Christmas and Stress

As we face into a Christmas like no other the usual stresses and strains of the Season seem to have taken on sepia toned nostalgia. Oh for the time when our major concerns were about what festive gathering to attend? Who to invite to the table? How many would fit around the table? How to fit a twenty pound turkey into the oven? How to feed a Vegan? How to survive our families? The list goes on. This year will be different. The Happy C in Christmas has been appropriated by COVID 19. Many will be missing from the table, some for evermore. We have endured a year of unimaginable grief, heartache and fear. Our lives have been turned upside down and, while hope is on the horizon, the future remains uncertain. As we struggle towards the end of 2020 our Midwinter beacon of light has been dimmed. At a time when more than ever we may need the support and consolation of family and friends this may not be possible and where it is, how can it be managed safely? A different set of challenges to be faced in this ‘new normal’. Fortunately there are a few simple steps we can take to help us through.

Presence versus presents. Yes it may sound corny but in times of stress and uncertainty the more we can stay grounded in the present moment the better. The way to the present moment is the breath. Breath is the great stress buster nurturing mind, body and soul. Mostly we take breathing for granted and we absentmindedly engage in shallow upper chest breathing which can actually adds to stress. So take a moment to tune into your breath, relax your body, breathe in long and slow deep into your abdomen and breathe out a long slow exhalation Think of your abdomen like a bellows, as you inhale the bellows expands and as you exhale the bellows contracts. If it’s possible try lying on the floor and placing your hands on your abdomen, you will feel the natural rhythm of your breathing. You don’t have to adopt any special poses or spend hours on a Yoga mat to get into your Zen, simply check into the body and the breath regularly and breathe consciously. (A helpful method is 4: 7: 8 breathing which you can Google)

Expectations can run very high and add to the stress of Christmas. We must give the perfect gifts, host the perfect (socially distanced) Christmas dinner, clean every nook and cranny in the house because you know, Santa sees everything and will judge us! If you have children you are entrusted with the task of ensuring Santa fulfils their every wish, no mean task when their wishes can change in the blink of an ad. Then there are families to contend with, and this year who’s in? who’s out? We all love tradition but sometimes it can become a burden. We ‘have’ to have the whole family very year, we ‘have’ to go to the family every year. Often for young couples where to spend Christmas can be a source of stress and can be one of the first challenges to the relationship (well after the perfect tree one!) We all like to believe that our family of origin’s Christmas is the best and it can be quite a wrench to miss out on this. Some may hold the opposite view and may dread Christmas because their family experience was not so good. In every challenge there lies an opportunity and this year could be the perfect opportunity for those who feel the need for change and to form their own Christmas traditions. It can be an opportunity for all of us to slow down, reflect and renew.

And what of time we may spend with our families? Again, expectations run high as families come together for the perfect Christmas. In ‘Myth of the Family’ Jungian Analyst James Hillman says that going back home for major holiday events can be experienced as a psychological regression. Everyone can revert to type. Independent young (and maybe not so young) adults return home only to find themselves falling backwards into the role of being a child. Parents who have been experiencing a new found freedom from the responsibilities of constant parenting can find themselves firmly pushed back into ‘Mammy and Daddy’ roles. And Mammy is back to providing the perfect Christmas for everyone only this time around perhaps through seething resentment! Desperation can set in as we all try to stop the slide into the old family dynamic with all its inherent historic grudges and indignations. Sometimes the only thing to do is go with the flow and of course, breathe.

One other thing. It has now been scientifically shown that gratitude has a positive effect on the brain bringing a sense of wellbeing physically, psychologically and socially. ( you can read more about this @positive The neuroscience of Gratitude) If 2020 has taught us anything is it to appreciate the small things in life? The things we took for granted?

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend” Melody Beattie. So count your blessings, however small they may seem. Find joy in the small things. Make gratitude lists. Reach out to those who may not be so fortunate. Reach out for help and support if you are finding it all too overwhelming. Gratitude works both ways, giving and receiving.

Peace and Joy.

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