Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Take a Christmas reality check:

Give yourself the ultimate Yuletide present - treat angst-filled Christmases to an emotional make-over.
By Dr Leith Henry
Date: December 23 2013
Editor Rating:

Christmas can be a very stressful time for people, but it doesn’t have to be.

Often, people hold unrealistic expectations about what the days should be like.

They have this picture in their head – something like the perfect Disney day with all the trimmings and everyone is completely happy and every morsel of food is delicious.

But it’s simply not in one person's control to have a `perfect' day.

It’s important to know exactly what it is you want to experience. What is a ‘good Christmas’ to you? What are your priorities and values? What are the traditions and rituals you want to develop and make meaningful to you and your family? Once you can answer these questions, then make plans around them.

The important thing to remember is that the Christmas period is one of the very few opportunities for families to spend time together during the working year. It's a time for rest and relaxation, a time to enjoy being together and to be kind to ourselves and those we love.

Know what stresses you or others and do what you can to change it:

  • Family - Increased contact with family can lead to conflict, tension, pressure. Moreover, because we might expect this contact to resemble a Disney movie, our sense of disappointment or upset over tensions may be heightened.
  • Split families and in-laws - We may feel pressure to please everyone, spread ourselves around fairly, manage sensitivities and coordinate lavish gatherings (as seen on Pinterest).
  • Religious matters - Our values may be challenged by perceived obligations and expectations and tensions may arise around ideological clashes.
  • Financial pressure - Buying for large families can be expensive, and there is social and media pressure to spend more each year or feel guilty. The costs of social events and catering can all cast a financial burden.
  • Grief - The reminder of absent friends, our first Christmas without someone special or since a major change or event, can leave a sense of loneliness and grief that we may feel we can't share.
  • Loneliness - Separation and/or isolation can lead us to feel lonely and like 'Christmas failures'.
  • Triggers -Upsetting memories related to Christmas or childhood, brought on by the season or what/who it brings back into your life can unsettle us and may even trigger episodes of mental illness.
  • Having to be jolly - On top of all the above, the pressure to put on a happy face and be jovial can lead to a sense of leading a double life in which no one really 'knows us'.
  • Overeating and drinking - these can lead to weight gain, embarrassing displays, injuries etc.
  • Busy schedules of events - There is a danger of feeling exhausted and then having to return to work.

How to build Christmas resilience:

  • Find a balance between meeting expectations and getting what you want - let go of ‘perfect’ and Disney.
  • Start new Christmas traditions with connection as a focus - family, friends, self, others in need. Consider volunteering (Volunteers Australia or local acts of kindness).
  • As far as possible, maintain stress management, sleep routines, eating well, exercise etc.
  • Remember that others may be stressed too, so be patient and tolerant. Acknowledge emotion, listen for underlying meaning, be prepared to make some concessions and try not to personalise too much.
  • Decide purchases before hitting the shops, to avoid impulse buying. Consider homemade gifts (eg. baking, cards, jams, vouchers for your labour), but remember also to budget your time.
  • Consider that others might be relieved for you to take the lead in setting limits on expectations.
  • Learn to say "no" - you don't have to attend everything you're invited to, be the life of the party or to stay till stumps.
  • Allow extra time for contingencies,
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