‘tis the season to be jolly, right?
Well, ideally, yes. The reality however is that the festive period is often a particularly difficult time for many of us. For some it can be an especially lonely time of year, where we are reminded just how small our circle is, or even that our circle doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. It can bring about overwhelm at the thought of ‘having’ to interact with people when we might not want to, or because we feel pressure to buy things that we can’t afford. Whatever you might be feeling right now, there is a very good chance that the festive period is likely to amplify it. I know plenty of people for whom this will be a truly wonderful thing and it will likely be their highlight of the year; conversely, for others it will be a real low point; something to endure and just get through.
Just talking to people over the last few years about what Christmas, for example, means for them, I have noticed a huge difference in the amount of detail that is used to describe what makes it a good or bad experience. For those who just can’t get enough of Christmas, they often talk about the gifts and extravagance or the fun and togetherness; their eyes light up, with a smile to match and would be happy to talk for an hour about their most wonderful time of the year. For others, they have had enough by mid-August when the Christmas stock starts to appear on the shelves… Often the response is short and simple; “I don’t like Christmas”. To give any further detail would mean to bring up a past that may seem best forgotten and ignored like the last cold Brussel sprout.
What does this time of year bring up for you? Has it been a struggle for you in the past? Are you anxious about what’s to come over the next few weeks? Maybe you feel segregated because of a difference in faith, or overlooked because it’s your birthday too, and everyone’s focus is elsewhere?
A survey by statista.com in 2018 asked 2,079 people in the UK whether the festive period had ever had an impact on their mental health. I can’t say that I was surprised by the responses, but I will certainly be more mindful of my own wellbeing and that of those around me this Christmas; I would urge you to do the same.
According to the survey:
31% said that they had felt sad or upset (644 people)
18% said that they had lost their temper with a loved one (374 people)
14% said that they had had trouble sleeping (291 people)
7% reported that they had experienced panic attacks (145 people)
7% had avoided answering phone calls from loved ones (145 people)
4% had considered suicide (83 people)
Of the 2,079 respondents, only 5% (104 out of 2,079 people) said that they had reached out to family or friends for help, and at only 3% (62 people), fewer people sought professional help than considered ending their own life.
Feeling like crap may not feel like a choice, but if there were things you could do to make things better, would you? Here are my seven tips to help give you a bit of a lift.
Tip One: Talk about your feelings.
Alrighty, so I know talking about your feelings isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do, but it will get easier with practice and I assure you, you will feel the benefit*.
All too often we invalidate what we are feeling and even get frustrated and upset about the fact that we are feeling frustrated and upset! Whatever you are feeling, you’re feeling it for a reason and that reason is real for you. Keeping that stuff bottled up to the point that it’s all you can think about is a sure way to spoil things for yourself and is quite likely to spill out into the room, or wherever you happen to be and snuff out your candles or take the shine off your baubles.
So, where to start? Firstly, start by acknowledging that you have feelings, they are real and above all that IT’S OKAY! When you reach this point, you can start to notice what the problem really is and begin to figure out what you need.
Opening up and being honest about your feelings can bring with it a sense of relief as you let go of them, similar in some ways to if you had been carrying a heavy bag on your shoulders and finally put it down.
When we talk about our feelings with others, we can often be surprised by the amount of support and understanding that we get in return. Being honest about your feelings can make the whole experience so much easier and any negative thoughts that were beginning to develop can be quickly put to rest, leaving you more time and energy to put into the things that you want.
It’s worth noting that how we feel, impacts the way we think, which in turn affects the way we act. By not actively taking control of our feelings, we are allowing our feelings to take control of us. So, have a break; have a chit-chat.
Tip two: Stay connected (to yourself and others)
For many, this time of year is about togetherness, sharing space and experiencing mutual love and respect. For others it can bring about feelings of inadequacy, isolation or feeling invisible. I believe the difference between the two is ‘connection’. Just as a young child might feel down or depressed when their adult is out of contact, or unavailable to them, so too might we as adults; only this time, as adults, it is about being in contact and available to ourselves.
Connecting with yourself can happen in many ways. Noticing any physical sensations that you experience within your body, without judgement, can be grounding and help you connect to the present moment (as opposed to reflecting negatively on past events, or feeling anxious about what you imagine is still to come), as can connecting with and consciously changing the way you are breathing. Have you ever noticed the difference in your breathing when you are feeling depressed or anxious, compared with when you are feeling content, safe or happy? Controlling your breathing is possibly the quickest way to interrupt and improve your negative mood and create some space to notice that, despite the way you have been feeling, you are in control.
