What do you first think of when you think about Christmas? Is it lots of fun with family and friends? Parties? Lots of nice food and drink? Gifts? Or is it more like ‘I’m dreading it’, ‘too much to do’ ‘how am I going to afford it?’ Whilst Christmas is traditionally meant to be associated with words such as happy, merry, joyful etc. It doesn’t always feel like it for a number of reasons. If you’re finding it difficult at this time of year, you’re not on your own. So, what typically can cause stress at Christmas?
- Finances – Christmas is usually quite an expensive season and the pressure to buy the right gift can take a toll on the wallet. The National Debt Advice website says that over a third of the UK population borrow money to pay for Christmas gifts – that’s 16.9 million people who will be receiving hefty credit card or loan statements in January.
- Family and Relationships – spending time with family and friends isn’t always easy because a lot depends on the quality of the connection you have with them. We can’t choose our family and personality clashes, differences in opinions, unresolved arguments and relationship breakdown can all create tension or uncertainty in how you’ll get along, or even if you’ll see each other.
- Tiredness – for those with busy social calendars or who are hosting over this Christmas season it can be tiring just trying to figure out how you’re going to see everyone and get everything done in time. All of it requires thinking ahead of what to wear, what gifts and cards you need to take, who’ll babysit the kids, how you’ll find time for all the additional cooking and cleaning on top of the usual busyness of life.
- Work stress – this might be in the form of trying to hit deadlines before the Christmas holiday break, sell enough stock to hit sales targets for the end of the year, or having to work over Christmas and miss family events, any of which can take its toll.
- Illness – such as cold and flu bugs are circulating widely and in this busy season it’s the last thing we need when we’re trying to prepare and hopefully enjoy Christmas. (I remember coming down with a bad episode of flu one Christmas and it took several weeks to recover, since then I’ve made sure to get an annual flu jab). There are also more opportunities to over-indulge in alcohol at this time of year, resulting in nasty hangovers. Also, some people struggle with the shorter days, cold temperatures and grey gloomy weather – known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
So, after reading that list and possibly recognising some concerns, you may be wondering how on earth you’re going to have a ‘Happy Christmas’ that’s being wished for you on those cards dropping through your letter box?
There are some things that can perhaps, with some thought and reflection be eased. For example, doing some strict budgeting and savvy bargain-hunting to help the money stretch further – there’s quite a lot of helpful advice about finances at Christmas on the internet from organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Money Advice Trust. Perhaps having a think about what social events and hosting are essential, and what isn’t, as there may be some things you can skip to give yourself a breather and a relaxing night in. Also doing what you can to protect your health over the colder months is a good idea, so wrapping up warm, eating well, keeping hydrated and moderating the alcohol can all help.
However, there are other concerns that may not be so easily figured out, especially when it comes to relationships, family and work, often because these situations aren’t all in your ability to control, and may be quite complex, deep-rooted and ongoing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, confused or worried by these things then it may be worth talking to a counsellor to help you address these in a safe, supportive environment.
I appreciate that this blog so far has predominantly focused on the difficult sides to Christmas and therefore isn’t very ‘merry’, and so I want to finish by encouraging you to also reflect a little on the things you can be grateful for. Perhaps that’s for a friend that’s been particularly caring and helpful, a home that keeps you dry and warm, a lovable pet, nice food to eat. If we take time to look, there are always things we can be thankful for and as Gilbert C. Chesterton said, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” I really do hope that you’ll have moments of joy this season and I wish you and all your loved ones a blessed Christmas and new year.