For those who find Christmas tough: being self-full isn’t selfish
12TH DECEMBER 2023
For many women, Christmas isn’t the easiest time. Here are my tips on remembering to look after yourself this year (and how this can actually help others too).
Unwrapping the myth of the perfect Christmas
For many people I know, Christmas isn’t always the cheery mince pie eating, festive jumper wearing, cosy window of life that the adverts might have us believe. In fact, the older I get, the more friends I know who find it challenging (to say the least). Whether it’s the heartbreaking burden of loss or illness being triggered and magnified by every decoration, song or conversation about who’s doing what this Christmas, to more practical anxieties... Worrying about money, the world we live in, finding the time to ‘do it all’, coping with the diary gymnastics and family logistics…
Or even navigating tricky relationships, wishing you were at home (or not at home), wanting to give everyone the very best of you when there’s very little snap in the cracker so to speak. Trying to say cheerlily, “Oh look, The Holiday is on” before going to the bathroom for a silent cry… Whether it’s the first time you’re struggling at this time of year or it’s an annual dread, Christmas can be tricky for lots of reasons but there are ways to soften the edges and so I wanted to share some tips I’ve learnt that I really hope might help you too.
Why self-care is important (it’s being self-full not selfish)
Firstly, it’s good to remember that it’s not up to you to be the person solely responsible for Christmas. It’s ok not to be ok. What it isn’t ok to be is resigned to the fact that it will always be this way, because it won’t be. And there are some ways to cope. As the old saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup so taking care of yourself before you try to be all things to all people is actually one of the most thoughtful things you can do for those around you. Taking time out to heal or to make yourself right is important. What would make you happier right now? What could you give as a Christmas gift to yourself?
And does it really all need doing anyway? Go back to your list and remove the things you don’t absolutely need to do. Be kind to yourself. Put you first for a moment. You might be surprised at the difference this can make.
Remember that comparison is the thief of joy
Forget the weight of Christmas past (or the aggravating tinsel shininess of everyone on Instagram). You don’t have to cook mince pies from scratch because your sister does or hand make snowflake decorations. Do Christmas your way. Which new traditions could you introduce to change it up this year? If you haven’t got it in you to cook, have pie. If you can’t bear to go for drinks, don’t go. Do things that bring you and your loved ones joy, and give any guilt to Santa to take back to the North Pole to dispose of. You don’t need it in your life.
The benefits of being proactive
As in, if you’re worried about money, then make lists, plan and budget to help clear it out of your mind knowing you’ve done all you can this side of Christmas. If you’re feeling low, put some of your favourite things in the diary for the New Year (however small. It might just be a special walk or meeting up with that friend who makes you laugh like nobody else can or will just hold your hand). Think of it as a post-Christmas recovery plan! Having things to look forward to helps as does being proactive. What’s the one thing you could do today to try to make your situation better in some way? You might feel uplifted knowing you’ve done something to try to regain control.
Worried about Christmas? Talk to your loved ones
Don’t be afraid to share how you’re feeling. The mental health charity Mind suggests this as one of the coping mechanisms for getting through Christmas, and you’ll be surprised how many people out there feel the same. Age UK reported in their recent campaign (supported by Dame Helen Mirren, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Joanna Lumley, no less) that 1.6 million people find Christmas Day to be the hardest day of the year.¹
YouGov also shared that Christmas is especially tough on women’s mental health (surprise surprise!). While only 35% of men have felt stressed around Christmas, for women the figure is 51%. Plus over a third of women also say they’ve felt anxious, whereas less than a quarter of men say the same.² Share what’s on your mind as it might help.
Practice gratitude, love and community spirit
These might feel like the last things you feel like doing but they’re honestly all incredibly likely to help. Reaffirming the events, people or feelings we’re thankful for can help shift our mindset from ‘urgh’ to ‘ok’. Plus generosity can have a positive effect on your brain. When people do good things, they sometimes light up and that reaction is nicknamed ‘giver's glow’. Researchers at Stony Brook University shared that when we're generous, our brains release several chemicals that give us a sense of joy and peace.³ Getting out of your own headspace for a bit can really help.
Create your non-negotiables and set boundaries
My final tip is that if you know there’s something that could tip you over the edge, steer clear of it. Even if it’s a ‘family tradition’ or something you feel you ‘should’ do. It’s not worth going into debt for one day of the year when people already know how much you love them. If visiting family compromises your mental health, limit it. Have a think now about what your non-negotiables should be, set boundaries and protect them.
Remember, looking after your own wellbeing isn’t selfish, it’s self-full. It’s also one of the kindest things you can do for those around you. So take time out, hibernate a little if you need to, and whatever you end up doing this Christmas, I am sending you the hugest amount of love.