How to navigate the three most challenging days of Christmas

Christmas is always a mixed bag of experiences, with many willing it here all year, while others sit wishing it would disappear.  It often comes with high levels of personal expectation, undue pressure and anxiety. And regardless of where you are on the spectrum of Christmas love, there are always those awkward moments where you run the risk of unravelling.

It’s a fact that not all of us respond well to long moments spent with our nearest and dearest, particularly in the backdrop of recent times. Never wanting to be ungrateful of the love received and offered in return, but the ‘innocent’ snipe here and there, an ‘I’m joking’ comment one too far, or the resentful tone of a strained relationship can often be enough to trigger even the calmest of zen masters! So, what can we do to navigate these moments better?

Be truthful to yourself… by not denying ourselves the opportunity to experience it all.

Before the big day

Bring some more acceptance and allowance of the facts that some of the Christmas cheer experience just isn’t cheerful. It’s graft, it’s relentless, often un-noticed and it can be lonely within these sensations. By reaching a more proactive level of awareness and acceptance we can offer ourselves more compassion and understanding. We can then try to acknowledge how often it’s most probably only you that cares if the house is clean for guests, or that we have second guessed every possible condiment that might be asked for, or how we might be feeling anxious over the arrival of a family member and all the accompanying assumptions we are making, or the difficult conversation you know will come up.

By reaching a level of awareness about this, allowing these thoughts and feelings to have their space ahead of time, and by appreciating ourselves amongst it all, we can prepare ourselves better. We can do this simply by actively sharing with faithful friends over a WhatsApp tipple and allowing the vent to happen. This safe, non-judgemental share is often enough opportunity for these thoughts to have their airtime, and that can help us move through them more effectively by offering us space for perspective. This can assist us by placing us in a more resilient frame of mind so we are able to hold room for the onslaught of some of the less- than-cheerful Christmas stuff.

The day of

Gift yourself room to breathe in the moments between. It is said we can meditate anywhere – well perhaps it’s time to try. I often find myself daydreaming out the kitchen window with the backdrop of boy chatter, balls flying around my head and the radio blasting out. In these small moments I can feel the warmth of the washing up water and enjoy the robin hopping about the bird table, and I allow myself a moment to bathe in its magic. Just by bringing awareness to our senses, our bodies, or by viewing a natural scene, we are physically lowering our stress response and affording ourselves brief moments of pause and opportunity to reset and make wiser, positive choices.

On the day, try to find or create ways to introduce helpful boundaries. If you are the cook, then be clear ahead of time what people can helpfully offer you as support, rather than pushing away the endless half-offers of help. Be specific, allocate a task to allow others to feel of service and able to contribute. Yes, this might mean letting go of some control. This is a choice available to us all and one we can plan for.

Know that a difficult conversation might appear, so perhaps offer yourself ahead of time a mini mantra to get through e.g. I am love, I am light, I will not dim for anyone. Or I am calm, I am strong, I am true. Repeat it in your head during the challenging moment, hold yourself kindly, with compassion and empathy, show up for yourself in that moment as your own best friend. Know that you can create a pause in your response whenever you need to. Use the glass of water, ask for time to reply, ask to pause the conversation for a more convenient time. Take control of the conversation so that it serves you well.

Plan in white space for your day. Often we try to cram in so much it can end up feeling forced and unnatural. Leave space in the day for the unknown and trust that it will be just as ‘successful’. If you need a walk, go for the walk. Not everyone has to come with you, and that’s okay.

Take a moment to notice the tiny things. Be there to witness the creases of laughter around loved ones’ eyes, the first mouthful of dinner, the freshness of the cold navy sky air as you step out for a late breath.  Allow the good things to become good experiences. Dwell a moment longer within them, allow them to enter fully into your body to have time to create a positive memory. So many times we forget to notice, push past the obvious and dwell in the negative. Good times are often fleeting moments and we are uniformly designed to notice the bad stuff more, so work with this and make a point of bringing in the good.

The day after…(or whenever you create the space)

Take the time to reflect; it need not be arduous. Perhaps take three prompts on a walk, or over a cosy cuppa. We rarely do this; we push on to the next task and dismiss without a moment’s breath what we have achieved. By taking just 10 minutes to pause and reflect, we offer ourselves more opportunity to embed good moments, making good memories and we get to change the narrative.

You could try a couple of these prompts:

  • Reflecting on my worries beforehand, what actually presented?
  • What am I proud of myself for managing/navigating?
  • What three good things did I notice over the last few days?
  • What do I want to remember to do again from this Christmas for next year?
  • or add your own prompts

Then in some small way of acknowledgement, give yourself a little celebration or share with someone who listens well. This will help further embed those good memories and put them in place to recall for future times.

The holiday season, the new year turning, the relentless change that is happening out of our control can be incredibly overwhelming for many. Take your time, the only person you are competing with is yourself. Ask for support and know you are not alone.

With Love,

Sam x

ICF ACC Coach | Certified Forest Therapy Guide | Mental Health First Aider

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