Some things to remember this Christmas


This year I was asked to contribute to a lot of different 'what advice do you have for people for this time of year?' article. It included this article on social anxiety at Christmas, a Christmas message in our local Te Atatu Views (reproduced below) and my message in the NZ Association of Positive Psychology Christmas newsletter (image below). Everything I wrote had a theme - do what you can, and no more.

I'm a big believer that as humans, it's easy to get carried away - and while this is one of our delightful traits, leading to much hilarity, creativity, and how we end up inventing stuff - it can also result in a whole lot of pressure. I wanted to round up a few of the best 'advice at Christmas' posts I've read, which all follow a similar message: you don't HAVE to do what is expected, and there is a lot you CAN do for others if you want to, in ways that work for you. Over the last couple of months almost everyone I've talked to have included the phrase 'and then I have to...' in regards to a holiday plan or tradition. 

Of course I'm not saying it's easy to disrupt a tradition that's been alive for years, and the potential for hurt feelings is high. But it's also possible those around you don't know your preference for ethically sourced food or reduced waste, or that you have lost 5kg this year and don't really eat too much sugar these days - or even that you have a passion for volunteering and it makes you feel a bit queasy spending hundreds on disposable gifts when you could all be down the road serving food to truly hungry people. It is a time of compromise, but it's okay to start somewhere.

This blog says it extremely well complete with really practical tips for looking after yourself. 

If your idea of a satisfying break involves some giving back, but you're not sure how:

Option B has a great guest page on How to support someone who might be struggling this year. One of the best gifts you can give this holiday season is to be there for friends and loved ones who are struggling with illness, separated from family, or coping with loss. On this website, you’ll find lots of ideas for actions big and small that you can take to offer extra support and help them find moments of joy.

And this NZ-based compilation and this collection of stories has ideas for helping out from the agencies who are at the front line, in three of our major centres. 

And finally, scroll down for the holiday stress tips I published in the December Te Atatu Views. 

Happy holidays everyone, be kind to yourself. See you in 2018 x


Merry stress-mas

‘Sorry, we’ve run out of rosemary,’ said the checkout operator, as though she wasn’t just ruining my entire life.  Did she not realise? Moments earlier I had been standing in the aisle in virtual paralysis trying to decide between different types of themed napkins, and things hadn’t gone any better at work, where I’d opened another three invites to Christmas themed networking events and felt my heart sink. And now – no rosemary. This was December 2013, and I proceeded to have what can only be delicately described as… an over-reaction.

Ahhhh Christmas. Family, sunshine, food, presents… and stress. For many people it’s their one break of the year. They’re exhausted, December deadlines are looming, money is tight, split families mean difficult negotiations, and there’s so much extra planning/thinking to do.

Christmas often comes with huge expectations too. It’s touted as the best time of the year, and it seems that (especially in shops!), the countdown begins earlier and earlier every year. Not to mention the extra alcohol and heavy food that often accompanies December events, known to have an overall detrimental effect on stress levels.

Here are some ideas for getting through it alive, and hopefully – enjoying yourself!

1. Practice bending your own rules. Are you the type of person that has everything sorted perfectly, all the time? Practice easing up the pressure, and do a 95% job here and there. Notice how it makes you feel, and notice whether a true catastrophe really did occur.

2. Make new memories. Traditions don’t have to continue on just because they’re traditions. Perhaps your family could do a secret santa instead of giving each other presents? If you don’t love sitting still, what about a lighter meal and a bushwalk? Or if you always go to every single networking event, could you share with a colleague this year?

3. Get some perspective. A dear friend once said to me ‘I’m going to cut you off right there’ as I was mid-faff about something Christmas related. It was harsh, but it worked. How much will what you’re worried about now, matter in two months time. Two years time?

4. Have some honest discussions. It’s possible everyone in the family feels the pressure to spend dollars at this time of year, and everyone is politely refusing to acknowledge that they’re finding it tough. Try and open the conversation and see what happens.

5. Remember the meaning of Christmas.  By this I mean, what’s the meaning of Christmas, for you? There’s no one-size fits all here. If you’re Christian, stuffing your face and getting merry under a tree will probably come second to your beliefs about this time of year and its history. It could be that family and friends is your focus, or simply an excellent opportunity to binge-watch all the TV you’ve been too busy to consume. There’s no right or wrong here.

6. Connect with others. The holidays can be a difficult time of year for people who are single, or without children, socially anxious, or simply feel more alone than others. It’s a time when every ad shows perfect families gathered around the perfect American fireplace, and that may simply not be your reality. We know connection is good for mental health, so try and find ways to do this that work for you. Keep up your hobbies, ask others how they’re doing, and find ways to communicate in your own way.

7. Finally, remember – your neighbour probably has some rosemary you can have :-)

Christmas list

As printed in the New Zealand Association of Positive Psychology December 2017 Newsletter.