Does the thought of Christmas make you break out in a sweat? Does the sight of mince pies and Advent calendars in the shops start your mind racing even when Christmas is over two months away? It’s hard trying to juggle work, being a mum, and Christmas preparations and Christmas overwhelm and anxiety is real. But, there are three things that you can do to create an awesome Christmas and reduce your stress:
Christmas is part of the year's rhythm, like Spring, birthdays, and the start of the school year. In Spring you start to swap your winter clothes out for lighter dresses and pack your heavier coats away (although not too far away if you live in Melbourne where our seasons tend to ignore their order on the calendar). At the end of the school year, there is space for reflecting on the achievements of the year, celebrating them with concerts, displays of artwork, and reports that provide a potted summary of the blood, sweat, and tears.
And before Christmas you plan, you shop, you get swept into the rhythm of what always happens at Christmas. You may work hard to recreate the magic of your childhood Christmas, or you may work hard to ensure your family experiences the joy you never did. You want to spend quality time with your loved ones, choose the right gifts, make people happy, and create wonderful memories.
Some years it works. And other years there are tears, exhaustion, disappointment, and arguments. The drive to make this ‘the most magical time of the year’ can take its toll, and in the pressure to do everything for everyone, your needs, and your rights, can get lost.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
The drive to make this ‘the most magical time of the year’ can take its toll, and in the pressure to do everything for everyone, your needs, and your rights, can get lost."
Why does Christmas stress you out?
If you’re like me you want to enjoy Christmas and help your kids enjoy it. You want to create opportunities to sit with awe, see smiles and laughter, gather people together, and celebrate hope. But it’s easy for the joy to be sucked out of Christmas.
How does this happen? Why is Christmas bad for your mental health?
Some of the highlights of playing Christmas Bingo. Gingerbread house won't stand up. No-one wants a Santa photo. Someone ate my Advent calendar chocolates. Forgetting where you hid a present. Car Park Rage."
Christmas is particularly difficult if you have mental health difficulties, are struggling with the cost of living, or if you are consistently putting other's people's wishes ahead of your own. If you’re grieving, alone, or experienced a recent family separation, maybe this year is a particularly difficult one.
Maybe it’s time to stop doing what you’ve always done and start exploring new ways of doing things that work for everyone in the family, including you.
Sticking to what you have always done makes sense. Until it doesn’t.
The familiar is predictable and removes some of the burden of decision-making. Following the same pattern as last year can make planning easier and perhaps reduce some anxiety. However, does the pattern you follow include procrastinating, microplanning, or leaving it all to someone else to decide? Does the way you usually celebrate Christmas bring you overwhelm and exhaustion or joy?
The simplest and calmest Christmases are where you don’t stick to tradition mindlessly but combine what is most meaningful from the past with your current needs and wants.
There is power in reflecting. I invite you to take a pause now. Step back from trying to keep up with social media and the pressure to present a perfect Christmas image. Look at the expectations you are trying to live up to so that you can reduce your overwhelm and choose how you want this Christmas to be.
The simplest and calmest Christmases are where you don’t stick to tradition mindlessly but combine what is most meaningful from the past with your current needs and wants.
How to Cope with Christmas Stress
As a mother, you already have enough on your plate. You tend to carry the majority of the day-to-day mental workload. Christmas can tip you into overwhelm, even if you normally cope OK. If you do have anxiety or another mental health condition you are more prone to feeling the weight of Christmas stress.
To achieve calmness and manage your Christmas stress, let’s first look at some of the signs of Christmas stress, then dive into the three main ways of reducing your stress and making a simply awesome Christmas.
15 signs of Christmas stress
You may swing from avoidance to control, as your thoughts and feelings take up more of your mental space and lead you to old habits that have not served you well in the past. Let's get started on what you can do to create a different, calmer, more enjoyable and awesome experience this Christmas.
