Join me during December as I count down ten tips for practicing self-care during the stressful festive season.
Every experience we have is shaped by how we view it – it is impossible for us to live in some kind of objective, factual manner. The way we feel and think about an event may be influenced by past patterns, expectations, the weather, our transient mood, assumptions, spiritual beliefs, emotions, and so much more. The analogy of a camera lens is helpful, illustrating our ‘lens’ as a multitude of factors that completely shapes how we (the camera) view the world: If 100 people took photos of the same event, you would get 100 unique photos.
By recognising what lens you are viewing a situation through, it is possible to change it, and thereby change your experience. This is known as “reframing.” The facts of the situation do not change, but you can choose to change your perception of it. For those who find Christmas day itself challenging, learning to actively reframe how you think about it and what it means to you can be very helpful. Studies have found that people who less often use reframing techniques, are more likely to experience increased stress, anxiety and depression symptoms.
As an example, let’s say you have a big extended family gathering for Christmas, and every year your aunty drinks too much, your sister criticises your cooking, your brothers end up fighting, and your parents manage to somehow bring up all your apparent failings since age two. Everyone inevitably leaves disgruntled, angry, disappointed, and dreading next Christmas.
To reframe this, the first thing is to think about what you are really trying to achieve by attending this social occasion. Really stop and consider carefully why you celebrate Christmas the way you do. In this example I’m using a big family gathering, but the same process applies however you spend the day.
You may decide that the main thing that makes you want to participate is because it’s important to your ageing parents who may not have many Christmases left. Explore how you would like to achieve that. Consider the event from their point of view – their preferences, their struggles, what would make the day truly special for them. It can be helpful to write this down as you work through it.
To be able to shift your thoughts about this event successfully, you may need to identify and challenge some of your beliefs or assumptions. Beliefs you hold might be:
- “Christmas day is only successful if my children are filled with awe at the magic of Santa and Christmas and all the festivities”
- “Any criticism from my sister is going to ruin my day”
- “I will be failing my guests if the food doesn’t turn out just right”
- “All the gifts must be perfect for each person”
- “It is vital that we see all parts of our extended family on Christmas day itself, every year”
- “No-one ever listens to my opinions about Christmas day”
- “It’s all Uncle Jeffrey’s fault that Christmas day turns out like this every year”
Stepping back and recognising that our beliefs are subjective, and not objective truth, can help you challenge them.
Once you have reframed the situation, the aim isn’t to then do every single thing only for this goal, at the expense of all else. It is merely that guiding lens behind it. You may realise that to make the Christmas dinner special for your parents, it will be less fun for your children. Instead of trying to somehow please everyone, and as a result please no-one, a good solution (through this new lens) might be to keep the Christmas dinner special for your parents, and add in a special breakfast, or a bit of Christmas eve magic for your children.
Not only do you use this new lens to reframe your planning, but on the day as well. If the turkey’s dry, remind yourself that your parents don’t eat turkey anyway and everyone else will cope. If the kids get more plastic junk presents that you know will clutter up your house or get broken in two days, try to enjoy the pleasure it gives your parents to be able to give their grandchildren gifts. If a family member criticises you or raises painful memories… well, these are more difficult issues to address. But, the reframed lens gives you a starting point for refocusing on your aim for that event, allowing you to be more resilient in the face of its stresses.
After Christmas day, even if everything does end up the same as last year, you may be able to replace:
Oh my gosh, what a disaster of conflict, bad food, children’s tantrums, tacky presents, leaving me completely exhausted and already dreading next Christmas!
I need a rest, and not everything went to plan, but I did my best to make Christmas dinner lovely for my parents, and managed to restructure other parts of my day to give myself and my children some magical Christmas moments.
Have a go, and see what you might be able to reframe about your holiday season!
Over the next few days, I will be sharing more tips to reduce stress and improve wellbeing over the festive season. If you missed the last post about how regular gratitude practice can improve mental wellbeing, you can find it here. To make sure you don’t miss the rest, you can follow me on Facebook, sign up for my emails, join my Facebook group, or simply check back in on my website!