Only when we feel more connected to ourselves, can we begin to feel more connected to others in an authentic way.
Tip 3: Move about.
The connection between our body and our mind is very much a two-way relationship. Similar to the way we breath, body movement often reflects the way we are feeling; if we are feeling depressed or tired, we are more likely to move more slowly than we might if we were feeling happy and invigorated. Equally, if we are anxious, we may move more quickly, or shut down altogether. Changing the way you move can quickly change the way you feel.
As you read this now, notice your posture and consciously change it to whatever you imagine the opposite posture to be (I noticed that I was a little slumped over, with a very curved spine, so sat up straight and lengthened my spine and neck); did you notice any subtle differences to way you felt before you moved? Maybe you had a more positive posture and moved to a less positive one; if so, what did you notice?
This is one quick and easy way that you can change the way you feel right now, but it is also widely recognised that exercise releases the feelgood chemicals in our brains. So, if you’re really feeling stuck in a rut and you are able, maybe try going for a walk, and as you walk pay special attention to the way you move and breath.
Tip 4. Acceptance.
Sometimes things happen that are out of our control and they can be easy to get hung up on. Maybe you have made an extra effort for someone and they have cancelled on you at short notice; perhaps you couldn’t afford to buy all the things you hoped to get to make things ‘perfect’ for everyone. Maybe you’re disappointed because you don’t feel that others made an effort for you? Whatever is causing you distress, if it’s something that you have no power to change, accept it and let it go. No amount of dwelling on it is going to make you feel any better, so try and make the most of the things you do have control over. When things don’t go as planned or hoped for, it gives us the opportunity to take control and experience something new; exciting, right?
Tip 5. Moderation.
Regularly eating slow-energy-releasing foods such as nuts, grains and proteins can help stabilise your blood sugar levels, which can have a big impact on your mental and physical state. I know this isn’t many people’s idea of a fun seasonal feast, but it is worth bearing in mind, especially if you notice your mood change suddenly and unexpectedly. Alcohol and caffeine are also known to impact on mood; alcohol is a known depressant and caffeine is believed to increase anxiety in large enough amounts. Even when we enjoy our indulgencies without any immediate negative impact, the ‘comedown’ or withdrawal the day after can be where we really suffer. Only you can know whether the pain for pleasure payoff is worth it for you, but if it isn’t, then moderation is how to avoid it.
Tip 6: Timeout.
When I say ‘timeout’, I don’t mean you need to go and sit on the naughty step! Taking yourself out of a situation where you don’t feel good, to give yourself the time and space to be with your feelings can make all the difference. If you are feeling too overwhelmed to speak about your feelings, or too affected to change your breathing and posture, retreating to a calm space can help you to manage your feelings one step at a time. It is important that this timeout doesn’t become isolation. The idea isn’t to disconnect, rather to have the calm to be able to connect with yourself, so that you are better able to connect with others on your own terms.
Tip 7. Ask for help
If you are feeling overwhelmed because you are trying to do everything at once and keep everyone happy, or you are struggling to cope for whatever reason, please ask for help. Asking for help isn’t failing, it is acknowledging that you deserve better than having to struggle; it is respecting your own needs.
If help isn’t forthcoming, then relax. If people aren’t willing to help, they either aren’t worth getting stressed for, or may even be feeling similar to you, in which case, take the time for each other, everything else can probably wait.
When I thought about writing this post, I did so considering those among us that may struggle in the coming weeks. However, yes, self-care is massively important to all of us no matter the time of year, but awareness of others is also important. Maybe the greatest gift you could give someone this year is your time, acknowledgement of whatever they may be going through, or an indication that they are not alone.
Wishing you all a very merry Christmas, a happy a Hanukkah, a renewing Winter Solstice, and of course, if this applies to you, a very Happy Birthday!
If you have found any of this helpful, or you know someone that might, please share; hopefully together we can make a big difference to somebody’s life as we see out the year and head more positively into the next.
*If you haven’t got someone that you feel you can trust enough to be open about your feelings with, or you would feel more comfortable talking to someone neutral, please consider seeking professional support.
Visit www.jamespalfreyman-counsellingandpsychotherapy.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if I can support you.