As Andy Williams famously sung, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, but for some of us, the Christmas holiday period can be, well, not so wonderful.
Often, there are myriad pressures, expectations and strong emotions that can throw us out of balance. Different family dynamics, the stress of entertaining, or even just learning how to adjust to being away from your own family at Christmas time can be emotionally challenging.
Gaston Antezana Ortiz, Lecturer in Counselling at Murdoch University and Director of the Caladenia Counselling Clinic on campus, advises there are some simple things you can do to help make it through this busy time of year. Here are his five top tips to keep calm these holidays.
1. Take it slowly and have a plan
It’s easy to get caught up in the frenetic pace of Christmas, and even easier to get caught up trying to have the biggest and best Christmas spread, the most expensive presents for your family or the best decorated house. (PSA: Christmas is not a competition.)
“Take it slowly and plan ahead,” Gaston recommends. “It’s not a competition and although things can feel rushed at times, it’s important to remember that you can be in control."
Just because your neighbour made baked goods for every house in the street doesn’t mean you need to as well. Do what you can, and try not to compare yourself to others.
2. Be grateful and enjoy the little things
We know it’s not always easy when your mother-in-law critiques how you’ve applied cream to the Pavlova, but Gaston suggests focusing on the little things that make you happy and remembering that being able to celebrate the holidays is something to be grateful for in itself.
It’s not about having more or less, it’s about being present and appreciating the fact that you can actually be stressed by such a thing as a holiday season; you have been given much more than you realise."
3. Look after yourself
The holidays are about giving, but with too much giving you’ll have little energy left in the tank. You’ll struggle to get by if you don’t practise at least a little self-care, which means if you have to trade in an hour of writing out Christmas cards to take a walk, listen to some music, or read a book, you should do it!
To look after others, you need to look after yourself and the holiday season is no exception.
“Do something fun and take some time out of every day just to be happy,” says Gaston.
Looking after yourself doesn’t have to be expensive; even something simple like hitting the beach with your family or your dog can work wonders, you just need to actively prioritise what makes you feel good.
4. Your presence is a gift, too
Giving can make you feel good, but that doesn’t mean you have to re-mortgage your house to give gifts to everyone you know, or stress yourself out by facing the shops the week before Christmas.
The act of giving can be as simple as dropping by to say hello to a neighbour who doesn’t have their family around this Christmas, or donating to a charity or local cause.
“Giving is something that will bring meaning to your life and will remind you about what all this is about in the first place,” says Gaston.
5. Enjoy spending time with the people around you
Embrace the time off over the Christmas period to spend time with the important people in your life. It’s okay to say no to party invites from your third cousin twice-removed – it’s a busy time of year and it’s important people understand this.
Do you need to de-prioritise a few events to free up time to be with the people you love?
Gaston suggests focusing on your relationships instead of worrying about presents and events.
“It’s not about the presents, it’s about the relationships. The holidays are a great opportunity to celebrate being together and to create your own traditions.”Need to talk? If you find the holiday season stressful or start experiencing anxiety or depression over the holiday period, counselling is a great way to help you navigate any negative feelings that come up. Talking to a professional can help you clear your mind and control your feelings in a positive way, not only at Christmas but during other stressful times of the year.