I’m going to be honest. I love Christmas. I am one of those nerds who loves the magic of Christmas. And I try and make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year for my kids. We bake, we do secret Santa, we wrap our Christmas presents, we decorate the tree together, and Elfie runs amok at night. Christmas is magical, and family-oriented, and based in Christianity (for us).
And if you had to ask me about Christmas growing up, I will tell you the same. Christmas was a magical time. We went to Noddy parties, we decorated the tree (including fake snow), we listened to Christmas music, we wrapped gifts for our family, and the Christmas food was untouchable.
But the truth is, as a child in my family, all credit for experiencing the magic of Christmas is on my mom. She made it special. There were a lot of challenges in my childhood, a lot of sadness around Christmas. We lost my grandfather a week before Christmas, most of my family is divorced, or blended families, family members have been ostracized for bad life choices. It’s a hotbed of family dysfunction. But all I remember is magic.
But being an adult, and having the ability to see that, is very different. So, although I would always come home for Christmas when I lived away from home as an adult, I did so because of my love of Christmas. But as an adult, I know there is no Christmas magic, so yes, it’s a lot harder.
Christmas as an adult means spending time with people we don’t necessarily get along with for the sake of “family”. It means returning to toxic environments and situations and being catapulted back to all those challenging childhood feelings – regressing almost. Adults have expectations loaded onto us, and responsibilities to be a grown up in all situations.
Needless to say, what I’m getting at, is that Christmas, or the festive season, is hard for many people. For some it’s not the obligation of seeing family you don’t want to, but actually, the loneliness of not having a family around, or grieving loved ones, financial burdens, fatigue from a hard year. The end of the year is an emotional minefield.
With this in mind, I have curated some tips for surviving festive (with your mental health intact)
- Plan ahead
I used to love, and I mean love, shopping on Christmas Eve. It gave me a rush, which I now know was actually related to ADHD and needing that dopamine hit, by gamifying my Christmas shopping – will I have all my gifts by the time the shops close or not? But in reality, the buzz and overwhelm of all the Christmas specials, the decorations, the people, is a lot. So, it’s best to plan out your shopping, and give yourself a deadline early in December to finish your Christmas stuff, and then you can sit back and relax while the rush continues around you.
Also, plan out your time, so that you don’t have to accept every social event that comes across your whatsapp – make time for the people you want to see, but also time for yourself to rest and recuperate. And if you don’t want to host Christmas lunch because it will give you too much anxiety, don’t say yes out of obligation. Hold yourself accountable to yourself and say no for your own mental health.
- Set a budget and stick to it.
We all joke about Janu-worry, because we all overspend at Christmas time and then don’t know how we are going to make it to the end of January. We feel obligated to buy everyone gifts, and big gifts (I mean, it’s Christmas). We also feel obligated to go to all the social events we are invited to. So, budget your resources so that you don’t have the post-Christmas financial burden stressing you out, and also your own time and energy to rest and recover before you return to work/school/university in the new year
- Tis the season
It’s festive! Which gives us reason to eat and drink more than we should, but it doesn’t count because it’s over the festive period. And then 1 January hits, and we are hit with guilt for putting on weight, and all the things you said at the work year end, or to your mother-in-law because you did take on Christmas lunch and got drunk to manage your stress.
So two things, we all know our limits, and how they make us feel. If you don’t want to stay in bed for an entire day, don’t drink so much that you are forced to, but if you do, don’t feel guilty, because what’s done is done, all you can do is rest, recuperate, and remember that tomorrow is another day. What I’m saying is that don’t beat yourself up for a few extra kilos, or one too many drinks. Just remember to be true to you, and what is good for you.
I’m sure you would have read it all over the internet when it comes to advice about looking after yourself: Set your boundaries, and stay true to them – don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Remember that even if the festive season is hard, it does have an end, this is not forever. And think of that when you are spiraling because of negative interactions. Also, make sure you make time for yourself – you can take proper time out like going to a movie, take yourself to coffee, go for a run, read a book. Do things that take you out of your head.
- Manage relationships
Like I said before, Christmas can be challenging because you may be forced to interact with family you don’t necessarily want to. There are, however, ways of managing difficult family members, and difficult conversations that you don’t want to answer about your weight, non-spouse, lack of children, lack of success at work etc.
Think of answers to questions you expect to get, in advance, so you are prepared to answer and aren’t thrown off by questions out of left field. If you do get stuck in a difficult conversation about topics you’d rather not talk about, prepare exit statements, or ways of changing the subject. If you really cannot get out of the topic, suggest an activity to be able to move on, like ‘hey I need to go help set the table’ for example.
You can also start your own traditions, things that make you happy. Once my kids were old enough, I was able to start my own family traditions. Through this I’ve been able to preserve the magic of Christmas, as an adult. But your tradition could be watching a movie by yourself on the 26th. Getting a special coffee by yourself on the 23rd of December. It can be anything.
At the end of the day, Christmas is punted as a special magical happy family time, but for a lot of people it’s stressful, and lonely, and triggering. All we can do if we are obligated to be in situations we don’t want to be is to remember that we are in control of ourselves. We don’t have to engage in conversations or with people that we don’t want to. If we have left an event feeling deflated, we need to take time out for ourselves to return to ourselves, no matter what that looks like.
Be you, do you, love you.