Christmas windows, Christmas lights, Christmas adverts and Christmas parties tell us that Christmas is fast approaching. Although portrayed as a time of magic, joy, fun and love, it is a time of considerable stress for many. 

Ultimately, Christmas is just one day in the year. Marketing, encouraging us to spend money, makes us feel it should be an amazing day full of excess. Even in the best of times, the reality is often very different. With many people still feeling the impact of the Covid pandemic, along with the cost-of-living crisis and the Ukraine War, Christmas will be a massive struggle for many.

What can we do to reduce the stress we feel when bombarded with images of the ‘perfect Christmas’? I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you.

What does Christmas mean for you?

There are many reasons why Christmas maybe tough and you will have your own unique set of circumstances. Try not to feel overwhelmed by the expectations of others and of yourself. Instead, stop and think about what you can do to create a day that is special and affordable for you.

Buying presents and food

Buying presents and organising food, place massive pressures on finances and time during the festive season. Marketing is everywhere, trying to persuade us to buy, buy and buy. The pressure to have the perfect Christmas feast and to give everyone wonderful presents can cause considerable stress.

Make a list of the things, relating to food and presents, that make you feel stressed in the run up to Christmas. What can you do to lessen the pressure/anxiety associated with each of these? You might need to work out how much money you can afford to spend. Once you know what you can offer, you will be better positioned to make decisions. Remember, Christmas is about giving and receiving. There is more than one way to give and to receive. It is not all about money and material things. Giving of time, love and kindness don’t cost money but can mean so much. Work out what is right for you and what you can afford.

There are no rights and wrongs. Don’t be afraid to admit to people if you’re under financial pressure. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Most people would rather not receive a present than you struggle with debt. If times are really tough, don’t be embarrassed to use a foodbank because that’s why they are there.

Being alone on Christmas Day

There are many people who will be on their own for part or all of Christmas Day, for a whole variety of reasons.

Are you a parent whose children live between two homes and will be spending part or all of Christmas Day with their other parent? How do you feel about being on your own? Will you enjoy the opportunity to do what you want, without having to worry about anyone else? Or will you feel lonely and a bit sad?

For those of you who will be on your own on Christmas Day for other reasons, how do you feel about the prospect?

If you are feeling sad, try to think how you could make it a more fulfilling day. One way is to change your perspective. Choose to see it as an opportunity to put yourself first. Plan to do things that you enjoy or have a well-deserved rest. A chance to recharge. Another alternative is to reach out to others who might be on their own. Perhaps a neighbour or a friend. Perhaps consider volunteering for the Salvation Army, Crisis or another charity that tries to give vulnerable people a special Christmas. 

As I have said before, Christmas is about giving and receiving. There are many ways to give and receive. Christmas Day might be an opportunity to gift yourself time and enjoyment.  Alternatively, it might provide an opportunity to gift others with your time and presence.

A sick loved one or bereavement

Many people are dealing with a close friend or family member who is seriously ill or facing chronic health issues. For many others, celebrations will be clouded by the pain of bereavement and loss.

If this rings true for you, I’d like to encourage you to ask yourself how you are. What are you finding hard? Is there anything you, or anyone else, can do to make it less hard for you?

Regarding your physical health, it is so important to do the basics well. Try to eat regular meals and to minimise comfort eating. It is good to incorporate some exercise and fresh air  into your day. Try to find time to relax and also time to do things you enjoy. Look out for unhealthy coping behaviours and consider moderating them, such as over-eating, drinking alcohol or spending money. When life is hard it is so easy to neglect self-care. Yet this is the very time when it is so important to look after ourselves.

If you’re struggling with negative emotions, try to recognise them and to identify their source. Maybe you need to let go of things you can’t change.  Maybe you need to forgive yourself or someone else.

Perhaps you’re struggling with the sadness of grief. Remember, grief is not just about death. It is a reaction to any sense of loss. Allow yourself the space to cry, to feel sad. It’s only by feeling the pain of grief that you can eventually move forwards. However, even in the midst of your sadness, try to look for something that will lighten your load….perhaps a bird in the garden, a beautiful sunset, the joy in your children…..something.

If you are struggling with any of the situations I have mentioned, maybe your Christmas won’t feel very happy. That’s ok. Yes, you may want to put on a smile for others at times, but trying too hard to appear ‘happy’ can sometimes backfire. Allow yourself some private space to be real and to feel what you are feeling.

Serenity Prayer and Gratitude

Two final pieces of advice for you this Christmas.

Whenever you are feeling stressed, remember the Serenity Prayer: ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference’. Identify the things that are making you feel stressed. Focus your energies on those stressors you are in a position to change.

Attitude of Gratitude: Make a conscious effort to notice the positives every day and maybe write them down. They will be there if you look for them and will help you feel better.

Whatever challenges you face this Christmas, I hope you will manage to have a day that feels special. Do get in touch if you are feeling stressed and would like some help.