It’s no secret at Altum Health HQ that Christmas is a huge trigger for so many of our clients.
The pressure we load on ourselves to create the ‘perfect family Christmas’. That goal you may have set yourself to be looking your best. The extended periods of time you are going to be spending with family members. All these factors, and so many more, mean that this season is a metaphorical smorgasbord loaded with mental health challenges.
This is my last post before Christmas. So, I have decided to give you a very special gift – 12 practical techniques to bring you into the present this Christmas, so that you can increase your enjoyment of the festive period, protect your mental health and have a truly positive Christmas.
- Step into Christmas with a little psychological planning
Don’t allow yourself to enter a family gathering with the anticipation of it being stressful. Change your attitude by engaging in activities that can reduce your anxiety. For example, practise mindfulness, do some yoga or take a walk before you attend the family gathering. You’ll walk into that scenario with a more relaxed and positive mindset, which will help you to be more level-headed and tolerant of the situation you might find yourself in.
- Tis the season to be thankful
You know this already, but it’s worth bringing it to the forefront. Gratitude goes a long way towards easing our anxiety by remembering what we truly value: having a family and loved ones to spend Christmas with, a hot meal to enjoy, and a roof over our heads.
- It’s OK to enjoy a silent night
Set your own limits as to how much time you want to spend with your family or friends. If you’ve been invited to stay for four days, but you feel more comfortable with two, that’s ok. Allow yourself to be honest and make a plan that lets you protect yourself and stick to the boundaries you’ve set.
- It can start to look a lot like Christmas
Start by ‘defusing’ from your thoughts. This means stepping back from them and creating some distance. Remember that you are not your thoughts and that your thoughts are not facts; they are really just streaming words passing through your mind. Learning to defuse is a powerful way of managing anxiety.
- Lighten your mental load, ‘yule’ not regret it
Prioritise, and try to drop the idea of ‘perfect’. For example, replace ‘I must go to Midnight Mass’, with ‘It would be nice if we went to Midnight Mass’ and take the pressure off.
- Recognise the triggers and put them on the ‘naughty list’
If there are certain scenarios with certain people that you know will trigger an uncomfortable situation, plan for them in advance. You can choose to either discuss potential issues calmly with that person beforehand, or you can resolve to deliberately let things go for the time that you are together. If it’s alcohol that triggers a heated debate, limit your intake so your response to situations is not overly emotional. You’ll have the presence of mind to bite your tongue, calm down and respond when you’re not in a hyper-aroused state. It’s all about you managing your own boundaries as to what you are willing to tolerate.
- Be direct and assertive – even a touch frosty
You’ve thought about what the triggers might be, so – in advance, and in a calm place – practise a script that you’ve rehearsed, so you’re focused on your response. You may even choose to “agree to disagree“ to avoid an argument or heated discussion.
- Get your reindeers in a row
Avoid the opportunity for difficult relatives to take over. Control the conversation by asking people about themselves and what’s new, or perhaps co-ordinate a game or activity that allows you to be more in control. Surround yourself with likeminded people you get along with, but do remember it’s ok to politely excuse yourself.
- Stick to spreading good tidings
There are undoubtedly topics of conversation within all households that will trigger a heated debate or social awkwardness. Whether it’s politics, religion, your marital status, or your personal beliefs, if there are certain subjects you don’t want to get into, you need to plan ahead to manage that. Can you make it clear in advance that you don’t wish to get into that particular topic? If not, maybe prepare some ‘stock’ responses you can use if the conversation takes a turn in the wrong direction.
- Letter to Santa
Is there someone you can confide in to help you manage these situations? Or someone who empathises with how you’re feeling, who can step in as an ally? Having someone by your side will help give you the confidence to stick to the boundaries you’ve set for yourself.
- Give your ‘inner elf’ a talking to
It’s important to remember that you can’t change other people, but you can change your own behaviour to protect yourself. However, other people’s behaviours do have an impact on us. If you’ve removed yourself from the situation, you need to centre yourself again. Try positive self-talk, meditation, mindful colouring or take a short walk.
- This year you’re NOT Santa’s little helper
Finally, you are not responsible for other people’s behaviour and you don’t need to fix it. When we reunite with family, we often revert to type. For example, the older sibling who parents the younger ones. This is perfectly normal. However, don’t feel like you need to step in to defend the bullets to avoid social awkwardness. Have your needs met in a way that is mature, without falling into the default dynamic. Do what you need to do to put your boundaries in place to protect yourself.
So, what do you think? Achievable?
I would love for you to be able to give yourself a break over Christmas. The family lunch you’re at is still happening around you, whether your mind is present or not. Take some time to practise these techniques so you don’t miss out on the joy that is surrounding you; the simple pleasure of being with your loved ones (as much as the Covid restrictions allow), connecting and enjoying the spirit of Christmas.
And, if you need a bit of extra support with your mental health at this time of year, we are here for you. We have lots of resources on this site to help you enjoy a positive Christmas, and remember that you can also book a free 20-minute consultation with me, to figure out some next steps to get you back on track.
Take care and stay safe.
Dr Courtney x
If you’re struggling with anxiety, and would like to find out how we at Altum Health can help you, please get in touch for a free, 20-minute consultation via Zoom.