Christmas can be a magical time but it’s also a source of stress for many people, for all sorts of different reasons. From extra financial pressures and family conflicts to increased loneliness and heightened grief. And this year, a pandemic!
People are telling me they are feeling even more pressure this year, with added worries about job security, lack of certainty about plans and mental health struggles. Many are having to make difficult decisions about who to see and whether it’s safe which is making them feel guilty and anxious.
I’ve been having these conversations with my own family. We came to the conclusion that it’s about taking personal responsibility for our decisions and actions. Each person will make up their own mind about how safe they feel, what level of risk they are willing to take, and what’s best for their physical and mental wellbeing. We promised not to push, judge, or allow our own beliefs and feelings about what we think is best to force someone into a decision that’s not right for them.
It made me think about how easy it is to take other people’s opinions and decisions personally and trigger our insecurities and fears about not being able to create what we imagined in our head. To see family, friends, the government or even the weather as saboteurs who just want to ruin Christmas for us! After all, don’t we deserve a bit of happiness after what we’ve been through this year?
The reality is that we can only control our own thoughts and feelings, our own actions and be honest enough to tell each other what we need.
So I decided the best gift I could give to you this year is an invitation. Sadly there is no party, but an invitation to look inward, to dig a bit deeper and uncover the real source of why Christmas can trigger you. To challenge you to see things from a different perspective because that gives you more choice, and more choice creates more possibilities.
What beliefs do I have about Christmas?
Your beliefs are a lens through which you view the world. They are part of your core operating system which runs silently in the background dictating everything you think, feel and do. How you respond to life’s challenges is largely dictated by your beliefs about yourself and how the world is.
These are often outdated and limiting and can cause immense stress when they can no longer be sustained. Beliefs around Christmas are formed though family traditions and experiences, cultural and religious backgrounds and social pressures.
To uncover yours, connect with how you’re thinking and feeling. What are you saying to yourself? What do you hear yourself saying to friends and family about arrangements over the Christmas period? How do you feel when you are offering your time, making plans, buying gifts?
Maybe you’re feeling even more pressure to deliver an extra special Christmas because the rest of this year has been hard work and perhaps you missed out on a holiday or couldn’t celebrate important milestones.
Perhaps Christmas is the only time of year you get to show people how much you care through gifts and food. Maybe it’s the few times you get to enjoy yourself and be shown appreciation from others.
Do you feel guilty because you think it’s your job to make everyone happy? To be the life and soul of special occasions? To be perfect? To pretend everything is fine to your kids when really it’s going to be a struggle financially?
Are you trying to hold on to traditions because they remind you of happy childhood memories? Or is it important because you swore you’d never let your family have the same rubbish Christmas you used to endure.
Whatever the reason, deep rooted beliefs are driving your thoughts and feelings about Christmas.
Often we’re making up for something we didn’t have, or trying to re-create something we did have.
Just tuning in to that and noticing what’s going on in your head and comparing it to your reality now is quite revealing and can help you talk more openly with family members about why you may be feeling stressed or overwhelmed. This is an opportunity to open up the discussions about taking a different approach this year.
What are my boundaries like?
First of all it’s useful to remember what personal boundaries are. Wikipedia describes them as:
“guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits”.
So imagine a line that you don’t want people to cross. Although you define them, they are usually set in our childhood so are largely unconscious, unclear and weak. We certainly don’t enforce them, especially with family members or authority figures.
How can you spot weak boundaries? If you find yourself constantly compromising your needs, being taken advantage of or let down, this is a good indicator. Especially if you feel awkward or uneasy about a decision and feel worried about speaking up. Maybe you feel you need to bite your tongue or put up with a situation because you don’t want to rock the boat. Then you either end up feeling down, irritated or on the verge of exploding with rage! Hello migraines, IBS and unexplained pain.
It can be hard to say no to family and close friends, especially at Christmas. People pleasers find this especially difficult.
Again handling this is about changing your perspective. This is one of the few things you have control of when it comes to other people’s behaviour.
