To be very honest, as much as I love the run up to Christmas, this time of the year instils mixed feelings in me, and I know that this is not uncommon. Many aspects of our lives, positive and negative, are amplified in the holiday season. People start to feel the pressure and get stressed and emotionally fatigued about so many things: “How are we going to pay for the Christmas presents?” “Where are we having Christmas dinner this year?” “Do we go to your or my family for Christmas day?” “This will be the first Christmas without Dad.” “What if my Ex turns up at the Christmas party?’ “We can’t afford to fly home for Christmas this year.” “We lost our home this year, how can we still make Christmas special for our children?” “Can we just stay at home this Christmas, I don’t want another row with my mother.” Sometimes it might just be the overload of stimulation and the excitement of all the festivities, that becomes exhausting and just a bit “too much”.
These are just a few random examples and from my own experience I know that anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are at a peak this time of the year. Some of these situations are dramatic and out of our control, and Christmas can probably be one of the hardest days/times of the year. We are in control of other aspects though, and when we really think about it, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I believe it’s possible to reduce the stress a little, and to make Advent a special time of the year by being more mindful about what we let ourselves get sucked into. I’m writing this on Black Friday and the commercial frenzy around it. Believe you me, I am a sucker for a bargain but there comes a point when many marketing strategies are nothing short of an assault (as I am literally being bombarded with emails that keep popping up on my screen).
In the last few days I have compiled a list (for me as much as anybody) with ideas, of how we can try and take some of the stress out of Christmas and enjoy this time a little bit more mindfully. I am going to do my very best to follow some of them myself ;-).
- Try and not get sucked into the artificially constructed Christmas Mania. No, you don’t have to have all your presents bought at the beginning of November. No, it’s not compulsory to buy things (that you probably don’t need) on Black Friday or Cyber Monday or the ever growing supposed special deals events. Of course it’s great to get a bargain and there is nothing wrong with being prepared. Use this time to your advantage but without getting yourself into a spin accelerated by the marketing strategies of the industry. Write down what you need or want beforehand and then take advantage of the sale.
- Rather than letting children write endless lists of things they want for Christmas and then being either disappointed or completely overstimulated by the flood of presents, limit their wishes by embedding the reasons into a little story, for example: “You can wish for two things and a surprise, otherwise Santa won’t be able to fit all the presents onto his sleigh and we don’t want any children to be sad or disappointed.” (Feel free to be a little more creative than me ;-)) Not only can the children focus on a couple of things they really want and look forward to them, it also takes the pressure off parents, who only want their children to be happy, but who can get easily overwhelmed and financially stretched themselves.
- Talk to family members and reach agreements about the presents for your children. Children get so overwhelmed if they are showered with gifts, some of which they might never even play with. It makes so much more sense to ask Granny and Granddad (aunties, uncles etc.) to get something that is needed/wanted or even contribute some money to a larger present like a bike, musical instrument or sports equipment, that parents mightn’t be able to afford otherwise.
- Show some self-compassion and decide what is right for you and your family this Christmas. For some that might mean to say no to hosting a big Christmas dinner and deciding to have a quiet Christmas in their own home. Others might want to take the leap and reach out to others, ask for help and find a place to celebrate Christmas with others rather than staying at home. Try and not let others pressurise you into a situation, that you’re not comfortable with for whatever reason.
- Christmas is a very difficult time for many people and it’s important, but also very rewarding to show some kindness and compassion towards others in need. It’s also important for children to learn that Christmas isn’t just about receiving gifts, it’s about making sure that others can have a nice Christmas too. Donate some food to your local soup kitchen, ask elderly neighbours if they need anything, donate toys, clothes and books to local charities. There are so many ways in which we can show that we care about others in our community. For me, that’s what Christmas is about.
- Spend time together as a family, meet up with friends, enjoy the festive spirit. Without having to spend a lot of money there are so many lovely events and activities for everybody to enjoy. Bake Christmas cookies with the kids, meet up for a mulled wine at one of the many Christmas Markets, make some homemade decorations such as advent wreaths or ornaments. Spending time with loved ones and engaging in something fun and creative makes Christmas such a special time.
- Count your blessings. All of us have some suffering and painful situations. Too often we forget though, that we also have many blessings in our lives. A warm home, a family, a job, great friends, the opportunity of education, plenty of good food, our health… everybody has different blessings but we all have them… Sometimes it is very comforting to remind ourselves about how lucky we really are and especially in emotionally difficult times we can take great solace from showing gratitude.
- Go easy on yourself. Wherever possible take the pressure off consciously. You don’t feel like going to the Office Christmas Party, just don’t go. You don’t have to justify yourself. So often we are concerned about what others might think, what might be expected of us and that we are being judged. The more we learn what is good and right for ourselves and are brave enough to act on it, the less pressure we feel from others, but more importantly from ourselves.
Wishing us all a peaceful, less stressful Christmas time xxx
To read more about how we can bring more mindful moments into everyday life for us and our children, take a look at “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a Revolution”
Also our Mindful Games are a great resource fro both parents and educators to promote social skills, emotional awareness and mental well-being.