Some years ago I wrote a blog post entitled ‘Christmas isn’t Easy’ that looking back seems to reveal more about my own chaotic life than perhaps I’d realised. Here’s an excerpt from that post:
“If you’re like me you’ve read that title and practically spat out your tea/coffee/wine/hard liquor. Of course, Christmas isn’t easy but can’t it feel like things should just be easier? The adverts on the telly show a Christmas that’s glowing, soft, warm, indoors, full of the right stuff. Our newsfeeds are either full of other people’s amazing Christmas decorations and/or celebrations or people screaming at us for not caring enough about the latest tragic event in another part of the world.
Isn’t it all a bit too much? Doesn’t it make you want to hide yourself away?
I found myself responding to a friend’s ‘How are you?’ with this:
I’m drowning in christmas carol services and grumpy/sleepy children (not dwarves!!)… And governor related stuff, and party organising and planning our Christmas service on Sunday and hosting life group tonight… So, procrastinating by being on [facebook]…!! Hoping that next week will be less crazy but I seem to have been saying that for the last few weeks now… Oh dear, over-committing strikes again!!”
This was Christmas 2016 and yet it feels a lot longer than five years ago – the pandemic really has been so all consuming for the past two years that time itself seems to have slowed down.
Still, it’s true Christmas isn’t easy, it isn’t special and sparkly and lovely and cosy, let’s be honest with ourselves! There is stress involved for every single one of us, whether that’s keeping to a budget, having to see awkward/obnoxious family, not having family, having to go to parties, not having any parties to go to, and so on. Of course, there’s also the uncertainty of Covid and this latest variant hanging over us, will there be another Christmas changed irrevocably by government decree?
There is much that is out of our control, but the best thing we can do to help ourselves is to recognise and mitigate as much of the stress as possible. Here’s a few things you could do to help make Christmas feel a bit less stressful (most of them will still apply even if the Omicron variant plays havoc with the rest):
- Acknowledge the stress: what or who causes it; the specifics about it. Try this short meditation – even if you’re unsure about the details. Sit with your eyes closed, and a rock (real or imaginary) in your hand. Take a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe out, allow the tension in your muscles to seep out. Do this a couple of times until you feel yourself really relaxed. Focus on the rock in your hand. Give the rock the name of the source of your stress, if you don’t know this then just give it the name ‘Christmas stress’. Clench your fist over the rock, as if to imbue it with all the stress. Hold it for 10 seconds. Unclench and sit with an open hand for 10 secs then turn your hand over to release the rock. Say ‘I release this stress to you’ and, if you want to, say a little prayer of thanks.
- Plan your day. Christmas Day is one of strange and overhyped expectations about spending time with family, eating a lot of food and watching TV, or playing a board game, listening to opinions being expressed that you probably disagree with and either being drawn into heated debate or having to bite your tongue in order to ‘keep the peace’. Putting in as many boundaries as you’re able will help. Specify a time you will arrive and a time you’ll be leaving. Decide you’ll go for a walk, for example, while the family watch something you don’t want to watch. Watch your alcohol consumption – this should be easier if you’ve driven over to visit family and will be driving home again.
- Let go of expectations of perfection. Something will ‘go wrong’, so prepare yourself for it by dropping any expectations. It’s hard at first, but gets easier as your brain learns the pathway of ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s only one day’.
- Take the path of least resistance if this will help (though not if it won’t!): Buy pre-prepared food; don’t have turkey if you don’t like it; order in pizza; talk about the weather; play a board or card game that’s light-hearted.
- Keep talking. Christmas can be oddly isolating, but we all know that any issues we’re wrestling with are not necessarily going to be paused for Christmas so keep talking to your safe people. And if you don’t feel you can, then The Samaritans are always available on 116 123 (UK)
- Keep a routine going. We still need our sleep, exercise and nourishment. Resist the temptation to stay up into the night, ensure that there is time outside in every day, nourish the body but also the soul.
If at any point you feel that you aren’t managing well and need someone to talk to The Samaritans are always there. You can call them on 116 123 (UK)
And just a note about the excerpt above: my 2021 has been a year coloured by high pain levels and burnout on a scale I have not known before. I have very recently discovered that I probably have ADHD, something which finally makes sense of the last 46.5 years, including my propensity to massively over commit. I can’t help but think that the burnout has at least in part been caused by this kind of unboundaried, chaotic practice as described above, as well as recognise, finally, that I was simply giving my brain a lot to think about because that’s what it was already doing.
This year I am involved in nothing, apart from cooking the meat for Christmas Day dinner. No carol services, no governor responsibilities (thank goodness – that’s an entirely different story), no life group, no Christmas party at our house. Of this list it is the last one I miss the most, a casualty of covid that I hope we will resurrect at some point. However, it is not only covid or burnout that has caused this lack of responsibility, neither is it entirely my own decision making, but goodness me am I glad to be doing nothing. Finally.
Christmas isn’t easy, but we can make it easier for ourselves by using good boundaries and choosing what to say ‘yes’ to.
Have a good one my friends
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