Self-care for the Christmas Period
Fears around food, stress and perfectionism, worries about family, or feeling sad and lonely – Christmas has great potential for upset
Counsellor Harriet Frew shares some tips to help
If the festive season, or winter more generally, is a difficult time for you, reach out for help here
With just weeks to go until Christmas, the pressure is rising to a crescendo to create the magical, idealised Christmas with individually thought-out presents, beautifully decorated houses, joyful families and the hopes of a few snowflakes too. This might be felt especially acutely given our experience of Christmas in 2020.
Although Christmas can bring happiness and sparkle, it is also a time when your wellbeing can be seriously affected. Stress, loneliness, eating difficulties, low mood and relationship issues can all be exacerbated around this period. Being aware of this and then prioritising your wellbeing over the next month could bring a smoother and happier ride for you and your loved ones.
After a month of following the latest pre-Christmas dieting fad, you dream of squeezing nicely into your glittery dress, deciding to be the queen of restraint through the festive season.
In reality, the pre-Christmas diet leaves you constantly ravenous and preoccupied with food. Only last week, you accidentally polished off three mince pies in a row at the local Christmas fayre, as the spinach and egg breakfast just hadn’t really hit the spot. You are now secretly dreading Christmas day, as you know that once you hit the boxes of chocolates (along with everything else you have been avoiding), it is going to be a non-stop eating fest, rapidly followed by the accompanied body loathing. You feel anxious already just thinking about it.
Work towards permanently moving away from an ‘all or nothing’ approach to eating. Dieting usually always leads to obsession with food and the increased likelihood of bingeing. Instead, think ahead about the Christmas foods you want to eat; genuinely permit them in and sit down to savour and enjoy them. Avoid getting over-hungry before you hit the parties and take care with alcohol, as both are significant over-eating triggers. If you eat something you didn’t plan to eat, you haven’t blown it (you don’t need to eat the whole packet); be kind to yourself with your thoughts.
Everything must go to plan. The house must look immaculately decorated. The presents will be chosen carefully and wrapped to perfection. One hundred cards must go out and you will remember to post social media updates, to demonstrate the wonderful time you are having.
In truth, your plans are already falling by the wayside. Your anxiety is going through the roof as you attempt to control events and claw things back on track. It seems as if everyone else is coping better and you feel inadequate in comparison. A black cloud of depression falls on you and it feels like you are failing.
Work to place less pressure on yourself and others. Have compassion when you burn the turkey and split your new dress and show yourself appreciation for the efforts you are making. Humour can also be a wonderful easer to help you gain perspective. It is only one day!
You have high hopes for everyone coming together harmoniously on Christmas day to share laughter and much camaraderie. Your family will be tolerant and kind towards one another, valuing the relationships they have.
In reality, you know that people don’t always get as well as you might hope. It can be tough work trying to make things run smoothly across the generational age divide. When you think about it rationally, it is quite impossible to please everyone and some friction is inevitable. Marital arguments are also a strong likelihood with pressure and stress running high. With expectations that are impossible to meet and alcohol flowing a little too freely means that words are often said out loud in the heat of the moment, and later regretted.
Lower your expectations and appreciate that Christmas can be a challenging time. That’s okay. Focus on the happy moments and appreciate the little bits that go well. If conflicts arise, try not to take them personally. There is much value in going outside for some air and having a break if you are getting fraught.
Christmas feels like it should be a social time with non-stop parties; numerous invitations; bonding with friends and family and endless fun.
For many, the reality is somewhat different. Loneliness is often felt acutely at Christmas. You might feel left out or as though people don’t care about you. You can also feel alone when surrounded by people, feeling emotionally disconnected from others. This can worsen feelings of depression and anxiety, which can be incredibly hard to deal with.
Look after yourself at Christmas and try to be proactive in getting your needs met. Remember that others can feel lonely too; so be careful of judging your own inner world to the outer seemingly happy presentation of others.
Prioritise your wellbeing this Christmas; you'll feel better for doing this. If Christmas is triggering issues concerning your emotional health, it could be a time to think about reaching out to get support through counselling.
Harriet Frew is a verified welldoing.org counsellor in Cambridge and online
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