A survival guide to the silly season.
This is potentially a very difficult time of year for many people. People are often stretched to the limit, financially, physically, and emotionally. Pressures and expectations abound, all to the tune of idealist Christmas Carols and platitudes of good will and peace on earth. OK, enough of the cynicism. Let’s look at how we get through it and find ways to create some M&Ms (moments and memories).
Here is my 10-point plan to help navigate that crazy terrain between mid-December and mid-January (when things magically go back to normal).
- Be gentle with yourself. Christmas comes at the end of the year. Often at the end of a very busy year. I see so many people limping into Christmas. What they need is a pool side deck chair and a good book and instead they are throwing themselves into the shopping centre Christmas chaos, which would challenge even the most practiced Zen master so what hope do burnt out mere mortals have? Factor in some down time and if you are reading this and saying ‘I don’t have time for that’ then you are what I would consider a chronic case and I hereby prescribe double the down time for you.
- OK, so you have decided to hit the shops – that’s fine. Try to include some things that you find relaxing or enjoyable. Take a detour and find a quiet park (grab a takeaway coffee on the way), stop and sing a few bars of the Christmas carols (singing is so good for our soul), conduct some research! I find the ‘Christmas smile barometer index’ lots of fun. Smile at random strangers and see how many people smile back. I think my best statistic was 89% (not bad and those shared smiles definitely boosted my energy). Just to keep the research up to date. 8% looked the other way and 3% scowled at me (I sent them a bit of extra love). My message here is, having chosen to shop, choose to enjoy it. We can stomp around the shopping centre getting more and more frustrated (not a good look, plus we are producing chemicals that are sapping our energy and compromising our sunny disposition) or we can throw in some games and antics and decide to have a good time. If the budget will stretch to it, book yourself pamper session. One of my preferences is a massage, but you might decide it’s time to get a manicure or a pedicure, a reiki session or any of the many other options. The other day I dropped into the float centre on my way home from a client meeting. I can’t tell you how much I gained from that 1-hour investment of time.
- Set a budget! Christmas is the time of year when people can easily get themselves into a whole heap of credit card pain. It’s not worth it! My dad (a very wise man), used to say, ‘if the money isn’t in the bank, then you can’t afford it’. I’ve lived by that mantra all my life. The only loans I have ever taken were for houses. Means I haven’t always driven the same fancy cars as some of my friends or worn the same designer label fashion but, hey, here I am living pretty happily by anybody’s measure. Being in debt for presents makes no financial sense at all (unless you are the bank). If you are exchanging gifts consider recycled, upcycled, home crafted, or acts of service (helping a friend in the garden for an hour might be much more appreciated than anything shop bought). Scour the markets, visit the local makers and artisans, buy from the small shops. A thoughtful gift wins out over an expensive gift every day in my view. We are now officially without children in my family. My youngest grandson turned 17 this year. We are doing a no present Christmas. Our ‘gifts’ to each other will be laughter, time, love, and celebration – not a department store in sight. I love it!
- Christmas parties – be choosey! The extraverts among us will welcome the parties (though even we have our limits on how many we can fit in) whereas those of you who are more introverted may find the saturation point comes earlier. At the end of the day, make decisions that support your wellbeing. Extroverted personalities find social interaction energising. Basically, it’s our fuel (ask any extravert who was living alone during the COVID lock downs, most will report feeling exhausted and lethargic – our fuel source was cut off). Introvert personalities can find social interaction exhausting. Please note: this is not a social competence statement nor is it anything to do with shyness, this is personality.Extroverts energise with company and introverts energise alone. Extroverts are depleted when they are without company, introvert energy banks can be depleted from too much social interaction. Honour your personality! Manage and schedule social events so that you are not wearing yourself out. And just a bit of advice from a seasoned and committed extrovert – even we have our limits. Balance is the key here. Give yourself permission to say no! (your health depends on it).