" By reducing demands and expectations, looking after yourself, taking the time to reflect, and mindfully being present, you are well on your way to creating an awesome Christmas that works for you and your family."
What to do to reduce Christmas Stress
Simplifying as much as possible is a great place to start. You can simplify gift giving, decorations, celebrations and expectations. Following are 6 steps to simplify Christmas expectations.
Take 10-20 minutes and connect with what you feel and what you think about all these expectations that you have created or bought into. What are the thoughts and feelings that come up when you think about Christmas? Find something to write in and listen to what you are saying to yourself. It may look something like this
Note:: If getting in touch with your feelings is difficult there can be a few reasons why that is happening. You can come back to exploring your feelings in the future either with your GP, or mental health therapist, or if this is something you would like help with you are welcome to contact me for an appointment.
Once you’ve named and acknowledged your thoughts and feelings it’s time to reflect on what they might be trying to tell you about what is important to you at Christmas.
Here are some simple guiding reflection questions.
After you have listed what you want and your ideal Christmas, ask everyone else in your house, and/or those you know you want to celebrate Christmas with how they would answer the same questions. It's important to listen with curiosity and openness.
Compare the lists. Circle what there is in common, and those that are doable. Can you identify what matters most to everyone? Any surprises? How do you feel about what they said? It can be enlightening to realise that you don't always know what other people are thinking and that what you perceive isn't always true. Is it time to manage expectations – we’re not going to Disneyland. Sometimes it’s helpful to prompt, why do you want to go to Disneyland – oh, you’d like to get as far away as possible from all the drama that happened last year….
Don't forget - you're after an enjoyable, awesome Christmas, not one you've got through with gritted teeth, and can't wait until Boxing Day when it's all over.
When you strip back your expectations and focus on what really matters it invites calm into your life.
It's decision time. After the brainstorming, now it’s time to make some selections that you think will work best for the people who matter most – you and your family. Depending on the age of your children and who else is involved in your Christmas planning this will look a little different. You could have a family meeting or a family group chat, or perhaps the main parts of the day are decided by one or two people. The important part is that everyone's needs (including yours) are respected. The aim is for everyone to have one non-negotiable thing they will do/have/experience at Christmas. Everything else is a bonus.
The next step in the plan is to put it in place and monitor it as you go. Mark the things that matter on your Calendar and in your diary. Be prepared to be flexible whilst keeping in mind the things that have the greatest priority. Hold your sights firmly on your North Star and hold this plan lightly in your heart. Remember what matters most.
In the past our non-negotiable items in my family have been: Christmas light looking, celebrating Christmas with all the extended family, spending Christmas Day with partner, Midnight Mass, sausage rolls at Christmas lunch, It can be amazing when you strip it right back what the thing is people most remember and care about. Celebrating with others is usually comes up as a priority, although some years having space and time to oneself on the day takes priority, particularly for members who become easily overwhelmed.
When you strip back your expectations and focus on what really matters it invites calm into your life. If you like to listen to podcasts, here is an episode where I talk about creating Christmas calm through managing expectations.
How to create awesome connections at Christmas
Mental health and well-being are strongly linked to how connected you feel to those around you. The centre of this is yourself. Following are suggestions for strengthening connections in each of the four layers of connection: connection with yourself, connecting with your family and friends, connecting with the natural world, and connecting with the transcendental.
1. Connecting with yourself.
The work you’ve just done on identifying what makes Christmas awesome for YOU, and being honest with yourself about your thoughts and feelings around Christmas was a great way of connecting with yourself.
Three other ways to connect with yourself are:
(Note: You may have found this an easy thing to do, but there may have been unexpected things that have popped up. If these reflections increased your stress or anxiety please check in with your GP, or counsellor or contact me for an appointment to help you work through it.)
2. Connecting with friends and family.
Some of the ways to connect with friends and family include:
Beyond your immediate circle of friends and family, there are several ways to connect with the broader community. These can include:
Or on a smaller scale:
Instead of the stress of juggling too many commitments at Christmas, other's find themselves feeling alone. If you’re by yourself at Christmas, there are other options to achieve this sense of connection and reduce loneliness.
