Christmas can be a really special time of the year for many people. However, as a mental health professional, I often see the not-so-good side of Christmas and how this time of the year can be particularly difficult for some people. Christmas can trigger unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and memories. Like other anniversaries, Christmas can remind people of loved ones they have lost through bereavement and end of relationships.
Coming at the end of the calendar year, Christmas can trigger negative thoughts/emotions when life is not heading in the desired direction. People can have thoughts like ‘End of another year and I’m STILL stuck in a rut’. Christmas can also create increased stress through things like financial strain and having more family time than you would normally want. You also have to cope with to listen to never-ending Christmas song playlists at the mall which is one thing that seems to really do my head in!
Whatever the source of stress, you can do lots of things to help you negotiate your way through all that chocolate and fairy light-coated festiveness.
- A good place to start is to think about what it is about Christmas that you find most difficult. You’ve got to plan how you will get by so clearly identifying the most unpleasant bits will help you focus your approach.
- Having a bad Christmas one year can be used to your advantage. Use this experience to think about what needs to be done differently next year. Where did you go wrong? Were you feeling lonely because you didn’t plan to see someone during the day? Did you feel stretched to snapping point by an annoying father-in-law because you didn’t find an excuse to get some time out during the day?
- Next, have a brainstorm about how you might improve your ability to cope next Christmas. If, for instance, you feel isolated and lonely at Christmas, perhaps you could think about hosting an ‘orphans Christmas party/meal’ Alternatively, you could ask a friend if you can call on Christmas day to talk through feeling like crap. If you feel financially stretched, you could think about gathering supermarket vouchers throughout the year starting in January.
- Remind yourself that it very normal for many people to feel bad over Christmas. As soon as you tell yourself ‘I must not feel this way’ you up the pressure levels through demanding something of yourself that is totally unrealistic. Give yourself a chance to feel crappy. Have a cry, punch a pillow, or whatever you need to do (that doesn’t end up putting yourself or someone else in a cast over the Christmas break!). BUT, you then need to move on and put your coping plan into action to prevent yourself from dwelling on your circumstances all day long. Remember, letting yourself experience negative emotions is perfectly ok provided you limit the time you spend doing this.
- Use Christmas as a time to think about the past year and to make some positive plans for the year ahead. What lessons can you take from the year to make next year better for you? When something (like a particular time of the year) makes you feel miserable, it is important to think about any positives, strengths, and good things that are in your life. It is all too easy to focus on the bad when you are in a negative state of mind. Getting a balanced picture of life in your head can help keep things in perspective thereby helping you to cope better.
- Some people might benefit from going away on holiday over Christmas. Here you may be able to change Christmas to something that represents an exciting time of the year for you.
- Some also benefit from getting together with people in a similar position. This is not so you can all dwell in a state of misery. By teaming up with people who understand your circumstances, it may be easier to work together in order to cope effectively.
Those are a few ideas to mull over (no mulled wine pun intended) during this time of year. If you do experience difficulty over Christmas, I hope you find some ways to help cope a little better so you can enter the New Year with a sense of optimism.
Take care and good luck for 2013.