*Christmas understood as the holiday season – no matter the religion – if any.
We can probably all agree – by the end of the year – we might be in need of rest and some fun, but it doesn’t have to mean the same for everyone. You may not want or be able to be merry. Or try and look stunning. And you don’t need to be in the mood. You don’t have to want to spend this time with your family. Or you simply can’t.
This article is about the set of tools and helpful ideas for focusing on what’s good for your well-being. I’ll talk about some assertiveness tactics and, finally, ideas that might help to ground yourself.
Dis the season to feel worse, too.
Christmas is a huge trigger for a lot of people. Not everyone wants to or is able to engage in anything Christmasy or finds comfort in being together. For some people, this time of year is a real-life horror story.
Precisely because ‘dis the time to be with people’ – we gather around the table, we meet the family, and a lot of memories come back. Sometimes it’s because of our struggles, sometimes it’s due to the specific circumstances – this way or another – we may not have all the strength we need to survive unharmed.
As it happens – some people seem to live to tell you when it’s time to have a child, to get married, to “try and not be gay” or “do something with your life” in general.
Each year I see more and more people reach out for a consultation around this time of year. Other mental health professionals also notice that pattern. Our patients in therapy tend to regress more and go through certain crises around this time of year.
A few things worth remembering:
Not everyone is Christian, not everyone has a family. Maybe you lost somebody, maybe you just went through a breakup, or are struggling with your health or finances. Not everyone is merry and carefree; not everyone is able to be.
But this seems to be the message we are bombarded with from all sorts of conventional and social media.
Speaking of social media – we all see the perfect pictures of perfect families. Not everyone can allow themselves to want something different, or to agree that it’s going to be something else. Not everyone can think that what they see on IG might be different from what happens behind the camera.
If you feel alone, if you are in mourning, in separation, or find yourself struggling with whatever - Holiday season is time you might feel a lot worse. It’s not only Xmas – it’s the New Year’s as well. The symbolic momentum of the passing of the old and the beginning of the New Year. A moment for self-reflection and some planning. It may cause enormous anxiety.
Some of us don’t practice a healthy relationship with ourselves. Some are new to setting boundaries, some lack basic assertiveness skills.
No matter what the case might be. With or without the family, in the crowd of people or by yourself, here’s a little list that may help you be better to yourself. A short guide for those of you who might want to take care of your mental health during this special season.
A quick guide on Christmas survival skills*
*by the way, I encourage you to use it anytime, not only during Holiday Season.
First and foremost – become aware of how you’re talking to yourself and recognize your own needs.
You may want to start this whole thing by realizing how you want to spend this time. If you’re even a believer, or if you even want to be with your family this time. Spend an afternoon thinking about what your ‘ideal’ Christmas would look like. And when you know, try to communicate it clearly to all the parties involved. Of course it doesn't mean you'll have it your way, but it opens the discussion about different needs and perspectives.
I’m assuming it is not your first rodeo, and you already tried reasoning with your family. Chances are – it didn’t help much. It happens sometimes, and while you might want to work on your assertiveness, in the meantime here are some strategies to help you through these couple of days.
Krav maga of the Christmas supper.
In other words – avoid touchy topics and difficult people. Guess what the first rule of winning a fight is. It’s trying to avoid it altogether if you only can. Same with difficult and potentially harmful situations. If you’ve learned time and time again that some people are not willing to take your feelings into account, or you feel the toxicity is killing you – try to talk to somebody else. Perfect the art of one-word answers. Excuse yourself, get up, and talk to somebody else. Remember to have somebody you trust with you, if possible. Remember, you’re only there for dinner or breakfast, and this setup is not the sentence for the rest of your life.
Do you want to go? Do you have to?
This is the question I know people don’t ask themselves too often. And it’s worth every consideration. Christmas does not mean you need to strain your mental health. You have every right not to go if you feel it’s harmful.
Time out – clear your head and cool down.
If you decided to go and you feel it’s getting too tense – give yourself some space. Go outside to breathe, you can even go to the bathroom and cool down your face. Exchange some text messages with a friend. Clear your head, and remember you can always decide to leave.
What to say to not say too much?
This one is sort of a krav maga technic too. In order to not talk about yourself – ask the person, you are talking to about them. This is what people love to do. Talk about themselves;) The better you are in reversing questions or being genuinely interested in the other person, the more certain you can be there won’t be too much time for all those questions you don’t want to answer.
Take care of your boundaries.
Not knowing how to set healthy boundaries can block you from knowing how to deal with uncomfortable situations.
