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Dreaming of a calm Christmas

Nurturing

SEASONAL STRESS Many people find it hard to cope with the extra workload and pressure of Christmas, and all the expectations that surround it.

Mental Health

Jannah Walshe

The traditional image of Christmas is so incredibly positive. Nearly every depiction shows a cosy, cheerful and well-decorated home in which a happy family gets together to share a large dinner cooked to perfection and give each other many thoughtfully selected gifts. But despite what the TV ads are telling us, there is no such thing as the perfect family or the perfect Christmas.  
The issues we are living with during the year do not magically disappear just because it’s the season of goodwill. Inherent problems, stresses, illnesses and relationship difficulties are often amplified, not minimised, by the extra workload and pressure around Christmas time. In addition, all the ‘good feelings’ that are socially imposed around this time mean that any other feelings (especially of the negative kind) are pushed well down. The Grinch is banished at all costs! But feelings pushed out of sight don’t go away, and life is too complex and messy to ever guarantee a perfect Christmas.
But yet every year, we still expect it. This is because as humans we have a tendency to always expect the best. This is known as the optimism bias. We also have something called the planning fallacy, which refers to the way we continually underestimate how much time and effort tasks will take despite our previous experiences. Add to this any possible family dynamics. Even if there is no obvious family conflict, a prolonged amount of time in close quarters with your family can still be stressful. Lack of privacy, lack of control and the pushing of buttons like only family can, all can lead to extra unwanted stress.
This isn’t to say that Christmas is guaranteed to be a hard and stressful time. It can be wonderful, providing all those good things we expect and more. But it is important to recognise is that this isn’t a given and it doesn’t happen automatically. It requires time, effort and investment.
Finally, and most importantly, make Christmas your own. What I mean by this is, if you want to be with family, do it. If you want to be alone, do it. If you want to eat Chinese, do it. If you want to go on holidays, do it. Ask yourself how you would like Christmas to be, and little by little, take steps in that direction.
It might not be perfect this year, or any year, but by honouring yourself and what you want or need, stress can be reduced and your memories of Christmas can include more positives than negatives.

Quick Christmas survival tips

  • Expect to get at least a little stressed
  • Make some alone time for yourself a necessity
  • Choose the elements of Christmas that you want to adopt
  • Find a little time to exercise – it’s a great way to de-stress
  • Share the load – practically and emotionally
  • Lower any expectations of yourself and of Christmas
  • Give more time beforehand to preparation

Jannah Walshe is a fully accredited psychotherapist, course facilitator and mental-health speaker based in Co Mayo. More information about Jannah can be found at www.jannahwalshe.ie.