- Speaking of saying no. This is an important thing for all of us to practice. Let’s practice it now. Say after me: ‘that’s a lovely offer but no thank you’, ‘oh thank you that is so kind, sadly I’m unable to attend’, ‘I’m so grateful that you included me, sadly this time I will need to decline’ – oh we could go on all day. You get the message though don’t you. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO SAY NO! Here is the good news. You don’t have to go anywhere for Christmas day. You don’t have to attend any functions. You don’t have to invite people over. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Sadly, most of us have been conditioned to please. Well, let’s think about this. The most important person for you to please is yourself. This is called ‘self care’ and it isn’t selfish! Of course, it’s important to give it some consideration before responding. Constant blanket Nos will have consequences and of course it’s alright to sometimes put other people’s needs first, however, do it with consideration and accept that whatever you answer, the choice is yours. Nobody HAS to do anything, but we have all chosen to do things that perhaps weren’t our idea, but they meant a lot to people who mean a lot to us (that’s called being compassionate). The important boundary to put in place is balance or, as I read recently, life harmony. Remember your needs are at least equal to anybody else’s. Oh and we can say no without explaining ourselves. We can give ourselves permission to say no with compassion, caring and love.
- If you choose to partake in events, and if you have any concerns, do the preparation. This might entail watching your thoughts and mind chatter. Our minds love to get us worked up by predicting our worst nightmares. Remember, when our mind chatter attempts to predict the future IT ISN’T NECESSARILY CORRECT. However, we will respond emotionally as if it is happening or has happened. This means we experience elevated emotions over something that isn’t even real. Any of you who have experienced elevated emotions will know that in a highly emotional state we aren’t all that clever. As emotions go up, intelligence (literally) comes down. Managing our emotions is critical to us being able to manage a situation. Watching our mind chatter and thought processes is a really powerful practice when preparing for a situation that we might have some concerns about. Relaxation and mindfulness are helpful in managing the mind chatter (there are heaps of YouTube videos that you can access). One of the techniques I use when I catch my mind chatter gossiping is to say to myself ‘that may not be true’. Just that statement results in me becoming aware of the subconscious conversations and that helps me to address things more effectively. It’s a ‘call and response’ situation. My mind chatter says ‘I bet Aunt Mary will be there, getting drunk again and then she will tell me how to live my life’ (speculative prediction and totally. not helpful), then I say ‘that may not be true’ and it’s the awareness of the conversation that enables me to regain control – try it. Also, have an exit strategy (just in case). It doesn’t mean you’ll activate it but it’s always good to know you have a way of getting away if it’s all feeling too much. If you are visiting someone, watch where you park. I’d rather have a bit of a walk than risk getting parked in on the driveway (that can really hamper our efforts to head off when we are ready). If the company is proving difficult surround yourself in a protective, nurturing light (you do this through a visualisation process, there is no need to carry a bag full of torches). I use a silver light and I imagine it coming from the sky and encasing me and protecting me. If the company feels particularly challenging, I make it a slippery silver light, so that conversations and comments just slide off. This is a really powerful process. Remember your first commitment is to youself. If you are feeling any level of threat (physical, psychological and emotional), leave. It’s also important to ask yourself, ‘is this my stuff or their stuff?’. Sometimes comments are made that aren’t about us at all. However, because we are feeling vulnerable and sensitive, we can mis-interrupt the comments (that’s our stuff and something for us to deal with). Of course, we all know that there are also times when someone is just being unkind. That’s their stuff and our exit plan might be the compassionate thing we can do for ourselves.
- My Christmas Day plan for the past number years has been to be home alone. I got married last March, so for the past few years, since Gavin came into my life, the Christmas plan is just the 2 of us. We love it. No driving, no getting stuck in traffic, no having to organise farm help. We treat ourselves to a relaxed start to the day (we linger over morning coffee), take the dogs for a lovely long, Christmas morning walk, we hang out with the rest of the fur-crew for longer than usual over morning feedup and we spend big chunk of the day reading books, watching movies and relaxing. We love it and we protect it fiercely. We have families (lovely families) and we organise to see them on days that aren’t 25th December when everybody isn’t on the road and things have calmed down. I only telling you this because if you prefer to be home alone or just with immediate family or household members then please give yourself permission to do that and relish it. You don’t need to justify it. You don’t need to even explain it.
