back and wonder why we go so extreme? But everyone is different! I personally have set myself budgets and spoken to my family about this. They were all very understanding; we don’t want to buy happiness.
This will only work if you’re a planner. If you thrive off being spontaneous, then you do you!
But for anyone – it might make things a little easier if you have a rough idea of the days you will:
- See family
- See friends
- Make time yourself
Making these plans in advance help prevent a lot of stress and scrambling, as well as giving you time to think about how all these different activities make you feel and how you can deal with them all. Uncertainty and rushing can only add to your stress, so why not mitigate it by planning? If you plan it well enough, you might also miss the stressful shopping rush days before Christmas!!
I hate to tell people how to eat. I’m not a nutritionist and I hate it when people comment on my food. But I think I can certainly draw some conclusions from my own experiences as well as research studies. Whether you are conscious about food or ‘on a diet’, I personally feel like Christmas puts a lot of stress on everyone, just in terms of food alone. People are worrying and joking they’re going to ‘get fat’ and ‘roll back into work in the new year’ because it is generally accepted and actually encouraged that we will gorge over this season and just worry about everything in the new year.
Okay yes there are a lot more outings and social events and to us that means more food. We are feeders, and there are many studies that show how food can affect our wellbeing, but we shouldn’t abandon our healthy habits. Over the holidays, we can enjoy food and still:
- Eat in moderation
- Eat lots of vegetables
- Drink lots of water
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sleep
Enjoying the holidays and balancing your usual routine will definitely help you feel better, inside and out. I think keeping up every day practices like this will definitely help mitigate any feelings of:
Try not to use overeating as a coping mechanism. If you feel yourself doing this, please speak to someone for help. Reach out to friends, family or even your gp. There are also numerous online chats and helplines available.
Limit alcohol intake
Just like overeating, a lot of us can turn to alcohol to help cope with the stress (and family members!) It may seem to work in the short term, but this can have profound effects on you, mentally and physically. Enjoy a drink, but try to draw the line at a coping mechanism. Again, if you feel yourself getting to this point, reach out for help.
Let go of expectations, limiting beliefs, perfectionism and people pleasing. Don’t let them wear you down or ruin YOUR Christmas. This time of year, is really about being together and spending time together. Remember that.
Seek professional help if you need it
The holidays can really bring out mixed emotions for people. It might be that you suffer from (SAD) or you really feel the stress this time of year or you may have an ongoing Mental Health Disorder. No matter what it is or how long you have it, they’re ALL just as important. We need to take care of ourselves, acknowledge our feelings, help ourselves as well as ASK for help.
If you are spotting signs of feeling low, stressed, anxious, fatigued, unable to sleep, hopeless, no energy to see anyone or do anything, or just anything out of the ordinary, please talk to your GP or a mental health professional. You are never alone, I promise!
And the same goes if you have a friend or family member who is suffering with a mental health problem. Reach out, see if they’re okay and ask how you can support them.