With the Big Day fast approaching, I’ve been reflecting on whether Christmas is a blessing or a curse. There’s certainly an enormous amount of pressure on to get it right: to perform like the super mum in the commercials (happy only when she pauses for a moment to actually see all her family enjoying the huge meal she’s cooked, after opening all the presents she bought and wrapped and placed under the tree she single-handedly chose and decorated). This emphasis on Christmas pleasure coming from female endeavour reminds me of how deeply engrained the idea of putting others feelings, desires and enjoyment before our own is. And this doesn’t just affect women – many men find it equally hard to put their own needs and feelings on an equal level with others. How much happier and healthier it would be to depict a Christmas scene where all the family pitched in and everyone had time to enjoy the gifts, goodies and the preparation.
Christmas brings with it an expectation of enjoyment, pleasure and happiness connected to being with your family. For many, this proves to be harder than they’d like it to be. Let’s face it, being with your family when you’re feeling depressed, anxious or stressed isn’t easy. And feeling grown-up, even when you are, with your parents is a tall order for most of us: one look, snide remark or habitual put-down and we’re back to being a child full of shame and hurt. And the abundance of food, and the virtual obligation to consume, makes it one of the hardest times of the year for those suffering from eating disorders.
All this makes me sound like I hate the festive season, whereas in fact I feel exited as the holiday approaches and can’t help hoping, against the odds, for a white Christmas. But the reality of Christmas can feel very different from the fantasy. If we try to make our Christmas or our family perfect we are bound to be left unsatisfied, because it’s unachievable. I believe we’d be better off thinking about what we really want from our time together and remembering those things that actually help us to feel good about ourselves and each other. Here are some suggestions to help you enjoy Christmas:
- Exercise, with or without your family; the benefits for mental health are clear and getting out of the house makes it so much more enjoyable getting back in.
- Put yourself first. Remember what makes you happy and relaxed. Perhaps arrange to spend time with friends as well as family.
- Enjoy food and alcohol in a balanced way that puts your body’s real needs first.
- Spend time with the children: what they want most of all is your attention and enjoyment in whatever you do together.
- Find time to reflect and assess. If you are struggling with your feelings, and not enjoying your life, try to talk to someone or perhaps consider seeing a counsellor for further support.