Get Set for a Stress-Free Christmas

Mental Health

Dr. Happy

For many people, the festive season is a wonderful and happy time; a period of the year in which they interact with loved ones, enjoy good food and receive plentiful gifts.  To these people I say good luck, and may you have all the love and happiness you no doubt deserve.

For others, however, this time of year can actually be very difficult.  For these people the festive season is a period that reinforces the extent to which they feel alone; for many of these people it simply serves as a reminder of loss (if, for example, someone they know has died or left them); for some it’s just a very busy work period during which they struggle to find the time for any celebrations or even any rest; and finally, for other people the festive season is just a frustrating interruption to their normal routine.

To all these people, I want to offer some hope (and I’d like to note that the strategies referred to in this article are based on decades of scientific research from the exciting science of positive psychology).

Whomever you are and where ever you fit in the general scheme of things there are, regardless of your circumstances, several strategies that will almost certainly be of benefit so I hope you find these helpful and I encourage you to do what you can to implement them in a way that’s appropriate and relevant to you.  The reality is that this Christmas might not be ideal for all of you reading this but at the same time, there’s also no doubt that there are things you can do to get through this period with a minimum of distress and hopefully, even some joy!

So, let’s look at what you can do:

First, practice appreciation and gratitude.  That is, do what happy people do which is focus more on what you have and less on what you don’t have.  This is especially useful and helpful in the case of relationships, so if you have to spend time with people you’d rather not spend time with, contemplate their more positive qualities and try not to get too bogged-down in the bad; alternatively, if you can’t spend time with people you’d like to spend time with then practice positive reminiscing and meditate upon the good times you’ve had with them in the past. 

Second, if you get upset that people don’t call you or that you’re not being invited to the right sort of events get on the front foot, as the cricketers say, and actively schedule enjoyable activities. Rather than being passive and sitting back waiting, why don’t you do the phoning and inviting and the organising.  Even if it’s just seeing a few friends for a quick coffee, there’s no doubt that social interaction is more often than not mood enhancing so start building that into your December calendar. 

Third, make sure you don’t make things harder for yourself by having unrealistic expectations; that is, take the pressure off yourself by acknowledging that ‘the day’ doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect.  If appropriate for you, depending on what you’ve experienced over the last twelve months, accept that this year your celebrations just may not be as you’d like them to be – and that’s ok. We all have difficult times and we can only do our best; but hopefully, next year will be a better one.

Fourth, and in some ways extending my previous points, do whatever you can to spend time with people who are most important to you and who are most likely to boost your mood; it might be your children, your parents or other family members, it might be work colleagues or friends.  Whomever it is, make sure you work hard to spend time with those people who are energising and positive and what you’ll probably find is that their attitudes will partly rub-off on you.

Finanly, do whatever you can to build and to develop your own hope and optimism (and if you can foster this in others then even better).  Try to reassure yourself that next year will be much better and if you’ve not already done so, start making plans to ensure this “better future” becomes a reality and doesn’t end up being just a pipe dream. Focussing on the longer-term and keeping things in perspective is at the heart of resilience and is fundamentally important to being able to work through adversity and bounce back from challenges. 

And there it is – five things you can do to have a (relatively) merry festive season.  I wish you all the best. 

Dr Happy

Please note: Dr Happy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

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