Christmas Stress

What the Victorians did for Christmas.

When we think of Christmas, most of us have an idealised mental picture of how we think it should be and have “Great Expectations”. As a counsellor and from personal experience, I know only too well how often this picture does not translate into reality. The Victorians and Charles Dickens in particular, have a lot to answer for with their romanticised version of festive cheer. So, what does Christmas mean to us now? If we have religious beliefs, then it is a Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus, with goodwill to all men; but what if we don’t believe? The rise and rise of consumerism has blighted what perhaps used to be a more simple celebration and has created a monster which if we’re not careful, can consume our goodwill, leaving us stressed and unhappy.

Family Harmony?

Of course the greatest expectation is that families will get together in a spirit of harmony and forgiveness and all bad feelings will be banished for the day. Unfortunately, the very act of coming together under one roof, with no escape, coupled with those unreal expectations is often a recipe for disaster and Christmas stress.  If relationships and communication aren’t good in your household and/or extended family during the rest of the year, there’s no reason for them to change just for Christmas. It is a sad fact that things which you might let go or ignore at other times are brought into sharp relief, whether it’s the slightly frosty relationship with your in-laws, or your brother-in law’s irritating habit of monopolising the conversation with his latest train-spotting antics in Romania.

How to avoid Christmas Stress

So, what can you do to make it all as bearable as possible. Well, I suppost the first step is to perhaps lower your expectations and not expect everyone to behave like angels.  Maybe, you can plan as far ahead as possible by checking out with partners, children and relatives, what they would like to do. I know this might sound like pie in the sky, but if everyone is given a chance to do at least one thing which they enjoy, it could help to make things go more smoothly.  That doesn’t mean you should ignore your own needs, far from it. Make sure you set aside some time for yourself, doing something which you enjoy and you might feel a little more charitable towards the rest of the family.

Also (and I guess this bit is aimed at the women in the household), don’t be a martyr. If you like to be in control and find it hard to delegate, think about trying to let go a little this year; or if you’re hoping family will volunteer to help, then don’t wait for them to come to you. Ask for help and maybe share out your To Do List, making sure everyone has something to do, whether that’s in the days leading up to Christmas, or on the day itself. I can already hear you saying, “Yes but, I can’t rely on …… to do what I’ve asked.” Well, in that case, make it clear, that if they forget, then it won’t get done and everyone will miss out. Christmas needs to be a shared responsibility.

Most importantly, do something which has nothing to do with eating lots of food, drinking too much alcohol and buying expensive gifts which may not be appreciated. I’m not religious, but since my Mum died two years ago, I do like to go to church on Christmas morning and light a candle for her. We can still be spiritual, even if we don’t have religious beliefs. If the weather’s reasonable, get out into the country for a walk. The great outdoors is always a tonic for stress and anxiety.

Alternative options

If all this sounds pretty much impossible from where you’re standing and you feel you really can’t bear another year doing the same old, same old, then it could be time to re-think your strategy.  Sometimes, we can get stuck with family traditions  – perhaps everyone has come to you on Christmas day for the past ten years and they all expect to carry on doing this, because that’s what they’ve always done. Learning to assert your own and maybe your immediate family’s needs and stating them firmly and clearly, while allowing yourself not to feel guilty can lift that feeling of ” this is what I have to do, because everyone expects it “. I know it’s not easy, however, remind yourself that you’ve done your bit and  that maybe it’s someone else’s turn now.

Christmas isn’t for everyone

And finally, If you really don’t enjoy Christmas for whatever reason, then take a look at this article published in the Independent, which offers some interesting and off-beat alternatives as to how you can spend Christmas Day. Your nearest and dearest might send you to Coventry for a while, but they’ll get over it and if it’s too late to organise something this year, there’s always next.

So here’s wishing everyone a peaceful and harmonious Yuletide 2015.