How to stay sane this Christmas

Did this holiday season sneak up on you?

For me, it was just September, and as I talked with someone about how fast time seemed to be flying, I remember saying, “Christmas will be here in about 15 minutes.” How right I was – it’s only 5 minutes away now!

Although people look forward to this time of year, there are many stresses that seem to almost be built into it. The holidays promise peace, love, and joy – but for a lot of us they can also bring a heightened risk of loneliness, depression, and chaotic time crunches, combined with an all-too-regular increase in over-spending, drinking, eating, smoking, gambling, family stress, and holiday ho-ho-horrors.

But a lot of those “horrors” can be avoided if we make it a priority to take the best care of ourselves that we can. At this time of year, my practice is filled with clients facing tough situations, made even tougher by holiday expectations, temptations and obligations. It may be a divorced parent whose ex has the kids this year and feels overwhelmed by loneliness and despair.

There are those who are out of work and feel like failures because they are unable to afford to buy gifts for their children and other loved ones. Often it’s just folks who find that the holiday season sets them up for a let-down, triggering sadness, stress and addictions.

We are promised peace and stillness, where all is calm and all is bright – but we find ourselves needing to rush, spend, party, eat, drink, consume and meet a raft of obligations in order to achieve that. No wonder there’s a spike in depression, anxiety and over-eating, spending, shopping, drinking and gambling during this time of year.

The good news is that there are self-caring coping strategies to bring our anxieties under control. Here are my 5 TIPS for avoiding holiday stress and over-indulgence this season:

1) Lower Your Standards – especially if you’re a perfectionist.

Lower the bar of perfection you’ve set for yourself. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to enjoy the holidays – most of us aren’t. Maybe your goal this year can be to enjoy yourself, instead of ‘proving’ yourself to others.

2) Be Realistic in your Expectations.

We are bombarded with TV ads, movies and music that tell us this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” But that’s just not realistic for all people. Difficult struggles like illness, job loss, and relationship break-ups happen at this time of the year, too – and even when things are normal, the body doesn’t know it’s a holiday. 

The days are shorter and darker, and yet here we are, demanding the body to do more: eat more, drink more, get less sleep. While the animals are all hibernating, using this time of dark, cold fallowness to rest, recuperate, and store up energy for the year ahead, we humans are acting like it’s mid-July or Mardi Gras.  No wonder we get sick and stressed out at this time of the year.

Remember, the happiness and joy we are supposed to feel in this season don’t come through a credit card -- it’s not what we decide to buy that really counts, it’s what we decide to buy into.

3)   Do Less.

It’s okay to take short cuts. Making a list of at least 3 things you can choose NOT to do this holiday season will allow you to give yourself the gift of some stillness, rest and simplicity. You may even find you can think of 5 or 10 things to put on that list. One pair of friends I know have given each other the gift of ‘one less obligation’ at Christmas by creating a pact to not buy each other a gift or a card in December – instead, they go out together for a meal as soon as all the holiday madness is over, celebrating their friendship and truly enjoying each other’s company.

4)   Have a Plan – and accept that it might change.

I know – you planned to get the latest, greatest Tickle-Me-Elmo/Cabbage Patch/Sponge Bob deely-bopper as the big present for little Emily or Justin this year, but at the last minute, the store ran out. Is it really the end of the world? Maybe it’s a good lesson that there are plenty of other nice gifts out there, and that this isn’t what the season is really about anyway. Again, what are you choosing to buy into? One family I know give their son one gift at Christmas, and then they take him to the store so he can choose another gift to give to a child whose family can’t afford Christmas presents. That sounds like a wonderful plan to me.

5)   Relax – find some time for yourself.

It’s really okay to opt out of the Holiday Madness. Yes, it’s a crazy time of year, but the ensuing stress-related suffering is optional. If you do find yourself feeling very stressed out, the best thing you can do is find a way to take some time for yourself. Even 5 minutes to just sit quietly by yourself will help. If you can, maybe take a walk alone or sit in a bubble bath, sipping a cup of tea or a glass of wine and listening to some of your favourite music – it doesn’t even have to be Christmas music.

Another treat you can give yourself is to simply enjoy the sights of the season and feel grateful that someone did all that work for your pleasure. Take the family on a tour of the Christmas lights in your neighbourhood, or bundle up and walk around Lost Lagoon with a cherished friend. It’s a good thing to ‘stop and smell the roses’ at this time of year, shifting yourself into a more peaceful mode of quiet time.

Will you make the decision to buy into your own self-care during this hectic season and give some gifts of stillness to yourself?

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