Tips for surviving Christmas

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It’s not always the most wonderful time of the year. Mental health blogger Melissa Boyle has some reminders for those who find it more stressful than joyful

The food, the friends, the twinkly lights and laughter … Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Right?
Well, no, not always. As an introvert and someone with OCD and a phobia of vomiting (sorry), for me, like many others, the festive season can be challenging for a whole host of reasons.
With a social battery that needs recharging more than most, coupled with anxieties that are naturally heightened during the winter months, Christmas for me is sometimes far from the picture-perfect scene depicted in Hallmark holiday movies.
So here are my top tips for enjoying Christmas without getting overwhelmed.

Want to, not should do
Over the coming month, do things because you want to … not because you feel you should.
The films you watch, the dishes you cook, the events you attend – sometimes Christmas can feel like you’re ticking off a giant to-do list. So stop.
Are you doing these things because you genuinely want to?
Just because something has become a tradition doesn’t mean you can’t drop it when it stops bringing you joy.
Similarly, don’t reject an activity because it doesn’t feel ‘festive’ enough. Fancy watching a horror movie or playing video games instead of roasting chestnuts on an open fire? Go for it!
Christmas is about unwinding and being happy, whatever that looks like for you.

No unnecessary pressure
Christmas, when you boil it down, is just another day of the year, and everything doesn’t have to go perfectly for it to be a success. So what if you ruin the gravy or forget to take a perfect family photo by the Christmas tree? Those aren’t the things you’ll remember when you look back – or if you do, you’ll laugh about it.
It’s those little pockets of easy contentment, your first cup of coffee on Christmas morning or a spontaneous hug from someone, that end up standing out in your memory.
So ask yourself this. Does every single moment of Christmas Day need to be spectacular? No.
Does it matter if things go slightly wrong? Again, no. Do your celebrations need to look like something out of a Christmas movie?
And once again … really, no!

What do you choose?
Family pressures and feelings of obligation crop up a lot this time of year. Of course, spend time with loved ones and do things that make other people happy. But you should also think about what will make you happy. Why not let yourself be the one to choose the Christmas film, board game, or location for the Boxing Day walk?
Remember that your wants and needs are just as valid as anyone else’s.

Set your boundaries
There’s no way around it – December always ends up being a busy month. Especially after everything we’ve been through over the last few years, it’s only natural that people are going to want to let their hair down and really go all out this year.
As the invitations start to pile up, remember that you don’t have to say yes to everything. Do the things you want to, and spend enough quality time with the people you truly care about. For everything else, you’re entitled to be selective. It’s perfectly OK to say no to a night out or a shopping trip.

Navigate your own stress
Personally, one of my biggest challenges at Christmas is the food. Specifically, a buffet – with all the double dipping and unwashed hands potentially touching everything – is my worst nightmare. I often find it overwhelming going to events where I know food is going to be the focus.
So to manage this, I try to always eat before events if I’m unsure what the food situation will be or whether I’ll be comfortable with it. I also remind myself that it’s OK to turn down food – again, it’s all about exercising boundaries.
Christmas can be tough if you suffer from any sort of disordered eating. I appreciate it’s also a tricky one to navigate if, for whatever reason, you’re not drinking alcohol or have one of a myriad other anxieties. There’s no easy solution that I know of, I can only say what works for me:
Please don’t be afraid to say no – to food, drinks or just an invitation
Bring your own food or a bottle to parties if the option is there
If in doubt, eat beforehand so you don’t end up going hungry!
Most importantly, if you feel uncomfortable, talk to your friends and family about how you feel. My friends are all really understanding and do whatever they can to make me feel more relaxed.

Be organised
I have a confession to make.
This one might be a little controversial, so I can only apologise in advance.
I start my Christmas shopping in July.
There. I said it.
Hear me out here. There’s reasoning behind this that goes beyond just really, really enjoying buying presents for people.
I hate battling the crowds in December.
I also hate having a big chunk of money leave my bank account in one go.
And I truly can’t think of anything less enjoyable than frantically wrapping presents two days before Christmas.
So, I just start early. I gradually wrap as I go and try to keep a record of what I’ve bought for people. It saves me so much stress, spreads the cost, and helps me feel in control.
I’m too late to help much this year, but set a reminder for next summer to make a start!
In the meantime, lists are a great way of staying organised – and that means feeling in control, which is great for keeping the feelings of being overwhelmed at bay.

Don’t spend beyond your means
Especially during these difficult and uncertain times, please don’t feel like you need to spend beyond your means on gifts for other people. Your loved ones care more about your wellbeing than what’s sitting under their tree on Christmas morning. You could jointly agree a price limit, suggest homemade gifts, or do a family Secret Santa so you’re buying one main gift rather than something for everyone.
Ultimately, Christmas isn’t about how much money you spend. Prioritise the things that matter more, like spending quality time with the people you love.

‘Tis the season to be jolly kind to yourself
Above all, remember that you’re human. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed or sad sometimes, and Christmas is no exception.
Don’t beat yourself up for not being full to the brim with Christmas cheer 24/7 and acknowledge that the festive season can be a lot to handle.
Give yourself some quiet time if you need it and don’t be hard on yourself.
I’d like to wish you a happy and restful festive season – whatever that may look like for you!
Come and chat to me on Twitter: @geekmagnifique

Dorset Mind has 1-2-1 and group support that you can access via their website:
dorsetmind.uk/help-and-support/

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