And Why You Need to Do That
“Wherever you are in your life this year, take care of yourself first. Practice self-love abundantly. This […] is the only way to experience the true meaning of Christmas.” – Charlene Tops
Ho Ho Ho, Christmas is coming!
Christmas trees, barely visible under the huge shimmering glass balls, stand proudly like highly decorated generals in the Parade.
Supermarkets expose their festive goodies – nuts, chocolate, biscuits and mouth-watering marzipan sweets to tickle our senses. Giant Santas, Dwarves and Rudolphs smile intriguingly, as if asking us: "Have you been a good girl this year?"
Merchants in the Christmas markets seduce us with mulled wine, frankfurter sausages and fried sweet almonds. Yummy!
The Christmas Saga is unfolding and the Holy Night is just around the corner. So, let me ask you a question:
"How are you?"
Even those of us who had a crappy childhood has a few neat, happy memories – they're our treasures. For me, it has always been Christmas holidays.
Finally, free from school, I could sleep long, and then plunge myself into a new adventure – skating with friends, until we no longer feel our feet. Then, dressed in warm boots, take our sledges to a steep hill nearby. I still remember the ecstasy of sliding down the slope - the cold wind burns my flaming cheeks. I would watch my favourite fairy tales in the movies, and wallow in the snowdrifts of fresh snow on the side of the road on a way back. Laughing loudly to cramps in my stomach.
No obligations other than to remember to eat my lunch, don’t lose keys and be home on time. Even the family drama and the craziness of our lives seemed to subside for a while.
On Christmas Day, we baked pies and cooked our dinner together, mum and I. Then the three of us enjoyed a meal while watching Christmas movies on TV or listening to the songs. And then, on the morning next day, I ran to the Christmas tree to unpack my Christmas present.
And at that moment, life felt better than any fairy tale.
New Roles, Other Rules
Being an adult is different, wouldn’t you agree?
Big family holidays often are loaded with stress of preparation and performing: Shopping for presents and groceries, planning the visits, decorating the house, cooking and baking for parties – you name it! While still taking care of your job and the usual family stuff.
Being a part of a dysfunctional family adds extra pressure to your already stressful life. It’s an emotional time where unhealed wounds may resurface, causing excruciating emotional pain. Your feeling of wellbeing seems to disappear, melted away like the first snow on the lawn. Hundreds of questions run through your mind like scared horses through a field.
Would my son visit or ignore the invitation as he did last year? Would I be able to see my grandkids? How can I stay sane around my narcissistic mother? Should I invite my drama queen sister-in-law or say no to my partner? How should I handle my dad’s critical comments and still enjoy the dinner?
Do you sometimes wish to wake up in the morning and the holidays are over? You’re not alone!
So, are there ways to minimise holiday stress, stay calm and peaceful and still on top of the task? – You may ask.
And the answer is yes, it is.
It took me years to figure out how to keep stress and exhaustion from ruining my family holidays. And the solution was simple – to balance your obligations and self-care (and no, it’s not about brushing your teeth, taking a bath regularly or changing clothes 😁).
Let’s have a look!
Best Self-Care Practices to Prevent Overwhelm
Here’s a list of my favourite self-care tools to help you rest, regenerate and restore your energy (and your sanity, too). Pick a few that make sense to you and start practising. Make self-care a part of your daily routine, and not just for the holidays. Start today, and you will be thanking me years to come. 🤓
Have a realistic, doable plan.
Decide who you want to spend time with during your holidays and how. Plan your activities with your children and friends. Do you want to invite people to your home? Send invitations on time and set the marks in your calendar. Do not say yes to all party invitations, only to a few that you know you would enjoy. (Remember to schedule a babysitter.) Stick to your plan. You may have to say no to some people, which leads us to the next point.
Give yourself permission to say no.
Remember that "no" is just a word that cannot harm anyone. You can say no when necessary; it is your right as a human being. Although, you may need to practice before you say no to someone who doesn't respect other people’s boundaries. Here is some help.
Keep your boundaries strong.
You worked hard to define and set limits with other people, especially your mum, and you do not want them to be destroyed. Remember that people will check your new boundaries and try to push them back to where they used to be. Be prepared to defend them, and if you don't feel strong enough to stand firm, stay away from your dysfunctional relatives this year. Promise?
Need help with your boundaries? This free email course can help.
Keep your spending under control.
Christmas is not a gift contest – the more, the better. The quantity and price tags do not reflect the love you put into your presents. Do you agree? Then remind yourself and others that Christmas is about love, not money. Set your financial limits before you start spending and stick to them.
PS Start buying your gifts long before Christmas time at sales and save hundreds of dollars. Or use your creative skills and make your presents yourself.
Here are ideas on meaningful holiday gift-giving.
Stick to your usual schedule and routine.
I know you cannot avoid adding extra tasks to your holiday schedule. At the same time, keeping your favourite routine, such as taking a daily walk or reading a few pages in bed, helps to feel safe.
Turn your expectations on low.
