This blog is back by popular demand! Two years ago many took heart and felt motivated to do something different with their Christmas. Including this blog reader who commented after reading it with:

I now spend Christmas Day with really good friends. I prioritise that over spending it with family. I see my family around that time but not on the major days. I now have a fantastic Christmas Day spent with people whom share a mutual respect, care and enjoyment of each other. It feels very significant to prioritise that over what can feel like the obligation and duty of a family Christmas where you can come away feeling misunderstood, belittled and dare I say, traumatised!

Let’s be honest, most of us experience some Christmas / New Year stress, at times we feel like something is wrong with us, or our family or our life because we are not brimming with joy and good will.

Take heart ~ Here are some clever ideas for filling up your emotional well-being Christmas stocking. We’ll look at:

  • Self-care, what is it and why it can make such a difference to you
  • why you deserve a delightful day and how to make a plan to make that happen
  • staying connected to your body, and the advantages of singing Santa hats
  • how to get perspective and how to find the magic.

Phew… Your stocking will be overflowing by then!

To give you extra hope… One of my clients (whom I’ll call Sarah) last year identified the things that would set her off during the festive season, she made a plan and the result for her was a whole new experience. Sarah said:

Hey Marg I am actually starting to realise that this therapy thing works! (She threw me an ironic yet playful look!) I didn’t even get stressed out this year because we had already worked through those tricky situations and provoking feelings in therapy. I was able to stick to the plan we worked out together and I had a really good time… A great time actually… Probably the best Christmas in years (then she giggled with delight).

So let’s roll through the wisdom of those that “walk the talk” and now skilfully help others at this time of year:

Jodie Gale
For many of us, the festive season is fraught with challenges – perhaps due to a family history where relationships are highly complex or dysfunctional or it might be because we are struggling with anxiety, addiction, depression or disordered eating.

A few years ago, I was in deep crisis and suffering from infertility. I was dreading Christmas with my family where my brother and two step sisters had all just had babies. I felt that I ‘should’ go and put on a brave face (as many of us do when it comes to obligations at Christmas!). It was such a painful day… Literally… I spent the day on the floor with a slipped disc – something I had never suffered with before. As I reflect back, if I was able to self-care – I would have chosen to spend Christmas either at home, at a lovely restaurant or perhaps on an overseas holiday.

My best tip is that it is ok to choose something different from the norm and it is ok to self-care! In fact, it is often detrimental to our well-being if we don’t.

 Jodie Gale Sydney. Australia. Psychotherapist.

Ellen Stuebe
Spending time with family at Christmas can be triggering. It is common for many people to feel increasingly stressed and anxious about how to navigate the contact, as the celebrations near. Making a plan beforehand, that puts your own regulation and wellbeing at the centre, can help keep things manageable. Your plan might include allowing yourself to limit the contact time with people you find difficult; adding a regulating activity like a walk on Xmas Day; or building in some alone time to regroup, breathe and relax. Staying connected and responsive to our body’s cues, helps us stay present, calm and grounded during the ‘silly season’.

Ellen Stuebe Sydney and Southern Highlands. Australia. Psychotherapist.

Lisa Pola
Lisa Pola Counselling would encourage you to start planning early. A bit like my local supermarket. It’s October and the halls (and aisles) are becoming increasingly stocked with holly. Consider “Christmas Stocking” up your mental health toolbox with strategies and plans to see you through the Christmas-New Year period. If you live alone consider volunteering on the big day. There are many organisations that provide warmth and good cheer to homeless and other folks in need.  Work with your counsellor to identify organisations looking for volunteers. If volunteering is not your cup of tea and Christmas cake, think about attending one of the many Christmas day lunches organised in your region.

Another good strategy is to write up an activity sheet for those days that can be difficult for you. Find out what’s happening and write up a timetable well ahead of the big day(s). Place your schedule on the fridge and start crossing off activities attended. As a counsellor of many years I have invited all past clients to come to counselling dressed in their Christmas best. Sitting across from clients wearing reindeer antlers / flashing earrings/ singing Santa hats while speaking about the content of their Festive Mental Health Toolbox can be a good start to the holiday season.

Lisa Pola Bendigo. Central Victoria. Australia Family Counsellor / AMHSocialWorker worker

Sue Dawson
Be true to yourself and be clear with your boundaries
Enjoy the people you love
Plan your activities – what excites you – do those
Consider what is safe – and interesting – do those
Allow a little magic to touch you
Yes, it can be a stressful time of year
but remember a  little “good” stress is ok when we make a real choice.
Seasons Greetings, to you all

Sue Dawson Melbourne. Australia. Psychotherapist.

Tim Hill
Christmas can be a tough time; many people experience it as a time of obligation and making other people happy at the expense of themselves. I’d encourage you to make at least some aspect of the day just like you want it to be, even if it’s a small thing. The people around you want you to be happy but they don’t always know how to make that happen; it’s worth reminding yourself that you too deserve a special day.”

Tim Hill Melbourne. Australia. Psychotherapist.

Gena Fawns
There are many strategies we can try, so listen to your own feeling about what you need. For me, what works is to take the pressure off myself and see the whole thing in perspective. Also, if I remember to breathe slowly and fully, my system calms down and I feel easier again. Best of luck,

Gena Fawns Melbourne.  Australia. Psychotherapist.

Marcia Watts
As the end of the year is just around the corner, I wanted to raise the idea of hope. Hope is a word that has been speaking to me of late, especially in the lead up to Christmas. Christmas reminds us that there is possibility of things being different, lost things can be found and broken things can be renewed. Hope abounds at Christmas in the gifts we hope to receive, the people we hope to see and the love, joy and peace we hope to experience. And yet I know that for many Christmas can also be a time far from hopeful; it can even be a time of pain, loss and regret. With these thoughts in mind we can even imagine Hope as a person who is walking alongside us as we face difficult times reminding us that this might be the end of a year that may have not lived up to all our expectations but it is not the end of our story. Hope has a way of suggesting circumstances can change bringing energy and focus even when we are desperate. 

Marcia Watts Brisbane. Australia. Psychotherapist.

Marg Ryan
Recently, I was inspired by a moving podcast interview with Connie Johnson, the actor Samuel Johnson’s sister, who is a young mum with terminal cancer. She discussed how her first two cancers had helped her learn not to let herself get affected by small issues that go wrong. She told the story that in the past, someone parked across her driveway, and it completely ruined her day and then it even went on to eat away at her week.  She would relay the story to anyone who would listen and she felt bitter and resentful at the selfishness of the driver.  Nowadays she describes how she has learnt to make a conscious choice not to give these irritations “oxygen” as she calls it in her mind.  She won’t let it ruin her day and makes a conscious decision not to dwell on it at all.

So I guess the challenge remains for us all to not give the small stuff oxygen this Christmas. Instead, can we find a way to do more than go through the motions and survive another year, and instead be kind and concerned about ourselves and those we love, no matter what challenges Christmas may bring.

Marg Ryan Melbourne. Australia. Psychotherapist & Blog Compiler.