SURVIVING THE FESTIVE SEASON
There is no other way to say this, 2020 was a difficult year. Being confronted with the threat to one’s own health, not only physically but also mentally was challenging, to say the least. The reality though is that the struggle is not over. Some are facing a festive season without a loved one, somebody has lost their job and has no money for gifts, another person is facing prospective retrenchment and others are facing many other challenges that we cannot always comprehend. It seems that things are spiralling out of control and we do not always know how to start with mending and healing from what came across our paths this year. Apologies for the gloomy introduction, but I truly hope that together we can make a difference and make this festive season a little bit easier to bear. And that is what this blog is about.
My daughter told me a story the other day and I would like to share it with you. There was a mom who cried her heart out in her colleague’s office. She felt deflated and broken by what her child asked her. Her son asked her if he wasn’t special or good enough. When the mother asked her precious 5-year-old boy why he asked that, he said that he believes that Santa doesn’t think that he is good enough because he does not receive big gifts like his friends. How can a mother explain to her son that it has nothing to do with being “good enough”, but about what she can afford on her tiny salary without breaking his belief in his hero – Santa Claus? Because of your different backgrounds, beliefs, traditions and resources at your disposal, I am not going to give you the solution to this problem but ask you to think about this for a little and see how you would have handled it.
This time of the year should be all festive and jolly, yet and unfortunately not everybody experiences the joy. Mental health struggles do not disappear over the festive season period, in fact, the additional pressures and expectations tend to increase anxiety, depression and even suicidal tendencies. Even though I would love to help everybody on working through whatever dampens their joy and assist in the process in reviving their joy and peace this festive season, I cannot do it through this platform. I can only list general tools and I truly hope that it helps a little bit somewhere.
- Plan Ahead: Whether you are alone for the festive season or not, it is always a good idea to plan ahead. Get your list together and go shopping before the mad rush. Have a backup plan in place should a little accident happen in the kitchen or a few unexpected guests arrive at your home. Think of it in terms of an “emergency supply” that you can fall back on when things go sideways. If you are concerned that you might spend Christmas alone, invite a few friends over that might also be spending Christmas alone. You could even volunteer at an animal shelter or soup-kitchen to surround yourself with beautiful people who are trying to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.
- Do things in Moderation: It seems that the Christmas season is all about excess and pushing ourselves to the limits. Even filling our tummies to the brink of explosion seems to be acceptable on that one day. Try to break that cycle and not get carried away. Go easy on the alcohol and food consumption, everything does not have to be finished today and there is no time clock on the speed at which you should consume everything that gets placed in front of you.
- Keep Guard on your Expectations: I have learnt the hard way that no matter how hard I try and plan, things do not always work out the way that we want them to. The potatoes for the potato salad burnt because I got distracted with decorating the desert and to top it all off, it was the last few potatoes that we had in the pantry and all the shops were already closed. Do not expect everything to be perfect, even if there are a few flops, it will not be the end of the world. Also place a check on your expectations when it comes to gifts. Try to avoid overspending on elaborate gifts, you might need to pay those down for the next 12 months if you aren’t realistic of what your budget allows. If you can afford more expensive gifts, do not expect to receive flashy gifts from loved ones who cannot afford them. Remember that one of the reasons of the festive season is to spend quality time with the people that you care for. It is not about the extravagant 5 course meal or about the most expensive gifts.
- You Do Not have to Do Everything: Sometimes it is easier to do everything ourselves because we would like to believe that we can do everything perfect and to our own liking, but being able to delegate to other members of your party will not only alleviate your stress level, but will give all of you time to share in the experience of putting together a wonderful celebration. You could even be bold enough to delegate responsibilities to the children to come up with fun festive activities that everybody can participate in.
- Sleep and Take Time Off: As mentioned in a few of my other blogs, sleep allows our bodies to recover from the hectic lives that we are living. With all the late nights during the Christmas season, it is even more important to get quality sleep in. When you are sleep deprived, your actions and reflexes are slower, which will make you a danger for yourself and others when you are driving. If you can, try to avoid going into work during the festive season. If it happens that you are working and partying, thereby not having time to unwind, sleep and relax to recharge, you need to make time, take a break and find a healthy balance with your lifestyle.
- Keep Yourself Healthy – Mentally, Spiritually and Physically: It is important to continue with all the self-care tools that you incorporated into your life during the year. Affirmations, gratitude, meditations, journaling, physical exercises and healthy eating habits are just as important during the festive season as it is on all the other days. Take your vitamin or herbal supplements, drink plenty of water, exercise your spiritual beliefs and always be cognitive of the importance of your own comprehensive self-care. Make time for yourself so that you can de-stress and calm yourself, this is an excellent tool that will help you feel re-invigorated and more in control.
- Enjoy the Experience: Allow yourself the time to experience joy at this time of year. Even if it is something small that brings you joy, allow yourself the opportunity to smile.
- Be Aware of your Triggers: If you are sensitive to certain situations or events, recognise them in advance. By doing this, you will be able to prepare yourself for many issues or conflicts that are likely to happen. Think of possible solutions that will enable you to handle them with less frustration and stress, even if you have to excuse yourself for a short time to go on a quick walk to calm down. Do not leave it until you reach your “breaking point”. Remind yourself that this time of year is a perfect opportunity for bonding and sharing.
- Positively Connect with Others and be Present: With all the shopping, rushing and craziness of the season, we often neglect the people closest to us, often forgetting to check in with them and be emotionally available. Put away the cell phone and other distractions so that you can focus on the people that surrounds you. The festive season is also a good excuse to reach out to old acquaintances and mend broken bonds. Take time-out from family arguments and unhappy relationships. Practice forgiveness and compassion, even if it is only for a short period of time. At the end of the day it is easier to accept family members and friends the way that they are, instead of trying to “fix” or change them.
- Remember: If you have lost a loved one, it often hurts too much to think about the person. Consider doing something long lasting, for example a scrapbook or a time-capsule that you, your family and friends can participate in to fondly remember the loved one that you lost. Not only does it assist with the healing process, but it can also bring a warm and comforting feeling into your heart by knowing that you have helped yourself and others who need it at this time of year. Also remember that you are important, that you are where you need to be right now and that you are precious.
- Forgive Yourself and be Grateful: Leave the guilt in the parking area. Forgive yourself for those bad decisions, those inconsiderate actions or even for those times you neglected your responsibilities. One of the firsts steps towards positive change is by forgiving yourself and there is no better time than the present. Also, take the time to observe everything that you can be grateful for, even if it is just that you are alive. Being alive is a precious gift and if you have lost somebody, be grateful for the opportunity that you had to have them in your life and the precious memories that you made.
- Stay Flexible and Allow Imperfections: Things tend to go a bit sideways, especially when there are to many things that needs to get done. You might experience a bit of discomfort or feel at odds but who knows, the new changes might just turn into exciting new traditions. Do not stress about the little things. Give your mind permission to think creatively, to come up with solutions, even if they might be a little strange, learn to adjust to the new circumstances. Relax, your loved ones would rather see your authentic, relaxed self instead of a person who is stressed-out and tense the entire time.
- Pamper Yourself: Allow yourself a bit of good quality “me-time”. If finances allow it, go away for a few days to lounge around and basically do the bare minimum. Give yourself the time to blow off steam and deflate a bit after a very tense and stressful year. You are allowed to give yourself a break and care for your own wellbeing. Another way is to revive your hobby interests. This will not only bring you pleasure, but it will also help your mind to focus on things that you really enjoy.
- Help Others: It always feels wonderful to help others, not only are you helping those in need, but you are also helping your own self-esteem, heart and positive emotions. Get involved in charity work during this festive season. I am thinking of animal shelters, foodbanks, nursing homes, local hospitals, shelters for the less fortunate and homes for abandoned/orphaned children. If a loved one that you lost was involved with a certain charity, you might want to honour their legacy by volunteering at a similar charity.
- Laugh: Spot the humour wherever you can. Laugh out loud. It is said that humour heals, and I completely agree with that as long as we laugh in good spirit and not out of mockery or vengeance.
- Allow Yourself and Others to Grieve: There is no timeline on grief. Some might take a year whereas others may take up to five years to fully accept the loss of a loved one. Everybody does it in a different way. It is acceptable and even healthy to decide not to attend certain events that emphasize togetherness when you would rather be alone. Remember the bonds that you had with the person that you lost and allow yourself the time to reminisce over old photos, music and even old letters that you exchanged. Do not push people away, rather explain to them that you would prefer to be alone and grieve instead of trying to face joy when you do not feel up to it. If you know of somebody who is grieving, offer help, offer your time to listen when they want to talk and suggest a new activity that is not overshadowed by memories of the loved one, but do not push the subject into a uncomfortable situation. The right gesture and offerings at the right time can make a tremendous difference.
- Try a New Activity: As families and friend circles grow, it is always exciting to add new activities to include the new faces into the group. Involve the new people into these newly found activities without putting too much pressure on forced participation.
- Avoid Social Media and Honour your Feelings: It happens faster than we think but comparing our lives to those that we see on social media is quick by just a few scrolls up and down social media pages. Suddenly you feel that your life pales in comparison to others and before you realise it, you find yourself feeling upset, guilty or even angry. Give yourself a break, be present in time, what you are experiencing at that moment and who surrounds you. Honour your feelings from an objective and neutral place where you realise that your feelings are normal responses to what you experienced throughout your lifetime. Feel what you need to feel, even when they are hurtful, separate yourself from them to a stage where you feel more in control instead of your feelings controlling you.
- Seek Professional Therapy: Reach out to a counsellor or therapist if you feel that your loneliness, depression or anxiety over the festive season is overwhelming. As therapists we can help you find solitude in your loneliness, give you tools to cope with your depression and anxiety and assist with any mental health problems and challenges that you might experience during the festive season period. Therapy and counselling are always highly recommended when it comes to mental health related matters or behavioural issues. Who knows, you might learn something new from a therapist or a counsellor that you might not have realised yet.
GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching will be fully operational throughout the whole festive season. Please reach out - you are never alone.
Before I finish my blog with quotes and contact details, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching is asking for your help. 2020 was a challenging year and we all need a bit of inspiration and motivation. I want to ask you to please send your own inspirational and motivational quotes to me so that I can collate it and send a little e-book to people in need of a bit of love (old-age homes, hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, charities, etc). This little book will be free, so no money will be generated from it. You will still get credit for your words as your name will be mentioned directly below your own unique quote. Please send your quote to firstname.lastname@example.org . I hope to send this out before mid-December 2020.
As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following might give you a bit more insight. The first one is from Unknown who said, “Be present. Wrap someone in a hug. Send love. