Christmas can be an emotional time for many reasons: just seeing the fairy lights, inhaling the seasonal scents and taking in the festive window displays in your favourite shops can cause emotions to flood in and cause total overwhelm.
With so much going on in the world, it may seem shallow to want to celebrate Christmas and navigating the sometimes forced bonhomie of the season may feel like a burden too far. Many of us will have family visiting, or be visiting others and when you throw lots of people together, all with their own feelings, thoughts, and issues, it can create a snowball effect with heightened emotions all round.
Feelings of guilt and overwhelm
If you regularly watch or listen to the news, you might be feeling fearful about the general state of the world. Conflict, the high cost of living, global warming and government scandals… these things can chip away at our sense of well-being, identity and place. We may begin to feel overwhelmed and disconnected from the world around us.
It might be that you feel a sense of guilt for living in a conflict-free zone, or having a little bit of extra money to book a holiday or buy a couple of extra presents for friends. Perhaps there isn't enough money to go around and you worry about being able to live up to the expectations of giving a nice Christmas to your family.
It's hard to cope with these feelings and guilt is an expanding emotion - the more space it occupies in your thoughts, the bigger it will grow. Take the time to examine what is making you feel this way. We cannot change the things that we have no control over. If the constant flow of bad news is causing overwhelm, then stop listening to the news every day and just catch up once a week, or find a ‘good news' channel to balance out the negative. Acknowledge your feelings and emotions and then let them go.
If resources are limited, there are less expensive (or free) ways to treat your family. It's proven that fresh air and exercise make us feel better, so head out to the local park or green space for a crisp, winter walk with a hot chocolate when you get home - red noses and laughter can do wonders for a low mood. Enjoying activities together can strengthen the bonds between you and your family and friends, and give a much needed boost to your happiness hormones.
When it comes to feeling like you need to live up to the expectations of those around us at Christmas - it's ok not to play that game. As Christmas becomes increasingly commercialised, and social media means that we can peak into other peoples ‘Insta perfect' festive seasons, we can start to feel like we're not living up to these expectations.
You don't have to go all out with a massive Christmas lunch and lots of extra food, after all, it's just a Sunday lunch with a few more trimmings. Gifts don't have to be extravagant. If you have the time and you feel able to do so, you can make homemade gifts, such as biscuits or chutney, or even a gift voucher for afternoon tea at your home in the new year.
‘It's the thought that count's' may feel like a cliché, but it's true - taking the time on a gift that shows care and thought will mean more than simply throwing money at it. It is difficult to manage expectations, particularly with children, but face the situation head-on - you will feel better for having dealt with it and by managing expectations early in the season, you will also hopefully avoid tears and tantrums on Christmas Day.
If you do have the means, you could give some money to an aid charity, or donate some items to a local food bank. Often the act of ‘doing' can assuage feelings of guilt. Sharing your good fortune with others can help you to manage the more negative emotions associated with ‘being lucky' - it may sound like a nice problem to have, but it can be no less impactful on your mental health than any other situation or emotion.
Managing everyone's emotions
It's tough to manage the competing demands, emotional needs and wants of everyone around you on an occasion such as Christmas. We're probably all familiar with the need to have a ‘perfect' Christmas; we are bombarded with warm and fluffy seasonal advertisements and images of fabulous festive feasts from October onwards - the pressure to create something amazing can be overwhelming.
This can cause major friction and upset which can put additional strain on relationships, particularly if one person is expected to do everything for everyone else. If you have a family, trying to get everyone involved in food prep, clearing up and keeping the house tidy can help to relieve some of the mental load. Try not to create too rigid a timetable - often the best times can be had when lunch is late and the schedule goes out of the window. Let people take time out if they need to do so - that includes you as well! Some of the best moments can be had with a cup (or glass) of something delicious, a festive snack and some solitude.
If you know you are hosting a large gathering on the 25th, try to keep Boxing Day free, or arrange to see people between Christmas and New Year. It's okay to say ‘no'; we all want to spend time with loved ones and friends, but it is unrealistic to try and cram everything into a few days. Know your limits, and set them early. You might want to go to everything, but not have the financial freedom to do so, or you might want to hide away from everyone - your needs in the run up to Christmas are just as valid as everyone else's and there's no need to throw yourself under the bus to make everyone else's Christmas magical at the expense of your mental state.
If you are spending Christmas by yourself, don't feel pressure to conform. Do what you want to do, but if you feel like emotions are too much and you don't want to be alone, try volunteering for a homeless charity or a hospice, or see if any other friends are feeling the same way - perhaps you could spend some time together.
Guilt can creep back in if we can't manage to see everyone over Christmas, but be kind to yourself and others - instead of vague promises to catch up in the new year, put a firm date in the diary - that gives everyone something to look forward to when the flat new year period comes around. It's ok to say no, not right now, or I haven't got the capacity for that.
You don't have to do it all and it's okay to acknowledge feelings of overwhelm and the emotions of the season. What is important is that you don't allow those feelings to persist to the point where they become unmanageable. Working with a counsellor can give you the tools to understand and manage your emotions during tough times and help you to develop mental resilience all year round.
To find out more about what counselling could offer you, contact me on 07305 920 437 for a chat.