3. Connection with the natural world.
Ways to connect with the natural world include:
4. Connection with transcendence.
Ways to connect with the space beyond which you can see include:
Maybe your awesome moment comes in the lull of Christmas Eve when your children are asleep (finally) presents are wrapped, and you take yourself outside and stare up at the sky.
How to Keep Up Your Self-Care at Christmas
Taking care of yourself is not selfish. It's an act of self-love.
Christmas demands can challenge your existing self-care routines, whilst also providing some unique opportunities for enhancement. All the stressors outlined earlier can undermine existing self-care routines, especially if they are newly established. And Christmas also effects the routine and habits of others around you. You may find you're down a walking buddy, that Christmas treats are suddenly in your eyeline everytime you go shopping, that your loved ones are feeling broke or isolated. It's a shifting milieu.
This is where fierce self-care becomes important, especially if you are prone to Christmas stress and anxiety. Self-care is so much more than bubble baths and treating yourself. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. It's an act of self-love. It encompasses everything you do to maintain and enhance your ability to function well in your day-to-day life and these actions are often talked about as healthy habits. Here's a quick overview of the five foundations of self-care.
The five foundations of self-care:
Mindfulness practices heighten your senses, and intensity your experiences, and are a gateway to awe.
Three questions to ask yourself repeatedly over Christmas
1. Is this what I need most? To avoid Christmas burnout, check in with your needs before saying yes. Does that social engagement provide connection opportunities that you are needing? Or do you have enough and need a break?
2. Will this help fill my self-care bucket or poke another hole in it? Running it past the five foundations list is a good rule of thumb. Even better if it's an activity that ticks more than one of the five foundations. Walking is great for this.
3. Is this something I know helps me? Remind yourself of the benefits of your normal routine, of your why. Prioritise the things you know work: keep walking, eating your veggies, journalling, meditating, talking with friends, doing your yoga, etc.
Opportunities to cultivate awe through mindfulness
Lean into mindfulness, which just happens to be one of the most powerful forms of self-care and takes very little time, because it is about the how of what you do, not the what. Mindfulness practices heighten your senses, and intensity your experiences, and are a gateway to awe. At Christmas mindful opportunities abound, including:
A quick reminder in any situation is to use your senses to bring you back to the moment of what is actually happening.
How simplifying, reducing expectations and prioritising activities; practicing connection and engaging in fierce self-care work together to help you make a simply awesome Christmas.
By reducing demands and expectations, looking after yourself, taking the time to reflect, and mindfully being present, you are well on your way to creating an awesome Christmas that works for you and your family. Along the way you may face some difficult challenges in letting things go, saying no, setting boundaries, maintaining self-care, and getting through the season.
If you would like support with any of this I am happy to help. Positive Young Minds is open up until the 22nd of December and then closed for Christmas Week.
By reducing demands and expectations, looking after yourself, taking the time to reflect, and mindfully being present, you are well on your way to creating an awesome Christmas that works for you and your family."
For over 17 years, I have combined research and the experience of working with 1000s of children, adolescents and parents to help them understand and manage big emotions and create calmer homes. Homes where big feelings are understood, needs are met so that Christmas can be celebrated, not dreaded.
You are welcome to book an appointment to discuss your concerns and your goals and work with me to make the change you are looking for.
PS. If you enjoyed this blog, then come over and join the Sprinkles of Wisdom for Wonderful Women Newsletter Club. You'll receive regular letters from me where I share insights, inspiration, reflections, support and do-able strategies on how you can create and integrate more calm, connection and confidence into your life without running away to Bali.
