Christmas can be a restorative time or a time of great emotional challenges – or a bit of both. Personal, social or family expectations that we ‘show up’ in a continuously upbeat and hyper-social manner can amount to a lot of pressure to be someone we are not, especially if family of origin dynamics are challenging. This sets the stage for stress and anxiety. On top of external and internal expectations about how we ‘should’ be, Christmas can also be tough due to ongoing relationship challenges, emotional difficulties, compulsive habits or financial problems.
In western culture it’s normative to feel both pressure and permission to party to excess during the holidays. It’s a temporary time of letting go of the daily routine and responsibility of earning a living. People can equate this ‘freedom’ with a green light to give in to over-indulging in alcohol, drugs or food. On top of this passport to a temporary vacation, some people are troubled by difficult emotions during holiday time which, if not dealt with in a healthy manner, can lead to self-medicating pain. Feelings of loss, grief, regret, anxiety, sadness can be particularly triggering.
For individuals in addiction recovery, especially early recovery, it’s critical that this time be managed well. People who have longer term recovery also need to be mindful of unanticipated triggers – things that can go wrong – and higher than normal stressors at Christmas, such as family reunions and being around others who are over-indulging and, perhaps inviting them along for the ride.
For others who don’t have a problem with addiction, but also don’t want to go overboard and have regrets, it can also be extremely helpful to have a plan. Decide ahead of time how you want to feel at the end of each day and make a commitment to that decision. For example, you may wish to go as far as limiting yourself to one to two drinks or not drinking at all.
Focus on maintaining your health and eating properly to manage your mood. Know the difference between what you can and cannot control. For example, how much time you spend socializing is something you can control; how much your brother has to drink is not. Concentrate on the former and work towards letting go of the latter.
Stress and anxiety tend to be the most challenging emotions to deal with at Christmas. Minimize the impact of holiday stress by focusing on:
- Making Plans – Planning is the lynch pin of a manageable Christmas, as it greatly increases the opportunity for doing what you want and need to do, and minimizing aggravation. Make your plans in advance, and commit to managing your time.
- Direct Communication – Tell your family and friends how you plan to spend Christmas (i.e. how much time, where and with whom).
- Realistic Expectations – Lower the bar, even if nobody else is doing this.
- Down Time – Take time every day for yourself, and slow things down as you need to.
- Exercise – As much as possible, maintain the daily fitness routines you participate in the rest of the year.
- Focus on Gratitude – Doing something for someone else can be a positive antidote to any holiday blues.
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counselor, Registered Clinical Counselor (BC), helps people transcend Negative Family Dynamics, Scapegoating, Low Self Worth, Anxiety, Grief, Trauma and Addictive Behaviors.
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