Everywhere you look at the moment there are visions of model families with gorgeous food, presents and merriment counting down to the big day. The reality is that for a lot of people Christmas can be incredibly tough.
Samaritans has launched its #RealChristmas campaign, recognising the fact that the picture-perfect Christmases littering our TV screens are a long way off what a lot of people experience.
This amazing initiative acknowledges that people are dealing with loneliness, heartache, grief, money worries, job worries and overall life pressure that doesn’t jog on just because it’s Christmas and is, in fact, heightened by all the festive glitz and glamour.
Let’s face it, even for those of us lucky enough not to be going through the emotional wringer, Christmas can still be a challenging time, one of forced fun, emotional expectation and people pleasing.
I mean, if we don’t go to our mum’s for dinner, she’ll get upset, even when all we want to do is flop on the sofa and eat our own body weight in After Eights. Or if we don’t produce the perfect drinks party resembling the M&S ad with immaculate food, guests, outfits then we’ve somehow failed.
Hands up, I’ve never been a huge Christmas fan. I used to find it pretty stressful and claustrophobic. This, I realised, was due to my personal ghosts of Christmas past including parents’ drink-fuelled fighting (always a winner to have your mum threaten to kill your dad with the electric carving knife he’d just bought her for her present), a feeling of being trapped (no car, archaic public transport) and a lack of control over what I would really like to be doing.
I’m not saying that I don’t love spending time with my family – I do – but over the years I’ve learned to put my needs, if not first, at least equal, which makes for a happier Christmas all round.
There are a lot of us that do dread Christmas and get overwhelmed by the sheer enormity and expectation surrounding it. But you don’t have to: you are in control of you, how you feel and what expectations you set yourself.
Here are a few tips to help:
Know how you feel
If this year has been a shitter – and let’s be fair, hasn’t it just? – acknowledge that you’re feeling a bit tired, emotional, wobbly. That’s perfectly normal and absolutely fine. If you want to sit on the sofa and have a good blub, do it; if you want to shout profanities at the TV during the 2016 round-up programmes, do it (I know I will!). Just because ‘tis the season to be jolly, doesn’t mean you have to be.
Find your tribe
Christmas can be bloody lonely for some and by being lonely I don’t just mean being alone; extreme loneliness can be experienced in the busiest places. If you are feeling like this, try to stick to your tribe, whether that’s an existing one (friends, family, groups etc) or a new tribe.
Why not do something different this year such as volunteer for a charity or join a local organisation? There’s always someone worse off, so imagine how amazing you’d feel helping them.
Remember you can say no
Just because your second cousin twice removed that you haven’t seen since Granddad’s funeral has invited you to a buffet on Boxing Day doesn’t mean you have to go.
Saying yes to everything can leave us feeling stressed, overwhelmed and has a huge impact on our overall happiness so pick your battles: do things you really want to do and say no to the things you don’t – you’ll have a more enjoyable time because of it.
Don’t forget your self-care and maintain your healthy habits
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a mince pie for breakfast during this time and a little bit of indulgence is perfectly fine, but remember to look after yourself. Try to watch the booze, sleep and fags, and remember to exercise. Wherever possible, try not to steer too far away from your normal routine. Overindulgence really can add to stress and guilt levels, so try to look after yourself as much as you can.
Take a breather
Make sure you factor in some time for you, because you are important. Even if it’s a half-hour walk or relaxing bath, make sure you book it in (schedule it on your phone) and stick to it. Even the Duracell bunny runs out of energy eventually so make sure you recharge.
We all know the families on the Christmas ads are a load of old twaddle and that The Royle Family is more realistic. So don’t beat yourself up if you are sat bored out of your skull on Christmas Day or that Uncle Knobhead is getting right on your baubles. It’s perfectly normal.
Set your expectations for YOU and what you want to commit to emotionally, financially and physically and stick to them. You’ll thank yourself. Oh, and allow yourself a wry smile knowing that many others are doing the exact same.
Have a lovely Christmas – for you.