For many, the approach to Christmas is a time of excitement, joy and good cheer. Christmas shopping has commenced and preparations have begun for all the decorating, cooking, entertaining and socialising that will happen over the holidays. For some however, the very thought of Christmas inspires feelings of dread and this can be the case for a number of reasons.
For anyone who has been recently bereaved, Christmas can be a real struggle. Christmas is a time when we gather round with those who mean most to us and it can be a very painful reminder that someone important is missing from our lives. It is a time of rituals and traditions and invariably conjures up memories and feelings of past Christmases. It will bring reminders of those that cannot be with us this year and while we hold dear those memories of times spent together they can be bittersweet with loss.
It isn’t only the bereaved however who find Christmas tough. Those who are alone, those estranged from their family or where family relationships are strained or those who feel rejected by family, can feel very outside the ideals of the perfect family Christmas we are constantly offered across the media. Their feelings of isolation can be compounded by a sense of failure that they have been unable to achieve what everyone else seems to have done effortlessly. While we all, of course know, that the Christmas season is not the non-stop magic the media portrays, this does little to soothe those in distress.
This year has been extra tough due to Covid. It has lessened our social contact, added obstacles to many of the activities that support our wellbeing and brought us additional loss and worry throughout.
So what can you do to deal with Christmas dread?
There is huge pressure to enjoy Christmas and it can feel almost taboo to admit that it’s just not your thing. It might be a simple matter of preference or that large, often alcohol laden gatherings are not something you find enjoyable but instead fill you with anxiety, or maybe you have financial worries. Perhaps you’re ambivalent – you might simultaneously love and hate Christmas. Whatever your reasons, here are some ways to manage these:
Acknowledge your feelings and share them with those you are close to
Whatever your reasons to dread Christmas, a good starting point is to acknowledge your own feelings around it. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel in spite of what those around you may be telling you. Remember also that you are not alone, there are many others who share your perspective. If money is part of your Christmas dread, share your concerns and opt to make rather than buy or spend time with rather than money on someone. Covid has brought financial stress to many so someone else may be feeling exactly the same.
Think about what is difficult for you about Christmas and try to find things that will help you cope. If you are feeling the pain of loss, can you bring a sense of closeness to this person into your Christmas – with a photo, a candle or repeat something you previously enjoyed doing together as a positive way of remembering them now.
If you are lonely or don’t want to be alone, make a plan to spend the day in the company you enjoy. If that’s not family, then spend it with a friend or friends. Don’t decline an invitation by feeling you may be a burden or a ‘spare wheel’ – instead say ‘Yes’ as they will welcome your company and presence. If Covid has taught us anything it is the importance of connection to others for our wellbeing. If large groups are overwhelming for you, rather than say ‘No’ choose smaller gatherings which will be less daunting and still allow you to feel connected.
Prioritise what is best for you
If going solo is what will work best for you at Christmas then embrace this. You do not have to justify your choices to anyone. Treat yourself to a little gift. Try to get outdoors for a walk at some stage. Plan a nice day for yourself with some tasty things to eat and maybe some books to read or movies to watch by a nice fire.
You can connect with others over the season by volunteering with hampers, phone lines or Christmas meals. This can also help reframe any negative thoughts and inspire gratitude for all that is good in our lives.
Remember that Christmas is not forever, it is really just one day and it will pass. Be kind, gentle and compassionate with yourself – it is a season of goodwill and this includes towards yourself.
Take whatever steps you can to bring ease to what is difficult about Christmas and savour what is going well in your life.