By the time Christmas day has come there have been 1001 tasks that have needed to be marked off the list. At this time of year adults and children are often tired and limping to the finishing line. That finishing line is Christmas, which is often linked with a “break” or holiday.
However, multiple things need to be completed (both professionally and personally) before crossing the line. Instead of taking a break now many people hold off despite their fuse shorting. Tolerance for previously challenging tasks and people may become intolerable and stress rises.
It is common for Clear Health Psychology to see an increase in referrals at this time of year and we totally understand why. Seeking help now to either address underlying issues or assist with the current stressors and feelings is wise. This help can also assist to move positively into the New Year, rather than in damage control mode.
Whilst holidays can offer some relief and a change in our routine, not everyone looks forward to them. Juggling families, living up to expectations, feeling pressured to create lovely memories, staying healthy, are all challenges that can make us feel overwhelmed. If you agree it’s all very difficult, you're not alone! Managing your thoughts and feelings during this stressful season can help you move past the chaos and pressure. Gaining support can assist to navigate the day-to-day stressors to reduce the “fight or flight” response being triggered. It can also address some of the issues that may underlie the stressors for long-term benefit.
Why the holidays can be so difficult.
The holidays bring together a host of common stressors – family, financial obligations and time limitations. For most people, it's not one single stressor that makes the holidays challenging, but a host of difficulties.
Some common reasons for holiday-related stress include:
Body image – What will I wear? What fits? This can also be followed by the challenge of sticking to a healthy diet or weight-loss plan. Festive food is usually more accessible. Alcohol is also flowing this time of year, which can also have its various challenges.
The difficulty of interacting with a dysfunctional family or old emotions resurfacing.
Pressure to spend time with multiple families or family members.
Navigating the shops, deciding who to buy for and selecting presents.
The financial limitations of present shopping.
Longing for family members who have moved away or died.
Looking after children full-time and meeting their emotional needs.
Finding ways to cope
If you want to make it through the holiday season in one piece, now is the time to begin planning your strategy. Enlist the help of your partner, children, and loved ones to present a united front to anyone who pressures you to do something you don't want to do. Below are some tips to help get through:
1. Establish clear boundaries.
Are you spending holidays the way someone else wants you to? For example, are you travelling to multiple houses or doing guilt trips to please others? Have a discussion with family members to share with them the importance of your boundaries, and then stick to them. Creating your own expectations rather than living up to others is important in assisting you to be the “authentic you”. If we behave in ways that are more authentic to our values, we are less likely to experience negative emotions. If you are doing things you don’t want to do then anxiety and depression are often the by-products. Establish the negotiables and non-negotiables and stick to them.CBT is an effective treatment approach to help people identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and to learn practical self-help strategies. CBT highlights that thoughts, feelings and behaviours all impact upon each other. Each of the areas are addressed and evidence based strategies are taught to bring about control and positive change.
2. Create your own traditions.
Instead of conforming to traditions or pleasing others create your own traditions that feel special and authentic to you.
Find ways to honour people you love who aren’t with you this year.
Stay in touch with people you care about.
Ask yourself are there traditions you would like to create, stop doing ones you don't like or create too much stress.
Only follow holiday traditions you like.
3. Establish reasonable expectations.
Facebook and social media facilitate us to think everyone is having a wonderful time and a wonderful life. The reality of a picture is that it is only a snapshot. To want your holiday season to look and feel more like a Pinterest board is idealistic but probably unrealistic. Rather than trying to do everything, think about what actually matters to you, then prioritise that.
It's a bit like parenthood, it is not like the “Huggies Nappies” advertisement where everyone is joyful, hugging and swinging around playfully! Those are more like moments rather than the day-to-day experiences. Working out what you value and then looking out for it when it happens can leave you feeling more likely to experience happiness.
4. Forgive yourself.
Being kind to self is a skill. If we are always annoyed with someone eventually, they won’t like us. So, if we get annoyed with ourselves often then our mood should also be negative. If we can be kinder to self and accept that we are often doing our best with the limitations we are faced with, then our mood is less likely to decline.
No one tries to do their worst for themselves. We are all just doing what either makes sense at the time or what we can do (otherwise we would have done something different). Perfectionism, not good enough self and unrelenting standards are all very dangerous concepts to our mood. If we can set fair and reasonable expectations, we are more likely to set ourselves up for a win rather than a fail.
When to seek help.
Psychologists help with dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. You don't need to meet the full criteria for depression or an anxiety disorder to access help. If you feel overwhelmed take control and get help. If you experience the following then help is strongly recommended:
Sadness or anxiety that doesn't greatly change even when something good happens.
Not feeling able to enjoy things that were once enjoyable as much.
Unpleasant emotions that interfere with your ability to function, such as when you wake up or you can't get your work done because you are too anxious.
Thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
Problems with sleep (difficulty getting to sleep, broken sleep or early morning awakenings).
Symptoms of disordered eating such as skipping meals, excessive exercise, or binging and purging.
Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
Irritability or uncontrolled anger.
If the emotions or the problems experienced feel too big or overwhelming, reaching out for help can be a lifeline. Getting in first if anxiety is rising or mood going down makes great sense. Clear Health Psychology is a private psychology practice with locations across Perth in Mt Lawley, Claremont, Subiaco and Fremantle. We offer specialist clinicians with extensive experience in working with individuals, couples, families, adolescents and children. You can self-refer by calling or making a booking on our website. Medicare rebates may also be available if you meet the criteria for a Mental Health Care Plan provided by a GP.
On a final note, the world "joy" is used a lot when it comes to the word Christmas.
I like to alter to "ENJOY" which helps me to remember it’s meant to be enjoyable and reminds me to act accordingly, not just do it or get through it.
Dr Maxine Hawkins