T’is the season to be jolly…but what if you’re feeling anything but?
The season of goodwill is generally characterised by merriment and cheer, seen as a time to celebrate with those we hold dear. But for many people Christmas can be a tremendously challenging and stressful time, compounded by the social expectations to be ‘happy’ and live up to the idealised image of the ‘perfect family’ presented to us in films and on TV.
Whilst I am truly blessed to spend Christmas with a loving caring family with whom I share many a fond festive memory, I realise it’s not like that for everyone. I spare a thought for those coping with adversity, bravely battling behind the facade of an outward smile, silently crying on the inside. I’ve been there, and know all too well how the festive season tends to exasperate and highlight our challenges, driving many people over the edge. It’s common knowledge that suicide rates peak at Christmas and New Year as stress levels, emotions and mounting debt reach boiling point. The consumerist pressure to purchase hits us like a ton of bricks, and often leaves a crippling effect upon our bank balance and anxiety levels.
So I write this piece in the hope to reach out to those struggling in any way, perhaps with financial hardship, depression, anxiety, bereavement, illness, loneliness, family break-ups, homelessness, infertility etc. I share with you some coping mechanisms and tips that have helped minimise my meltdowns over the years in the hope that they help you enjoy a frazzle-free Christmas and restore some serenity to your season.
10 TIPS TO ALLEVIATE FESTIVE FRAZZLE
1. Try not to compare yourself to others: As hard as it may be to resist, comparing yourself to others we perceive to be more successful, happier, wealthier than us, or whom have what we want, is the number one happiness zapper, destined only to plunge you into a spiral of despair. When surrounded by family and friends we may only see this time of year, it’s easy to fall into the grass-is-greener trap that can leave you feeling as if your life doesn’t measure up. Instead, if we identify our own strengths, merits and blessings, we can help recognise our own true value. Whilst others may appear to have more outer success in the form of material accumulations, or adhere to societal norms. I try to remind myself that success is relative and subject to ones own personal definition. Personally I define success not by how big your house is, or how much prestige your job offers, or any other ‘external’ attributes, but to me success is an inside job determined by:
- how much you have contributed to society
- how much upliftment you bring to the lives of others.
- how genuinely happy you are – ie. would you still be as happy if all your material possessions were taken away. If yes, that signals deep inner happiness in ones ‘being’ not ‘having’
Remember that no one truly knows what goes on behind closed doors, and we generally only see the perfectly packaged image presented to the outer world; the carefully edited facebook photo’s worthy of public exposure are rarely a true representation of reality.
2. Take Time Out for Solitude: Recognise your needs and don’t be afraid to take yourself off every now and again if alone time helps you feel better. For an introvert like me, after long periods of social interaction, I crave the peace and serenity that solitude provides. It literally recharges my emotional batteries and gives me the boost I need to return to the party. The opposite is said for extroverts who can often misinterpret your withdrawal as being aloof or antisocial. This used to get me down in the past, but now in recognising the necessity of self-care for my wellbeing, I see it as mandatory. If you’re like me, and you seek solace in solitude, take yourself off to lie down, take a nurturing nature walk, stroke a beloved pet, read a book or a take power nap. You will emerge feeling heaps better and others will benefit from your renewed sense of wellbeing.
3. Remember to Breathe: During periods of stress of anxiety our breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. Breathing shallow causes lack of oxygen and puts unnecessary stress on the body. Breathing correctly and taking time to be mindful of our breathing patterns is essential for both emotional and physical health. I’ve learned that I can literally breathe my way out of stress by placing my attention on my breath and into the present moment.
A helpful breathing pattern is to breathe in for the count of three, then exhale through your nose to the count of five. As you breathe in, allow your belly to expand like a balloon as it fills with air. Place your hands on your belly to feel it expand (below the belly button) to determine whether you are breathing correctly. As you exhale (for longer than the in breath), let the balloon deflate.
4. Laughter is the Best Medicine: Numerous scientific studies show that when we laugh, stress hormones decrease, immunity improves, and cholesterol and blood pressure levels drop. Also on an emotional level, a good laugh helps to lighten your load, melting away stress and anxiety. When my mum was seriously ill over Christmas one year I was dreading the festive season, but was surprised to find that laughter not only helped minimise my own anguish but also helped elevate my mums mood, helping her enjoy Christmas despite the pain she was in.
5. Cultivate Gratitude: When you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s easy to recall our perceived lack and limitations, but instead try to jot down things you’re grateful for. I like to keep a Gratitude Journal, which I read through if I’m feeling low. Be really specific and list what you appreciate about the areas of your life that bring you joy; a loved one perhaps or a beloved pet.
