Coping Strategies for Christmas

December 19, 2018 - Psychology and Wellbeing

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Coping Strategies for Christmas

Christmas is usually advertised as a time of celebration and enjoyment. The “festive season” is associated with social gatherings, excitement, and the giving and receiving of gifts. For many people, Christmas holds fun memories that they are keen to recreate each year, with friends and family.

But for others Christmas can be one of the most difficult times of the year, for a host of reasons. Perhaps you are grieving the loss of a loved one, recovering from a relationship breakdown, experiencing financial difficulties, suffering from health issues, or coming to the end of a very difficult year. Christmas might be associated with sad or difficult memories and you may not feel like celebrating. Maybe you would like to avoid Christmas altogether, hoping that it will soon be over.

If you find Christmas a struggle, or you are dealing with challenges this year, this post is for you. Here are a few tips to help you get through the holiday period:

1. Be prepared
Even if you don’t feel like doing anything, it’s hard to completely ignore Christmas. Shops and houses are full of decorations and you are likely to hear Christmas carols and see advertisements for Christmas everywhere. By acknowledging that Christmas is approaching and preparing yourself, you can plan something to make the day more manageable.

Whatever you decide to do (or not do), it will help to have a plan, so that Christmas Day doesn’t creep up on you and you find yourself wishing you had arranged something for the day. If you live alone and would prefer to spend the day with others, rather than waiting or hoping for an invitation, take the initiative and see what options are available. You may find that others are in a similar position. Look for events or gatherings in your local community, or even consider volunteering for a charity or at a shelter.

You may prefer to spend the day alone. Perhaps it will be like any other day, or you might decide to do something nice for yourself, such as spending time making your favourite meal, taking a picnic to a quiet and relaxing spot, or watching a movie. In either event, having a plan can help determine what the day might look like.

2. Set Realistic Expectations
Perhaps your day has been planned for you, and you feel you haven’t had much of a say in how you will spend Christmas this year. You may be cooking for your in-laws, visiting family, or going out somewhere when you would prefer to be at home. You may be separated and your children are spending the day with your ex-partner, and this is your first Christmas without them. Christmas is loaded with expectation, often accompanied by fantasies of creating the “perfect” day, resulting in disappointment when things don’t go as planned. It’s ok to voice your needs, and just because others have expectations doesn’t always mean we have to meet them. At the same time, try to keep your expectations realistic. Try to accept things as they are, and make the best of what might be a difficult situation, rather than wishing for things to be different.

3. Be Kind to Yourself
If Christmas is a difficult time for you, practising self-compassion is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Spend time with people who make you feel good, and engage in activities you enjoy. Giving yourself a hard time or blaming yourself is counterproductive, and will only make you feel more miserable. Acknowledge any difficult feelings that arise, such as sadness, worry or grief. For example, if your children are spending the day with your ex-partner and this is your first year without them, it is understandable that you might feel sad. You don’t have to pretend to be ok. Rather than bottling up these feelings, having a cry or talking to someone about how you feel might provide some relief.

4. Seek Help
If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider seeking professional help. Counselling can provide a safe and confidential space to talk openly about your feelings, thoughts, and emotions, and get some support. A psychologist or counsellor is trained to listen and help you understand and make sense of what you are feeling, and identify appropriate steps to help you move forward.

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