Coping With Christmas Stress

The Christmas season is a fun time for lots of people and not so much for others.  If you’re struggling already, the extra social pressure to be happy and involved over the Christmas period can be too much.

Reasons Christmas may be difficult

This time of year can be particularly stressful and painful for people who have lost loved ones.  It can also be extremely difficult for people who are triggered or upset by the behaviour of certain family members.  Christmas can also be really hard to deal with if you struggle with depression, anxiety or an eating disorder.  A recent relationship or marriage ending can be another reason Christmas is difficult – and this may be further complicated if there are children involved.  Some people feel caught between different sides of their family, in terms of who others expect them to spend their time with at Christmas.  Financial worries can be felt more acutely at this time of year.  Another reason for stress in some people, is the need to have everything perfect – the perfect presents, food, house, or outfit.

The expectations of others

When you are not feeling especially strong or centred within yourself, the expectations and comments of others can push you further off balance.  Comments from family members about what and how much you eat, or how jolly you should be, can be excruciating.  It is a time of the year when you may feel out of your social comfort zone.  Maybe you end up sitting at the Christmas lunch table next to an aunt, who insists on asking personal questions that make you feel uncomfortable.  Or your grandfather has a habit of loudly announcing that you’re too skinny/fat/need a boyfriend/have weird hair/need to discipline your children.  Or it might be that you feel really down and awful and are certainly not feeling the Christmas spirit, but feel pressure from family and friends to be perky and bright, and you just can’t.

Feeling lonely

Maybe too much socialising isn’t your problem. Maybe you feel lonely and alone and unloved at Christmas time and wish you had people around you.  You see people you know on Facebook and Instagram appearing to be having a great time; and you wonder where your people are.

Be kind to yourself

During this holiday season, do what you need to do to take care of yourself.  Be kind to you.  Keep things simple – don’t create extra pressure for yourself to get things perfect.  Have time out if you need it.  Slow down and know that you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everyone – constantly putting other’s needs before your own is not good for you. Contact someone you can rely on if you feel lonely or are struggling.  Please call a crisis line if you feel you need extra support (see below).

Some suggestions for supporting yourself

Don’t wait until you’re in the thick of Christmas quagmire to work out how to get through it. Start supporting yourself now.

  • Learn some calming, breathing techniques and practice them daily (you could google it if you’d like).
  • Check out some mindfulness apps and start using them every day (two I love are: buddhify and smilingmind).
  • If you’re not coping, or really not having fun, is there someone you can talk to about how you feel?
  • If you’re interested in practicing how to assert yourself with others, a nice assertiveness strategy (Johnston, 2000) you might like to try, is to say:
    “When you say/do ….”
    “I feel …”
    “Because …”
    For example, “When you say I have weird hair, I feel sad, because I feel like you don’t accept me.”
    I get that that may be too big a step for you to take. It can feel enormously scary to assert ourselves when we’re not used to doing so. Particularly with certain people and in certain situations.
    Maybe if you’re not ready for that, you’d like to just think those statements in your head, rather than saying them out loud. Doing so, is a way to become clearer about your boundaries, and what is okay and not okay for you. If you are serious about learning how to be more assertive, you might like to look into some counselling or psychotherapy.
  • Do a regular check in with yourself. Notice how you feel, and try to be aware of what is your stuff and what is someone else’s stuff.  Remember that what people say and do is more a reflection of themselves, than it is about you and your worthiness.
  • Write down all your worries, without editing them. First consider how realistic they are – some may lose their power through the act of writing them out. Write another list of what you can do to feel calmer, stronger and more centred around the worries that do feel likely to occur. Then write a third list, of the things you actually do enjoy about this time of year. This is a good way to balance where you are focusing your thoughts – yes, there may be a lot you don’t like about Christmas, but don’t forget about what you do like. For example, having time off work, eating nice food, enjoying the weather, giving and receiving presents, or what ever it is for you.
  • Do nice things for yourself. What would that be for you? What can you do for yourself, that would make this time a little better for you, rather than gritting your teeth until it’s over?
  • If you do find yourself in a stressful social situation, and you feel you’re not coping so well, try giving yourself a moment. This could look a number of ways: take three, long, slow, deep breaths. Or notice your surroundings in detail by focusing on one of your senses at a time – what can you smell, hear, see, feel or taste? Or, physically remove yourself for a moment – go to the bathroom, outside, or for a walk. How would it be for you to communicate your needs to others? Could you let whoever you’re with know you’re not feeling great, and that you need some time out/a hug/or to not talk about that awkward thing right now?

And know that you will get through this time. It will pass, just as it has every other year.

Some Australian crisis numbers:

• Suicide Call Back Service – for people 15yrs+ who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal or bereaved by suicide. Immediate phone or online counselling, plus they offer follow up calls. Professional counsellors.
http://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au or phone 1300 659 467 (24hrs a day)
• Beyondblue – depression and anxiety
http://www.beyondblue.org.au
• Lifeline – suicide prevention and support for people in crisis
http://www.lifelinewa.org.au or phone 13 11 14 (24hrs a day)
• Kids Helpline – for young people up to 25yo who need to talk to someone
http://www.kidshelp.com.au or phone 1800 55 1800
• 1800Respect – sexual assault, domestic & family violence
http://www.1800respect.org.au or phone 1800 737 732 (24hrs a day)

If you’d like some more suggestions on getting through the holiday season, you might like to check out this: 15 Great Christmas Blogs To Get You Through The Holiday Season

Take care and best wishes,

Toni

To contact Toni Jackson for enquiries and psychotherapy and counselling appointments, please call: 0439 995 302 or email: toni@tonijacksoncounselling.com

Reference: Johnston, A. (2000), ‘Eating in the Light of the Moon’ Carlsbad, CA. Gurze Books.

Photo credit: mehmet nevzat erdoğan via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

One Comment on “Coping With Christmas Stress

  1. Thanks for that Toni – I especially like what you have said about the difficult and hurtful expectations of others; sometimes it just seems that others just don’t get how to be nice to each other, especially at this time of year! I think your suggestions about what you can do might be really helpful.

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