- If you find yourself facing Christmas home alone and you don’t want to, then it’s important to take some steps to support yourself. Maybe think about volunteering at a homeless shelter, put word out to friends to see if you can organise an ‘orphan’s Christmas’ (a get together of people who don’t have family to visit), see if there are elderly people living alone in your area, maybe you could do some Christmas visits, I’m sure you can think of other ideas. The message here is, don’t sit and feel sorry for yourself (that just adds to our sadness), instead take some action. Before I decided I loved Christmas at home alone, I found myself one year without any plans. I was living alone, well no other human, I had a menagerie of animals, and I remember waking up on Christmas morning feeling quite dismal. I decided I’d allow myself to feel sad for whatever time it took to drink my morning coffee (emotions needs to be acknowledged and we have to feel to heal). I was very disciplined with myself as I understood that if I descended too deep into sadness then coming back could be more difficult. Over coffee I decided that my next task was feedup for my animals. Everybody got treats and extra pats. I started to feel my spirits lifting. Then I put the dogs on leashes and headed out for a walk of undetermined length. I decided to just walk until I felt better (physical activity is scientifically proven to lift spirits). We walked through the town where I live just as church was coming out. A parade of happy faces all keen to meet and interact with my dogs (which means they also interacted with me). Lots of human contact, lots of smiles, lots of ‘have a lovely day’ wishes. The dogs and I walked for another 2 hours. I found myself singing as we walked. I came home, showered, made a cup of tea and sat down with a book. I also had an epiphany – I’m not religious! Christmas is a religious ceremony. I identify far more strongly with philosophies such as Buddhism and I proudly claim to be a ‘pagan gypsy’, yet here I was, programmed to believe I had to be doing something on Christmas Day (I’ve never been sad to be alone on Hanukkah, I’m not Jewish, yet I had allowed myself to get worked up about Christmas). Watch the programming. So much of our response is about programming. Those dreaded ‘shoulds’ that have been inflicted on us by society. I ended up having the best day and I’ve chosen to spend every Christmas since then alone (or now with Gavin) and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy it. We spoil ourselves with a special lunch (just because) and the money we’ve save on petrol buys a very nice bottle of champagne. It’s now one of my favourite days of the year! I remember a friend telling me that he had found himself all alone for Christmas one year so he decided to take himself to the movies (who knew the movies were open on Christmas day). He said it turned out to be the best Christmas he had ever had. If you are religious then reach out to your church. Chances are they are things planned that you could join in with, or maybe you will plant the seed for a Christmas Care Plan. The 2016 census figures show that nearly ¼ of Australian households are single person occupied. With families spread all over the globe, I imagine there are a lot of people looking to connect with others and Christmas could be a lovely time to make that happen. That seems very in keeping with peace and good will to me.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Christmas is one of the most difficult times for many people and we all need support when we are experiencing difficulty. Christmas can amplify loss, family estrangement and family difficulty. I’ve noted some contact numbers at the end of this article. Please, if you need to contact someone for support, do so.
- If you are finding Christmas difficult, it might be helpful to take a social media break (sitting at home scrolling through everybody’s ‘perfect’ Christmas photos might not be helpful), include some special rituals (I like to light a candle for people who are missing), do something to treat yourself (a special meal, a bubble bath, using the best china, breaking out that gorgeous soap for your shower, or a long relaxing bath – clearly a relaxing bath is one of my strategies), if you don’t have a dog, offer to walk a neighbour’s dog or just enjoy a walk on your own (exercise releases a range of chemicals that are designed to lift our mood), spend time in nature (even 10 minutes in the garden can help elevate our spirits – to turbo charge the effect, kick off your shoes and walk barefoot, it’s called ‘grounding’ and it’s great for our spirit), play some of your favourite music, get lost in a good book, burn incense or essential oils, do some yoga, do some meditation – the list goes on. The important thing here is do something! When we sit and dwell on our sadness our sadness grows. When we acknowledge our sadness (please don’t deny it or suppress it) AND then do something self-nurturing, we can help soothe or even shift our emotions (it’s a glorious alchemy).
I wish you peace as this year closes. I worked for many years in the welfare sector, and I am aware that Christmas can be particularly difficult. Financial strains can create ruptures in relationships and families. Family violence can escalate. Those in our community without strong social networks can feel more isolated. For those of you who have caring responsibilities, support networks can be reduced meaning a higher workload is placed on you. Parents can feel stretched to breaking point and our elderly can feel abandoned and alone. For the season of good will, it can bring a lot of heart ache.
I urge you to take steps to maximise the support around you and to reach out to others to ensure people aren’t alone if they don’t want to be. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, take special care of you and remember, there is no time frame for grief and there is no ‘right way’. Be selective about what you do and who you spend time with.
Here are some critical numbers, please reach out if you need to:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
Domestic and Family Violence: 1800 737 732
If you are grieving the loss of a spouse or partner, reach out to ‘The First Light Widow’s Association’ – www.firstlight.org.au