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“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation” – Audre Lorde
Christmas can be a difficult or even excruciating time for many people, and unfortunately we cannot avoid it. It’s always there, potentially reminding us of failed marriages or estranged or passed on family members, or another Christmas with no children, or another year when no-one comes home, when money is the tightest it’s ever been, when our loneliness is painfully compounded by budget supermarket fuzzy heart ads, or another year of not having a home. Maybe we dread Christmas because our family dynamic is a nightmare, or maybe we haven’t spoken to our mother in ten years and every year it hurts more than the year before. As the new year approaches it can be a time of looking back at a year of mourning, or loss, or heartbreak, rather than feeling peace and joy inside. It can be hard to remain as resilient as we might be during the rest of the year. For many of us, for whatever reason, it can be next to impossible to get into the Christmas spirit. For those not feeling it for whatever reason, self-care and minding yourself through this period of the year is crucial.
The first point to make is that self-care does not mean self-indulgence. Self-care can be making the difficult choice of confronting someone when it might be easier to avoid them. It can mean putting a need of your own before your family’s desires. It can be staying firmly boundaried when it would be easier to just give into whatever pressure is pushing. It can mean taking a day off and dealing with the fallout later. It can be the hard work of changing unhelpful thought patterns. It can mean many things, and those things are individual to you and they are all completely valid. It is not selfish or self-absorbed to practice self-care.
Accept and allow
I’m not going to go into all the potential reasons you might not be feeling thrilled about the festive season barging towards us. But it’s fine, whatever those reasons are. This is fine. The first step in feeling less than ecstatic about Christmas is that it’s fine and acceptable and allowed not to like Christmas. You’re allowed. Give yourself permission to not like it, or not like parts of it, or feel confused and torn about other parts. Whatever way you feel is okay. You’re okay just as you are.
With tense relations with family members, make plans for how you can resource yourself around them. Plan a few five minute escape strategies for the day. Stay as far away from the difficult person or people and keep any conversation as light as possible. Tell a trusted family member who will be there how you feel so that they can support you on the day. When you feel someone is going somewhere you don’t want them to, make an excuse and get out of the conversation rather than staying and enduring. Remind yourself that you can leave the room for a break and a deep breath when you feel like your buttons are being pushed or are at risk of being pushed. Remind yourself that the day will end. Take a minute out to go through a checklist in your head of all the loving people in your life who love you and care about you and allow yourself to feel the lovely feeling of gratitude for them. Sometimes in situations of intense family time it helps to be busy and have stuff to do, so plan ahead and ask the host how you can help them on the day or days you’ll be with them. If you are living with an abusive partner you are already doing everything possible to keep yourself and your children safe and I wish you luck and a safe Christmas. Don’t forget Women’s Aid is there for you 24/7 to call. Above all be kind and compassionate with yourself, as the family system is the hardest system to change and can be the hardest place to ‘be yourself’.
If people are depending on you to provide their Christmas, plan ahead and set achievable goals. Check that each item is attainable, and then plan when and how you can execute it. Try not to get sucked in to other people’s values if they totally contradict your own. You are the centre of your own reality. Take a breath and come back to yourself. Try to forget comparing yourself to other people. You’re doing the best you can with the resources you have. That is enough and you are enough. Remind yourself that it is okay and totally normal to ask for help before and during Christmas. People usually love be asked to help as it makes them feel of value and needed. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do and you have control over your thinking, doing and feeling, not anyone else. Finally, remind yourself that this isn’t life or death.
If you are at risk of relapsing into drug or alcohol misuse make a ‘Relapse Prevention Plan’ for those those times you might be vulnerable. Reach out to a local addiction centre if you need support. Let the people closest to you in your life know of your concerns so they can help you defend against potential triggers and support you.
If you are missing someone this Christmas, don’t try to avoid the feelings. Plan a moment or moments into your schedule when you can acknowledge how much you miss them, and how much they meant to you. Plan a little ritual or a toast, if that’s your thing. Maybe do a short gratitude exercise and include the missing person in it as someone to whom you are grateful for having known. Just don’t deny your feelings of grief. Mind yourself and be kind to yourself and tell a trusted friend how you are feeling in the run up to Christmas. Connection with others can be a healing tonic. If you can’t do that then don’t forget the various charities who are there for you to call.
Check your thinking
Interrupt the negative thinking and unhelpful self-talk. Replace it with self-compassion and loving thoughts and talk. The situation might not be changeable, but how you think and talk about it can be, and this in turn can help create a more helpful perspective. When an obstacle gets in your way, consider how you can best get around that obstacle and what you can learn in the process, rather than dwelling on why the obstacle arrived or who’s fault it is or what it says about you that it happened. This is also known as ’emotional hygiene’. Try to practice as often as you practice your dental hygiene – everyday.
Be in the moment
A mindful breath can bring us back to ourselves and the present moment, arming us with presence of mind to move forward mindfully, with purpose and with self-compassion. All that is gone when we are operating on autopilot, a symptom of negative stress and disconnection. Use a mindful breath to check in with and notice how we are feeling or where in our bodies we are tense. Simply being aware of what is happening for us can help us feel more empowered within our reality. Living mindfully in the present also helps us to let go of expectation and prevent against disappointment. All we have is the here and now. Forget about the piped Christmas meanings and reflect on what it means for you. Set your own intention. For example, ‘this Christmas I choose to let go with love’ or ‘this Christmas I choose to be grateful’ or ‘this Christmas I choose to accept’ or ‘this Christmas I choose to connect’. Having an underlying meaning or intention to our Christmas period can help us negotiate the more difficult aspects of it, and helps to prevent us from getting sucked into the media campaign of expensive love and joy when maybe we are not feeling those things.
If you are feeling depressed, suicidal or overwhelmed with anxiety, or if you are experiencing domestic abuse or the aftermath of sexual violence, there are helplines available for you. The people on the other end of the phone want you to call, they want to talk to you and they want to support you.
Above all, though, is kindness towards yourself and self-compassion. Everything comes down to this. And don’t forget to put yourself on your Christmas list.
Women’s Aid: 1800 341 900
Alone: 01 6791032
Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 778 888
Aware: 1800 804 848
Pieta: 1800 274 274
Main Image Source Edeka Christmas Ad