A reminder this blog is for general information and advice only. It is not designed to replace therapy in any way. For some people Christmas is not just stressful, it is also traumatic. The above advice is not meant to address Christmas trauma. If you are experiencing trauma, overwhelming Christmas anxiety, depression, or any other mental health concern please see your GP, or your mental health therapist, or see if you think I may be a good fit for you .
I have a question for you.
"How are you feeling right now?"
Many people have no idea, or provide an automatic response like, "I'm feeling good, I'm fine."
If you have difficulties with knowing how you feel, you are not alone.
There are many reasons why you may not be able to easily identify what you are feeling - including the fact that many people who ask you how you are feeling, don't really care! It's just a societal nicety to get out of the way.
But knowing how you are feeling IS important.
Combined with knowing what you are thinking and identifying what your body is experiencing, it's one of the key ways you make sense of the world around you. This awareness is a part of living a more mindful life and taking responsibility for your overall self-care.
Below are five habits or behaviours that might be getting in the way for you understanding what you are feeling. Note, I do not discuss trauma in this article, or anxiety and other mental health conditions that can cause difficulties in accessing emotions. The five habits discussed are behaviours and habits that everyone can fall into with realising it.
5 feelings habits or behaviours
The first is DISTRACTION. There are so many things that distract us and take us out of ourselves on a day-to-day basis, not the least being, the 24 hour digital world we live in. Whether it be social media, watching YouTube videos, Netflix or Foxtel, there's so much you can tune into any second of the day and never have to be alone with yourself, your thoughts and your feelings. Distraction is a huge blockage that can get in the way of knowing how you really feel.
Did you know that the statistics around how often people pick up their phone is amazing. It’s about once every five or 10 minutes. And the number of people who, the first thing they do in the morning is not check in with themselves, but check in with what random people are doing on Facebook or Instagram. Hands up if you can relate to either of these things. I know I definitely get hooked into this from time to time.
The next three obstacles I’m grouping together and calling them REASONS. This covers justification, blame and shame. In these situations you can identify what you are feeling but you are stepping into your logical mind instead of allowing yourself the experience.
In JUSTIFICATION you are explaining your feelings. For example. “Oh, I'm feeling pretty tired, but I didn't sleep real well. And you know, maybe if I've gone to bed early or I wouldn't feel quite so tired” or “I'm feeling okay today, but you know, I had time to myself and I was able to go for a walk and unlike other days where I don't get that sort of time”.
BLAME is when you are attributing your feelings to what someone else did. For example, “I'm feeling really angry and it's your fault because you cut me off” or “it's your fault because you didn't do the dishes”. “I'm feeling really frustrated because they didn't ring me when they were supposed to”. So your emotion is all about what someone else did to you.
I'm not saying some of these things didn't happen and some of them might not have contributed to your frustration or your anger or your happiness or whatever you're feeling. However, allowing yourself to go down this train of thought is taking you away from what you are feeling right now and interfering with your ability to experience that emotion fully.
The next reasoning obstacle is SHAME.
Emotions are complex.
Feelings can scare you so much you can shut them down and walk through life feeling numb. Or may you live your live feeling trapped by anxiety or depression. Or spend your time chasing the euphoria that comes from happiness, and by trying to create it, miss the moments where it actually exists.
The following three factors are paramount in your emotional self-care:
1. Awareness and acceptance of your emotions;
2. Being able to express emotions in a healthy way;
3. Doing activities that cultivate joy/happiness.
Let's talk briefly about these three factors.
Very young babies communicate first through their emotions. Babies cry, scream, laugh ... way before they can talk. It is how they let others know that they have desires - for food, comfort and sleep - that need to be met.
From birth individual differences are apparent in how intensely babies feel and express their emotions. Some are born screaming at the top of their lungs - ever notice that some babies don’t just cry a little bit when they are hungry, need changing or tired, they scream at the top of their lungs. Whereas others are much more contemplative and seem to take it all in their stride. .
Over time as a baby learns that people will respond to their cries; as they begin first to use movement as communication, and then speech, their emotional response tends to reduce in intensity.
