I find Christmas a bit stressful but I don’t think I’m alone in that. Everyone has a different basis for their Christmas stress and I know what my problem is. I want to make the celebration perfect for everyone.
I did two things this holiday season that made it one of the least emotionally demanding Christmases I’ve ever had. The first was to limit my Christmas and New Year engagements to one per day. The second was that I didn’t drink any alcohol (or hardly any 😊).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that what I did is what everybody should do. When it comes to mental health and resilience strategies it’s a very personal thing. But it’s very important for everyone to find their “thing” at times of predictable stress - and stick with it. Practicing those stress management skills has the added bonus of helping you identify and hone strategies you are good at when unpredictable stressors arise at other times of the year.
Black Dog Institute’s Laura Kampel wrote an excellent post just before Christmas that summarised some of the strategies that many people find helpful in stressful times. But these strategies too have limited application for people who don’t find them easy to apply. There are many other strategies you can try.
One of my friends spends Christmas on her own in front of the same movies every year. She loves it. She finds the family hurly burly far too stimulating (in a bad way) and undertakes to see everybody separately in the first weeks of the New Year.
One of my patients has no family so she looks after other peoples’ dogs. It makes her feel that she is contributing to other people’s Christmas enjoyment and she also gets to spend time with the creatures she loves most.
One of my relatives travels the city talking to strangers and collecting Christmas stories for the anthology he plans to write one day.
I know of many families who reduce the financial burden by doing Kris Kringle or by limiting gifts to the children in the family only or by putting price limits on the gifts they give. Others wait until the post-Christmas sales to buy their gifts and open themselves up to other kinds of stress as a result!
It can take a lifetime to work out what is good for you and your mental health and some people never manage to work it out. That’s why we need to start talking to our children about stress management when they are young. Help them work out what helps them get through the tough times. Have them realise that its normal to need to actively manage emotions and that whatever is effective for them personally is the right thing – irrespective of what their peers and family members are doing.
Christmas, with its predictable stressors and emotional demands, is a great opportunity to learn and practice the emotional management strategies that work for you – but don’t wait till next Christmas. You may need to do some practice before then.