Is Christmas stressful for you? Are you trying hard to have the perfect christmas – but don’t really enjoy it?
Our culture dictates that Christmas should be amazing, the best day of the year. This is a strong psychological pressure, a cultural ‘rule’, that everything must be ‘perfect’ at Christmas. However, life is not perfect and problems are part of a normal life (including Christmas day!). Believing the rule that we must make Christmas perfect can create the potential for significant emotional pressure and stop us from enjoying Christmas at all!
So how do we make Christmas a special time, whilst remaining flexible and resilient to the subtle pressure to make it perfect?
1. Decide who or what is important to you and dedicate time to it
Imagine this is your last Christmas. You won’t be here next year. Then make a list of the top 5 people and top 5 activities (i.e. walking the hills) that you most value and enjoy. Who would you like to spend time with if this was your last? What would you be doing? How would you treat those you love? When you have this list try to schedule time to do each one or to spend quality time with each person over the Christmas period. Look at the time you have and roughly pencil a time you can do these value activities. This will mean at least some of the Christmas period can be about what you personally value. Living to our values, is the fastest route to contentment, what ever problems arise on the way.
2. Live in the present moment, as this is where life is taking place
Our minds can be busy focusing on the past or jumping to the future. Yet real life is happening right now in front of us all, this second. We only have this moment. Don’t let is pass you by unnoticed. Sometimes we can be so busy in our heads we miss the present moment. We struggle to even be aware of it. This Christmas, try to be more in the moment. This means being acutely aware, with all your senses of what is happening right now. To watch, to engage with without judgement or rules, just observation. Focussing completely of the joy of a hug, the smell of cooking, the feel of a winters breeze; leaving behind the crowded thoughts of the mind to be in the present. When we are in touch with the present moment we are creating strong memories and truly living each experience to the full.
3. Putting hurts in a big box and closing the lid
As humans we cannot help but sometimes hurt each other. Differences of opinion, anger, betrayal are common to us all. Rather than focusing on these issues over Christmas, try to put them to one side, just for the day. Imagine having a large box where all these hurts are put, with the lid sealed just for 24 hours. Make a pact to not talk about the issues with others – there will be plenty of time to revisit the problems another day. Maybe even make a list of subjects that are safe to be discussed and stick to these.
4. Take Time for Yourself
Strong flexible mental health requires times of quiet, times when we can de-stimulate the mind. I recommend making time, especially in the busiest schedules. Regular small rest breaks increase resilience so if things do start to go wrong you can be calmer and think more clearly. For example, rest for five minutes before guests arrive. Sit quietly, set a timer for 5 minutes. During this time focus your mind only on your breathing, slowing it down, focusing on breathing in through your nose for 4 counts, then out for 6 counts. This extended breathing out calms the body and mind – creating a more resilient calm you.
Above all realize the “perfect movie Christmas” does not actually bring happiness. What does bring contentment is spending time on what and who we value – and this can look like whatever you want it to be!