However, the ability to express emotions varies.
Emotional overwhelm (meltdowns) may occur when speech language development is delayed, when children are exhausted from not getting their needs (both real and perceived met) and/or when they are coping with high levels of stress.
And so it is with adults. Have you ever noticed how much easier is to be calm and rational when you have had a full 9=8 hours restful sleep?
And lastly a quick look at doing activities that cultivate happiness. To help you do this I have put some prompts below. I invite you to actively journal and write down some of your responses.
🌼When was the last time you felt happy?
🌼In whose company do you feel comfort?
🌼In what activities do you ‘flow’?
🌼When do you lose a sense of time and space and feel that you just 'are'’?
🌼Do you have something to look forward to?
🌼What excites you?
🌼Have you planned to do activities / made time for things that make you smile?
🌼Do you know when people are happiest?
🌼Have you planned to do activities / made time for things that are important to you?
Research indicates that doing what is most important, pursuing a meaningful life may be the true key to happiness.
It also shows that being present and fully in the moment, regardless of what you are doing is also linked to happiness.
Positive Young Minds combines evidence backed knowledge and the experience of working with 1000s of children, adolescents, and parents for over 17 years when working with you and your child. You can book a private consultation to talk about your concerns, and I can help you and your child with emotional understanding and management, and finding the joy in life.
Working together to create calm, connection, and confidence.
Child Psychologist, Fierce Self-Care Advocate and Founder of Positive Young Minds
PS. If you enjoyed this blog, then come over and join the The Sprinkles of Wisdom for Wonderful Women Newsletter Club. You'll receive regular letters from me where I share insights, inspiration, reflections, support and do-able strategies on how you can create and integrate more calm, connection and confidence into your life without running away to Bali.
So, you'd like to stop feeling guilty.
If you're like me you are not short of examples where motherhood guilt popped up its head.
As recently as last week I was at an all day event and about 11.30 I received a text from my youngest.
'Mum, where are you?' 😳😳
I put my hand up for another vote towards the Worst Mother of the Year Award.
Well, first the bad news about feeling guilty...
You cant really stop it....
You don't really want to.
Guilt is an emotion, and like all emotions it has a purpose - it is giving you feedback and guidance on your life.
It is important that you feel guilt.
There are two question to ask yourself:
Have a look at these two examples.
Do you feel part of a group of friends?
If you answer no, you are not alone..
Nearly 30% of Australians over 18 years of age reported that they rarely or never felt part of a group of friends.
Loneliness is not just caused by not having enough friends.
Hence the saying that you can feel lonely in a crowd.
Feelings of loneliness are to a large extent caused by our perception of our social connectedness. It is related to how connected we feel.
The good news is by working on your thinking about social situations you can change how lonely you feel.
It's one thing to know that changing our thinking can help reduce our feelings of loneliness.
But how do you change your thinking?
Does Christmas find you feeling lonely?
Are you looking for easy ways to connect with other people at Christmas?
Feeling connected is important for your mental health, with strong links between loneliness and depression; social connectedness and feeling happier. But where do you start?
Changing your mindset around loneliness is an important part of feeling more connected, but gift giving provides you with a unique opportunity to reach out to others in a practical and tangible way. It's wonderful to be able to choose gifts that reduce Christmas stress, but here's one way you can look beyond traditional gift giving and strengthen your connections.
Begin by finding a moment of quiet and think about people you have interacted with this year. It may be neighbours, family, friends, work mates, members of sporting groups, people you know through school, people you regularly buy groceries or other retail products from, parents of your children’s friends, online connections etc.
If you want to find out more about creating connections, you may enjoy listening to my podcast - Creating Connections.
*updated 20th October 2023
* These articles are provided by Kim Ross, Psychologist for general information and education . They are not designed to be used for therapy.. If you are experiencing stress please contact your GP or mental health professional.
Kim Ross is an Online Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds and Private Practice Sustainability.