As Christmas approaches, you may be relishing the prospect of time off and being with your family. But for many people, Christmas and family occasions can evoke dread, anxiety and depression. It’s less ho ho ho and more no no no.
For some it’s the feeling of reverting to childhood roles where, whatever your age and stage in life, you feel put back into the box of being young and having to play a role in your family (the caretaker, the pleaser, the joker, the protector etc.) Being this way can make you feel dread about being with family, confused, anxious or depressed about spending time with them.
For others, it going back into a place of pain or conflict. When the pressure of being together, along with alchohol and loads of food becomes a powder keg, something explodes and all hell breaks loose. You can feel a lot of anger and powerlessness around this time.
Or Christmas might be about loss, grief and loneliness. You may have lost loved ones and friends and Christmas or family occasions serve as a painful reminder of who is not there. It can be painful to feel the pressure to celebrate when loved ones aren’t there anymore.
So if Christmas fills you with dread and anxiety, here are 23 little gifts that you can unwrap at anytime to take care of yourself.
The idea here is to find some things that will support you through the difficult moments of the holiday period, whether you’re alone or with your family or friends. See which ones work for you or resonate with what you need.
1 Decide on what’s important to you and find some time to do it
If your need is to rest, or to be active, not to cook or take care of, to meet with a trusted friend or just to be alone, think about how you can get some time just for that.
2 Take time out from family and friends
However, close, connected or you love being with others, it’s good to take time and out to recharge, recalibrate and reconnect with yourself.
3 Make time with those who you feel good with
There can a strong feeling of obligation and duty around at Christmas. If you can, try to ensure you balance duty against contact with those who make you feel good about the world and life.
4 Minimise time with those who make you feel bad
Obvious to say following on from 3, but if being with certain people is painful, and you feel you have to, minimise the time you spend with them if you can. Limit your visit to a few hours or ensure you can get away if you need. Find ways of taking time out, like going for a walk, having a long soak in the bath or taking some alone time.
5 Be kind to your body – eat well and drink but know your limits
It’s a period of indulgence of course, but your body deserves respect and being taken care of. Over eating and drinking can lead to low feelings and low energy and even depression. If you body feels good, it will help you feel emotionally well too.
6 Focus on your experience, whatever it is
There’s a lot to be said for some mindful practice at Christmas. Taking time to be aware of all your experience, positive and unpleasant, and to allow as much of it in as possible can help you feel more alive and tolerant of the highs and lows of your days.
7 Don’t feel you have to please others all the time
You might feel a lot of pressure to be a certain way. Joyful all the time. The supportive helper. The up for a laugh child or sibbling. That pressure can be stifling. Giving yourself permission not to please others, even if for a short period, can help take some of that pressure off.
8 Use mindfulness to be as present as possible
Following on from 7, the practice of mindfulness can open up new perspectives on your experience. Try mindful eating or showering, to really bring yourself into contact with your body and you whole experience of being in the moment. There can be real joy in experiencing the physical sensations through mindful attention.
9 Turn off the tv and connect with others
Ok so sometimes the TV is a blessing. It takes the heat out of the situation (assuming you agree on what to watch), gives everyone a break from each other and can be fun too. But if the TV becomes the dominant entertainment, it might be stopping you from really connecting with others. Experiment with a no TV day or half day and see what happens (oh and that probably means no screen time of any sort.)
10 Give something back into the community
Research has shown that people who feel connected with others and who can connect with compassion for others generally feel better about life. Are there ways you could connect with your community over the holiday period. Invite an acquaintance for tea or coffee. Pop in to see an elderly neighbour or help with their shopping. Support a community initiative. There are so many options, just see what feels right for you.
11 Make a gratitude list for what’s good in your life
Another idea supported by wellbeing research. When the going gets tough, it can really help (well it helps at any time actually) to capture some things you are grateful for. Allow yourself to really connect with what it is that you might feel gratitude for, whether it’s relationships, friendships, natural beauty, a pet, food and shelter, peace or something else. See what resonates for you.
12 Know that all things pass
If you’re having a tough time, it can be helpful to know that all things pass. The one certainty in life is that things can and do change. A period of suffering will always have moments of break and light.
13 Spend some time outdoors in nature
Being outdoors in nature is good for you in so many ways. Exercise, stress relief, heightened senses and attention. Find somewhere that draws you – hills, woods, water and take some time to drink in the beauty and serenity. You’ll feel better for it.
14 Reflect on your year and see what has changed and what hasn’t
Following on from 12, take some time to look back at the year you’ve just lived. What has changed for the better? What has stayed the same. What might you want for the following year. This isn’t about resolutions but having a conscious intention for what you want to call into your life.
15 Choose one thing each day you can do to be kind to yourself
Start with the small things and think of something you can do each day that will really feel caring to yourself. Give yourself longer over that cup of coffee. Read a favourite book. Call a friend. Sit and watch the world go by. You’ll know what works for you. Pick something and do it and notice yourself enjoying it.
16 Choose something small you can do that gives you joy
As well as self care, doing things that give you joy with deliberate intention can be really helpful. Listen to a favourite song and dance without a care. Watch a movie you love or cook a meal that gives you real satisfaction. Give yourself an extra 20 minutes in bed. Anything that makes you feel a bit lighter and more joyous can help.
17 Write down your experience, good and bad to get some download / offload and distance
Keep a note of what’s happening. Write down what’s happening, good and bad as a way of both processing it and understanding it and also taking a step back. Journalling is a great technique for self-therapy. You get to talk to yourself about all the good and bad that’s happening, in private, with no interruptions or comments. Great!
18 Have an emergency self-rescue pack (favourite book, songs, item of clothing, poem, food, drink) that you can call on if things are feeling really tough
If you’re really struggling, it can be really helpful to have something to rescue you without having to think about it too much. Think of this as an emergency pack if you were on a desert island. What things would you break out to help you if it was hard going? A treasured photo? Some chocolate. A verse or two that are meaningful to you? A song. Your emergency pack can have any or all of the things that would comfort you and bring a smile back to your face.
19 if you have a problem relationship with a family member, think about your triggers and see if you can give yourself some shielding (think of some armour) that can protect you
If you’re worried about how things might go with a partner or family member, try to imagine yourself with some protective armour so that whatever happens, you can’t be emotionally injured or hurt. The armour protects you and keeps you safe.
20 If you find yourself reverting along with others to childhood roles, remember you now have choice whereas you may not have had as a child
It’s very common, however old you are, to find yourself reverting to the role you played in your family as a child. If you were the star or the hapless one, the comic or the helper you can find yourself drawn into the role again. It can be helpful just to know that you are now and adult and you have choices. Your life is now your own, however strong the pull to be like you were might be. Take a deep breath, count to 10 and say to yourself I’m more than this role I play.
21 Turn off your phone or computer for a period
With smart phones so pervasive, social media and the internet can provide some helpful escapism from time to time but if your default position is to be always checking your phone, try experimenting with not having the it on for an hour or two. You might feel twitchy and uncomfortable. Or you might feel relieved. Not being on your phone might allow you to be more in touch with your experience in the here and now.
22 Shop mindfully
As well as the holiday period, it’s the Sales season. I’m not here to tell you you shouldn’t shop for a bargain but I wonder what it might be like for you to shop mindfully. Try and notice all of your experience, the part of you that wants to buy and what the buying means for you; the part of you that gets excited, the part of you that worries about spending. Be in tune, as far as you can with all of your experience.
23 Watch a feel good film or read a treasured book
Sometimes it’s just good to take time out and give yourself a break from the stress, difficulty and busy-ness of the holidays. Why not take some time out with a bit of self-indulgence. A favourite film or book that make you feel good can be a real tonic if you are struggling.
24 Be kind to yourself
Above all, there is something very powerful in bringing some loving kindness to your experience, whatever it is. You can feel a real pressure to feel a certain way with others, and that in itself, can lead to feelings of anxiety or depression, frustration and irritation with yourself and others. Take a deep breath and really try to connect with all of your experience, and know that kindness starts with yourself. You’re doing your best, however you are.
25 If you feel desperate…
Know that there is support around. If you don’t have someone you can turn to in your life that you trust and you feel trapped or desperate, please consider a national helpline like the Samaritans. They’ll hear you, however you’re feelings and give you some support for the difficult time.
Can things change for next time?
If you struggle with Christmas and family occasions and would like to explore more why that is and how you might change your relationship to them, why not get in touch? I offer counselling in Totnes and online, providing a safe confidential space to work through what you’re struggling with.