Or, even better, do not expect anything and save yourself from disappointment or hurt. Remember, last year you spent hours looking for the perfect gift for your mum, and she barely looked at it? Or how did your aunt criticize your cooking, which took you days to prepare?
“One of the best ways to take care of yourself during this emotionally trying time, is to give up your expectations of the perfect family with the perfect tree while hosting the perfect parties with the perfect gifts. This type of thinking is extremely damaging to you. As you relinquish these ideas, you are able to open yourself up to experiencing greater joy in the reality of the moment.”
Or, as William Shakespeare put it:
“Expectations is the root of all heartache.” – William Shakespeare.
Identify your triggers and be prepared.
Are your parents known for creating conflicts and upsetting people? In this case, have an escape plan that you can use if one of your triggers is activated. Maybe it is your father’s ruthless criticisms of your political views or your mother’s belittling of your lifestyle, partner or job choice? Do not let them upset you and leave before the temperature reaches the glowing point.
Sticking to soft drinks is a great idea – you can drive home on your own whenever you feel like it. Sobriety also helps to stay in control of yourself and maintain healthy boundaries. 😉
Stay present and mindful.
There’re many ways to disconnect from a present moment and yourself. You may turn on an autopilot and run through the days, like a pre-programmed robot performing her protocol. Too busy to pay attention to your actions and feelings, as well as to the outside world. Or your mind may get stuck in replaying old insults, worrying about the future or fearing to miss something.
But you are not your thoughts – remember that and focus on the current moment. Pay attention to what you are experiencing and feeling what you are thinking right now. Got it? Then also be attentive to what is happening around you.
Your life is precious - pay attention to every bit. By the way, mindfulness is a great tool to get rid of anxiety. 🎉
Pay attention to your feelings.
Holidays often are times of mixed emotions – sadness and excitement, anxiety and joy. Never try to fix or ignore your feelings. Instead, listen to them, identify and then express them, if appropriate. Emotions contain important information, but you do not need to act on them. And if you feel alone, reach out and share your feelings with a trusted friend. You can also …
Write your thoughts in a journal.
Do the same thoughts come up again and again, making you angry, worry or sad? Express your thoughts in writing – it helps mentally release them, relax and move on.
Do it your way.
How often do you compare yourself to your cousin or aunt? Or let your mother dictate how you should decorate your home, what food should you serve, or what should your family wear?
Keeping traditions is terrific because they are part of your culture, but no one forbids you to create new, your traditions. Every family has something special they enjoy – duck filling or delicious dessert. Do not be afraid to mix old with new – it works both for furniture and traditions. The main thing is that you love it!
Manage your anxiety.
Even when you plan everything in advance, things can suddenly change. Have a few handy tools to prevent anxiety from taking you hostage.
Take a break to unstuck.
Leave everything you do and give yourself time to breathe and reflect. Or completely change your activity - this often helps to refocus and gain a new perspective. And believe me, it will save you time.
Listen to your favourite music.
Christmas songs or chorales, Mozart or rock - any music will do as long as it brightens your mind and cheers you up. Come on - dance or sing along! As one study showed, listening to music can lower stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate.
“There’s nothing like our favourite tunes to dial down the stress and crank up the joy.” – Mimi O' Connor
Flex your gratitude muscle.
Start and end your day with Gratitude journal or, if you don’t have one, tell your reflection in the mirror: “At this moment I am grateful for ...” Here’re some ideas.
And, please do not force it; feel it.
Recharge your body.
You may not be master Yoda yet, and you cannot move objects with your mind. But I'll tell you what you can – you can move your body! Do yoga, swim or take your bike outside, lift weights, go for a ran or dance. You can also walk some place quiet and nice, like through a forest or on a beach, paying attention to what you see, hear and smell. Walking is a good exercise in mindfulness, too. And it works perfectly for the beginners!
Good hormones your body produces during physical activity are the cure for stress.
Schedule technology-free hours.
Disconnect from the Internet and other technological energy-suckers and let your mind rest. And if your husband takes the kids outside, leave the laundry and take a relaxing bath instead!
Get enough sleep.
Go to bed earlier when you are tired. Try to sleep at least 7 hours, depending on your needs. Never compromise with sleep - this can have unpleasant consequences. And take a nap in the afternoon – it's good for your health according to research.
Isolation is not good for anyone. So, while your therapist – if you have one – might be unreachable during the holidays, be sure to have someone you can count on, if you do not feel great — somebody from your safety net such as your favourite cousin or a trusted friend. Human connections are great healers.
But hey, never underestimate the support of a pet!
Make Your Choice
Not every family is a repository of love, and some create such a toxic environment that it is harmful to be in it. If your family has been abusive to you, it may be best to stay away. Find something pleasurable to do for yourself that doesn't involve your family. Make sure you have plans for Christmas night, perhaps a party with your friends. Or volunteer to help others, less fortunate than you.
Ask people in your community or church — they may have an idea or two. These are other options than spending time with your difficult family nowadays.
Chop-chop, time to create joyful holidays for your loved ones and yourself.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
See you in 2020 – the year of healing and joy!