I remember one Christmas when life was falling apart at the seams due to a mentally abusive platonic relationship, which resulted in eviction and financial hardship, what pulled me through was recognising aspects of my life that were indeed positive. My loving and supportive family for one. It helped to redirect my point of focus into the present moment and onto the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives. Focussing on all the good in our lives and bringing our attention to the present moment, shifts our vibrations helping us magnetize that which we do want to attract into our lives. Gratitude is a fullness of heart that moves us away from fear and lack and into the expansiveness of love. The deeper our appreciation, the more we’re able to see through the eyes of the soul and the more our life flows in harmony with the creative power of the universe. Many scientific studies, including research by renowned psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, have found that people who consciously focus on gratitude experience greater emotional wellbeing and physical health than those who don’t.
6. Keep calm and Meditate: Meditation is a simple, fast way to reduce stress and restore calm. Recognised medically for alleviating anxiety and depression, meditation is widely prescribed on the NHS in the form of Mindfulness. Whilst it’s beneficial to train with a qualified practitioner, meditation itself requires no training however, in fact there are excellent apps and youtube video tutorials freely available to try. One such app is the hugely popular Headspace, making meditation easy and accessible to everyone. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace. I try to meditate twice daily, first and last thing in short bursts from 10 – 20 minutes. It tends to pave the way for a calmer day ahead, making me more able to deal with life’s stresses and provides a wonderful sense of inner calm. If I’m feeling particularly stressed, I like to take myself away somewhere quiet to close my eyes and focus on my breathing. This diverts my attention into the present moment, and instills a sense of peace. You can find a selection of different meditations to try here…
7. Take a Nurturing walk in Nature: When you’re feeling a deluge of negative emotions, it can be helpful to “walk it off.” And there is a growing body of scientific evidence to back up the stress-releasing strategy. When the heat is up, I always find a gentle stroll in nature never fails to soothe my stresses, as it helps me to feel more grounded, centred and relaxed. A study, published in the journal Ecopsychology, found that group walks in nature “appeared to mitigate the effects of stressful life events on perceived stress and negative affect while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being,”
8. Hug a Tree: It’s official, Science has now validated that hugging a tree can boost one’s health in several ways. In a recently published book by Matthew Silverstone, Blinded by Science, evidence confirming trees and their healthful benefits includes their effect on mental illnesses, concentration levels, depression, and the ability to alleviate headaches. According to countless studies cited within the book, children show extreme psychological and physiological effects in term of improved health and well-being when they interact with plants. A large public health report studying the association between green spaces and mental health also noted that…
Access to nature can significantly contribute to our mental capability and well being.
9. Let it Be: Reuniting with loved ones, each with unique needs and expectations, can prove to be a melting pot of tension for some families. There are bound to be disagreements, personality clashes and compromises to be made. Being the only vegetarian in my family, and a sensitive one at that, has been a challenge over the years as I’ve struggled with not only the veggy inquisition, but the overwhelming scent and sight of meat, which tends to dominate the Christmas menu and topic of conversation throughout the meal. I remember literally swallowing down tears along with my nut roast at the thought of all the turkeys who perish this time of year. As a empath, I literally feel the pain of the animal as if it was a beloved pet being eaten, but have learned to come to a place of acceptance in the name of peace. Who am I to judge other peoples eating habits so I have developed tactics to minimise my emotional impact by keeping away from the kitchen or taking myself away from it all if need be. Accepting each others differences without judgement, practicing patience and tolerance can help keep the peace throughout Christmas, and unites a family on their commonality, rather than separate through differences.
10. Remember, It shall soon pass: It’s helpful to remind yourself that the pain you are feeling right now will soon pass away, as will the festive season itself. The only constant in life is change, so be rest assured that change will occur, bringing renewed promise as one door closes, another opens. Also worth remembering is that adversity in any guise is a huge catalyst for inner growth. And as the best selling author and coach Bryant McGill states in the above quotation, your pain offers a rite of passage, through which you are reborn stronger, wiser and with clarity of purpose. It may not be obvious during the midst of challenge, but with with hindsight you will recognise the wonderful lessons learned, and unique blessings it brings as it leaves you a better person, more resilient, open hearted and compassionate.Your suffering is not senseless, Bryant McGill adds. ”Your suffering is here to help you unfold and to awaken into compassion, love and strength.” And even in our darkest hour, if we remember the lesson nature teaches, we know that light is just around the corner.
It’s always darkest just before dawn