BY ANNE MARIE MORELLO
For some, Christmas involves having to see people you’ve done your best to avoid throughout the year. But now you’re expected to sit down together, eat a meal and be pleasant and cheerful because it’s Christmas and that’s what people do at Christmas, gosh darn it.
There’s Auntie Mary’s drinking problem, the usual turning a blind eye to ongoing feuds between certain family members or dealing with your uncle’s eccentric friend who’s not just socially awkward but, frankly, a bit of a lech.
There’s the same person who keeps buying you not just cheap, but shockingly unthoughtful presents year in, year out. Didn’t you say you wanted a lint remover?
There’s the financial stress of the uber-consumerist bent that Christmas has taken. The kids begging you for the newest iPhones, iPads and consoles. But the latest research suggests increased screen-time leads to a reduction in white matter integrity in language and literacy areas of the brain.
Didn’t you say you wanted a lint remover?
Added to that, there’s the stress of being thoughtful and original every single year when realistically there’s only so much originality in gift choices for some of your people. You’ve already bought Nanny 5 pairs of slippers, 4 dressing gowns, 3 satin shawls, 2 boxes of choccies and a p… and the world of jewellery. What on earth do you get her this year? She is 95, after all. But you want to get her something special. Because you love her and she’s your Nan. Where’s that face-palm emoji?
Then there’s anxiety: the anticipatory anxiety of hoping you’ll get the turkey right (not to mention the all-important roast potatoes). Does everyone like carrot and coriander soup? Will everyone behave? And will you be able to put on a brave face despite the cascade of stress hormones flooding your system?
There’s the usual house-hopping and gift distribution and the predictable melee of emotions that brings.
And now there’s the added ‘living with Covid’ complications. Has everyone been tested? Has cousin Natalie NOT been vaxxed? Are the teens being sensible? There’s the added stress around protecting newborns and elderly and immuno-comprised relatives.
Christmas is looking less and less appealing by the moment.
And then there’s dealing with loss. With sadness. With grief. With the aching reminder that the people you loved the most might no longer be with you.
The long and the short of it is that Christmas can be a really tough time.
So what do we do to help ourselves?
Here are three things I’d suggest:
1. Change the rules. If you’ve inherited traditions that are more stress-producing than joy-inducing, revamp your traditions to suit your needs and to honour your intentions for this time of year. If you’re hosting, can you order in? Borderline blasphemous suggestion, I know. But your well-being comes first. Perhaps you can cut down on social engagements or limit the amount of time you spend at each gathering. In short, make the rules work for you.
2. Honour the self and the other. Yes, your needs are important. But so are your partner’s and so are your kids’. The key here is flexibility and adaptability. OK, so you have to spend the afternoon with that part of the family you’d rather not see. Explore the resistance to going. Can you focus on the impact that this resistance is having on your body and on your overall wellbeing? Can you let go of it? And, if not, why? What is this teaching you about yourself? As you can see, taking the standpoint of a detached observer can provide ample opportunities for self-reflection. On a separate note, often, the anticipation of something that’s going to be painful or unpleasant is far worse than the actual event itself – a bit like going to the dentist. So, maybe, that afternoon tea might not be so bad after all.
3. Practise self-care. While the term ‘self-care’ sounds pretty dull, actually, it’s a really ballsy concept that requires you to embrace radical self-responsibility for your mental and emotional hygiene. Here are some practices you can try this Christmas. A. As you house-hop, list all the things you’re grateful for. Gratitude can shift your biochemistry so that happy hormones are more pervasive in your system than stress hormones. B. Practise deep breathing before arriving at your next gathering and while you’re there – no-one will notice. Deep breathing activates the vagus nerve and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which governs your rest and digest response, helping you feel calmer. Third, do some EFT tapping before bed to clear the emotional residue of the day. EFT (the emotional freedom technique) neutralises the impact of uncomfortable emotions by reducing cortisol and increasing serotonin levels. It also shifts your brainwaves to a theta state, inducing a deep sense of calm and relaxation.
So, here’s to a Christmas where you honour the self and honour the other through the practice of radical self-responsibility.