Most people prefer an honest answer. Even if that’s a “no”. Have you ever had that uncomfortable experience where someone agrees to something then makes excuses or lets you down last minute? Chances are they probably weren’t honest with you about what they wanted to do in the first place. So, think about how it feels when someone is honest with you. Better right?
Even if a “no” does hurt a bit, ask yourself why. Because deep down there’s probably a fear of rejection.
And if you’re the one struggling to say “no”, ask yourself this:
If I say “yes” to this person’s request, what am I saying “no” to for myself?
I love this reframe:
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment”Brenee Brown
Let’s all be more compassionate!
What else could I do instead?
It’s so important to challenge your assumptions. As much as you like to think you “know” what someone will say or do, you are not a mind reader. Sorry. Yes some people are very routine and predictable, but the best way to know what someone is thinking is to ASK THEM. Once you know, you can plan around that, not the made-up story that’s in your head.
My dad doesn’t feel safe to have a family Christmas. That was unexpected, and the thought of him at home alone on Christmas day challenged my natural tendency towards being a rescuer and wanting him to be happy. This is only the second Christmas without Mum so I suspected that was also part of the reason he doesn’t want the “usual” family thing. The rest of us don’t either so we’ll be changing the routine a bit to disguise the gaping holes that have appeared in our family over the last couple of years.
We’ll work around his decision. Maybe do him a takeaway, give him his gifts on a different day, whatever we can to maintain some sense of connection whilst understanding his needs.
When normal traditions can’t be upheld, or perhaps it’s too painful, then why not create a new tradition? We’ve now got months of experience of being creative and finding alternative solutions in the “new normal” so capitalise on that and see what you and your family can come up with.
Who says you can’t re-do Christmas next Spring? Throw a turkey on the barbie in Summer? Send someone a gift wrapped in Christmas paper in February? Maybe you can have a picnic (I know it’s cold but grab a blanket, hot water bottle, duvet… ) Do some volunteering? You could even leave your tree up for the foreseeable future…
It’s your life, do what works for you now and not what you think you “should” do.
And on that note, here’s your final question…
How brainwashed am I?
What? I’m being brainwashed?
Yep every minute of every day until you go to sleep (unless you live in a cave with no wi-fi… )When you’re watching TV, your brainwave state shifts from beta to low alpha – effectively meaning you’ve gone unconscious and are now highly receptive to suggestion. The close ups and flashy lights used to keep your attention focused on the programme stimulate your limbic system which means you are gearing up for fight or flight which is going to add to feelings of anxiety and stress.
Here’s a scary stat for you – in the 70’s it was estimated that the average person was exposed to between 500 to 1600 ads per day. In 2020 that estimate is closer to between 5000 and 10,000 per day. So you’re getting up to 10,000 hypnotic suggestions per day. From people you don’t know, let alone trust!
Notice how advertisers shifted their approach during the pandemic? Suddenly everyone’s having a whale of a time at home, wearing pyjamas, rooms filled with children, pets and gadgets. Everyone is having so much fun, and being hugely creative with just the right dose of chaos and mess to make sure it’s realistic.
Suddenly we feel bad if we aren’t sat round a big table with a spread that looks like a medieval banquet, with cute kittens that appear out of packets of biscuits (have you seen that one?) and everyone seems to be SO happy.
And by the time boxing day comes we’re all convinced we NEED a new sofa and the kitchen really does need updating…NOW.
But just when we start to believe we deserve to indulge ourselves this Christmas we’re hit with starving donkeys, abandoned dogs and people with nowhere to live all needing our donations.
What should I do? Am I deserving of a treat? Am I greedy and selfish? Whatever the message everyone just wants your credit card.
Remember they are designed to make us feel inadequate, not good enough and to believe we can only be truly happy if we buy all these wondrous items. They are reprogramming your mind.
So take back control, switch off the news, mute the ads, watch uplifting programmes and fill your social media feed with positivity.
“If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough”Oprah Winfrey
So this year, forget the “should do’s” and “must have’s” and ask yourself “what do I really need?”