We are well and truly into December and they don’t call it The Silly Season for no reason!
It’s hot in Australia, so everyone is sweaty (unless you have solar panels and you leave the air on 24/7) and a little tesky. And the main topic of conversation is “It can’t possibly be Christmas already, I just took the Christmas lights down like yesterday”.
But whilst the romantic view of Christmas is that it’s a happy, joyous time, for many people, Christmas can be really, really stressful.
- Families are under financial pressure and it’s a time when you need heaps of money to feed the masses and buy all the pressies.
- Families can be estranged and this can be highlighted at a time when it’s all supposed to be peace and goodwill.
- People can be missing having passed through the year and Christmas just brings home the loss and the sadness that brings.
And did I mention it’s very hot?
Every week for the pain/ relaxation class, I write some nuggets about chronic pain or about stress and anxiety and spend five minutes chatting about whatever this weeks topic is with the clients attending. Most of this information is taken from the brilliant text Explain Pain by Dave Butler and Lorimer Moseley, but also from other different sources. So we are not just doing breath awareness and stretches, but also educating about chronic pain and anxiety management.
As we had dived into December, for this week’s nuggets, I thought it appropriate to do some research into coping strategies for Christmas. One of the great educators about managing chronic pain from the UK, Pete Moore, (who wrote the Pain Toolkit) actually sparked this idea because he asked quite a few of us on Facebook, who treat lots of chronic pain patients, about our best idea for managing with the stresses of Christmas.
I also often ask patients in December what will be happening for them for Christmas and just about everyone has some reservations about it and faces this time with a certain amount of trepidation. So what follows is from a couple of sources (1.2) and there’s some good hints on how to manage Christmas stresses and how to diffuse some difficult situations.
Set realistic expectations
Christmas might not be the fabulous family reunion you hoped for. Plan how you will manage any feelings of anxiety or depression that may arise.
Put the kids first
If you have children, or children are attending the function consider putting aside ongoing adult conflicts in their interest. Think about Christmas as a day for the kids and focus on enabling their happiness.
Drink in moderation
It may be tempting to drink too much during the festive period, but alcohol can contribute to stress, anxiety and depression. Alcohol may be a problem if you’re drinking to cope.
Avoid known triggers
If your family has a history of arguing over a certain topic, don’t bring it up.
Stay healthy to avoid Christmas anxiety.
Recognising and changing behaviours that contribute to your stress will help you get through the Christmas period. Remember to stay healthy – eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep can help you cope with Christmas stress.
Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression
When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.
- Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realise that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
- Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
- Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
- Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
- Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
Try these alternatives:
- Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
- Give homemade gifts
- Start a family gift exchange.
- Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and clean up.
- Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
- Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
Try these suggestions:
- Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks
- Get plenty of sleep
- Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
- Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
- Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
- Listening to soothing music.
- Getting a massage.
- Reading a book.
- Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional
- Take control of the holidays. Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognise your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
Here are some apps to help you further:
Smiling Mind Meditation
High Res – A Self-Management and Resilience Training
Take all of the ideas and implement, or maybe just use one.
But whatever you do, work hard to reduce stress and anxiety if Christmas tends to be a difficult time.
And always remember to breathe…….