So think ahead. Even if you’re caught by surprise and forced to answer, you can always say you don’t want to talk about it, you don’t feel like it, or you’d rather talk about something else. You and only you get to decide what to answer and if you even want to answer. You may prepare some topics beforehand – you feel comfortable to touch on.
If you can’t stand breaking the bread and wishes and kisses with 20 people gives you anxiety – feel free to opt-out. You are the co-creator of the Christmas spirit. You may come late, or you may talk to the hosts about it. If you let them know how you feel – there’s a huge chance they will respect that.
“NO” is a complete answer.
This one is golden. You don’t need to explain yourself, nor do you have to keep talking about a topic you are particularly reluctant to talk about. Often enough, people who are relentless in pursuing what they want to find out – will pass when they hear a simple “no”. It’s not your goal to offend anyone – this is a matter of your boundaries and your comfort, so if a simple hint is not enough – you may want to resource to a cold and definitive “no”.
Negotiate with whoever you come with when you leave.
More often than not, coming to a family gathering means compromising. Make sure if you decide to go and if you’re not going yourself – to agree on the time you’ll leave. It may bring you some relief to know you only have one hour to go;)
Shopping, gifts, and appearances.
Trying to make your Christmas look “as good as” is a dead end. Ask yourself if you need this kind of pressure. Your Xmas does not need to be Insta-ready. It’s for you and your loved ones to be comfortable and content. Too often is Christmas an occasion to go absolutely mad about buying, decorating, and all the preparations. If you’re a religious person – I assume the spirit of this time is not about consumerism for you. If you’re not you may be simply environmentally conscious. This way or another – remember to keep your head cool – it’s only a day or two. Is it worth going into debt to prove something or seem more like “all those other people on your Instagram”? Comparison will always be this ugly thief of joy.
It’s not only about social media. Often it’s about the family vibe too. If you know, they’d rather buy gifts that you find too expensive – talk to them about how you could make it comfortable for everyone.
If the shopping centers give you anxiety – shop online, or go to the mall on Tuesday morning when there’s no one around.
By the way – you don’t need to spend money at all, or you can choose to spend it differently. You could all agree, for example, to get gifts for those who need them the most or pay a certain amount of money for any chosen charity. The possibilities are endless.
Staying active, too much food, and too much %
It may sound surprising, but hear me out. Taking that walk, jogging for 20 minutes, or even yoga in the morning – works wonders. You will supply more oxygen to your brain, you’ll make those ‘happiness’ hormones flow, and your overall condition and resilience will improve.
You also don’t need to drink because everyone else is. Keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant, after all. For a moment you’ll feel a burst of a better mood, but in the end, you’ll feel worse than before.
And the food is good – just in moderation;) If you’re mindful about it, you might discover you feel more connected with your body, more aware, and more present.
Activate your inner calm.
If you know yourself – you know what brings you joy, what calms you down. If so – make sure you do some of those things. Maybe it’s a playlist you put on in your car when going to that Xmas dinner. Maybe it’s a conversation with your mom, or your best friend, or a walk with your dog, or drinking hot choco in the morning. Not to mention the obvious choice that’s meditation.
Journaling also helps. Write about your feelings – make it real and raw. Read this article if you need some help in starting out. You can also read this one about dealing with an anxious mind.
Whatever it is – make sure you do it, and you put it on repeat;)
What do you want, really?
No-one said that the traditions are there to last forever. No-one said the already established traditions are the ones and only ones to follow. How do you feel about making some of your own? Ones that you and your family will love? It can be whatever you want it to be, with the people that matter to you.
- If you don’t feel like cooking or baking – don’t torture yourself and order out or set some limits on what you will prepare.
- It’s not your job to feel responsible for other people’s feelings, problems and to fix them
- You have a right to make a mistake.
- You have a right to change your mind
- You have every right to feel your self-worth no matter if anyone else wants to convince you otherwise
- If you miss “your” people – make sure you reach out to them – if only for a short video call.
- Read and read some more. There’s inspiration and consolation to be found on the pages…
- When you’re tired of reading, watch a spirit-rising movie, but try to limit your screen time altogether…
- Remember to be kind. Not only to everyone else but to yourself as well.
This is it.
I wanted it to be short and concise. You and only you are the one to decide what’s right for you.
There’s a lot more to say about assertiveness and grounding ourselves and mindfulness, Of course. But this was meant to be a short and helpful guide to help you focus your thoughts on what might be. And I wholeheartedly encourage you to spend some time and make sure you take good care of yourself.
So how are you this Christmas time?