Managing expectations at Christmas

Carmen BryceBlog posts

It really has begun to look a lot like Christmas.

Having only been a few short weeks since the clocks have gone back, the dark evenings have well and truly come upon us and that wintery feel has certainly crept in and the season is well underway.

As the seasons change, we see our environment change, our routines change, temperatures change and these amongst many other changes can for some of us include personal changes, often on a psychological/emotional level.

While the Christmas season can be fruitful for many, this may not always be the case, as from year to year for various reasons, life changes can occur.

These changes may be due to bereavement, financial issues or mental/physical struggles (to name a few), sometimes resulting in Christmas not always reaching its commercial expectations of being the ‘most wonderful time of the year’

‘Tis the season to be jolly’? …how about ‘Tis the season to be yourself!’: During the Christmas season, amongst the many expectations which are often placed upon us, comes the expectation to have a ‘holly jolly Christmas!’. During this time of year we see many people who are luckily in good spirits expecting others to mirror this and appear happy too, often in some cases leading to confrontation in families and general lack of understanding as to where that person may actually be at. A suggestion to those who may be currently in a bad place, or to those who may be around those who are possibly feeling unwell – just let it be. Let everyone feel how they want to feel and above all else support each other, be compassionate, be understanding, tell them that you love them. Spend some real quality time together regardless of whether somebody is feeling that Christmas vibe or not (giving your time alone may be the greatest gift you could give this year) Do not deny how you feel physically, mentally or emotionally this Christmas – and equally, do not be alone. Surround yourself by supportive people and realise that as the cliché saying goes, it really is ‘ok not to be ok’.

What to expect when you’re expecting: While for some people Christmas time planning and preparation can be something which brings feelings of joy and excitement, for others it can be a time where stress levels are higher than usual due to often unrealistic expectations of what the season can bring, and what you yourself can bring to the season. Having realistic expectations and realizing that there is no such thing as the “perfect Christmas” may be useful in avoiding pre-season burnout this holiday. Do your best, that is all we can do after all! When we lower our expectations, we may be surprised at how well things turn out as a result. Additionally, try not to forget about the importance of looking after your own wellbeing!! (why not try some mindfulness mediation which is proven to alleviate stress levels or why not put on that old jogging gear and go out and go for a run? go on..give it a go!!)

Everything in moderation: Of course, during this Christmas season it is important that we relax and enjoy ourselves which often involves socializing a little more than usual and potentially drinking more – however, it is equally important that we become aware of our alcohol consumption and how it impacts our mental health. While alcohol can lead to the onset of mental health issues, it can also exacerbate existing mental health issues. Alcohol consumption affects our ability to cope, causes low mood and anxiety and can lead to feelings of worthlessness. It is common when one is feeling low that the use of alcohol can become a negative coping mechanism which creates a self-defeating cycle of behaviour which contributes to overall poor mental health. According to the World Health Organisation, a person’s risk of suicide becomes eight times greater than that of if they were not abusing alcohol. This Christmas try remaining mindful of your own drinking and of those around you in order to have a safe and peaceful Christmas.

Routine: While the Christmas holidays are usually a well-deserved time to kick up the legs and relax, often at times like these our routines can go out the window. It may be of use to take into consideration this Christmas that while you should certainly take time to rest, it can be beneficial to your mental health to keep a healthy routine in place, this routine perhaps consisting of – good regular sleep, consistent meals, exercise and moderated alcohol consumption to name a few. Often when we lose our routine it can lead to feelings of overwhelm, low mood and anxiety.

Seek and you shall find: Loneliness and isolation can make Christmas time that bit harder for those of us who may not be surrounded by family or loved ones, often making Christmas a dreaded season for some. Regardless of being surrounded by people or not – during times of struggle we may forget to reach out and look for the support we need, however – to anybody who may be feeling unwell, isolated or alone, you never have to feel alone. Somebody out there will always want to hear your voice and your story. Seek and reach out to local supports within your community before, during or after the Christmas period, these supports may be a friend, family member, teacher, GP, Mental Health Professional or any member of support services within your local area and may very well be the support you need. (See bottom of article for various support services)

On behalf of myself and all the team here at MyMind, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy, healthy and safe Christmas 2018!

Written by Lloyd Horgan