“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Well, that’s what the song says which gave Andy Williams a smash hit in 1963. It seems we’ve been singing it ever since. It’s become part of our holiday DNA. Thou shalt have a merry Christmas and it will be the most wonderful time of the year. Andy Williams failed to mention that it can also be a time of immense stress which leaves many of us emotionally drained and exhausted. Perhaps he couldn’t find the right lyrics?
The holiday season seems to come with an expectation of perfection and/or a prerequisite that it has to be the most wonderful time of the year. So we carry an idealized version of what the holidays should be like. In a nutshell, we want Christmas to be like a Hallmark movie and we are disappointed when it doesn’t live up to expectations.
Social media plays a part. We are bombarded with pictures of the perfect family having the perfect Christmas. Given most families don’t resemble the von Trapps (well mine doesn’t), the mismatch triggers anxiety, and stress. Paradoxically we can end up feeling disconnected and lonely at a time of the year which promises the opposite.
So how we can we enjoy the holiday season? What if we have lost a loved one recently and don’t want to celebrate? What if our family is a blended one due to a divorce? What if you find the idea of being locked up for several days with family overwhelming? As one client said to me recently when contemplating Christmas day in Monaco with their family, “I’d rather swap places with the turkey.”
Here are my top five tips to survive Christmas: –
- Let go of perfection. The perfect Christmas doesn’t exist except perhaps in our memories or in the movies and songs. It can however be good enough. Try to be realistic. You won’t find the perfect present. Your children won’t behave perfectly on Christmas day. I often tell clients to lower the bar. Don’t shoot for the stars. Aim lower.
- Set boundaries. What do you need to have a happy Christmas? What is OK and not OK for you? These are your boundaries. Once you have identified your needs, find a way to communicate that to others. We seem to become overnight people-pleasers at this time of the year. You might for example set a time boundary with parents, “We would love to spend Christmas Day together but we won’t stay overnight.” Without healthy boundaries, the chances are that you will feel resentful.
- Identify Christmas triggers. It can help to know in advance what might trigger our anger and have a plan how to handle it. Does Grandma Josephine enjoy criticizing the way you’ve dressed the kids? Will Aunt Mary ask if you’re still gay? Will cousin Bert ask if you’ve got a serious job yet? How will you react if/when that happens?
- No. It can be helpful to remember that ‘no’ is a complete sentence (well let’s pretend it is). You don’t need to take on too much or accept every invitation. It is also your Christmas to enjoy.
- Recognise loss. The holiday season can often intensify feelings of loss, whether that be of a person or a job or something that was significant to us. The loss doesn’t have to be recent. Unexpected grief can resurface. If this is the case, it is important to acknowledge your feelings. Your grief is unique to you. Allow yourself your emotions and try not to succumb to pressure to be merry. If the loss is recent, think about how you might want to incorporate your loved one into this Christmas. Do you want to bake their favourite recipe? Do you want to play their favourite song? Overall, be self-compassionate. Lean into loss not away from it.
I wish everyone, especially the readers of News.MC, an authentic Christmas. If it isn’t the most wonderful time of the year, perhaps it doesn’t have to be. In fairness to Andy Williams, he didn’t know about the global pandemic, cost of living crisis or war in Ukraine. If he had, I wonder if he might have changed the lyrics?
Gavin Sharpe is a U.K. qualified psychotherapist and owner of Riviera Wellbeing in Monaco.
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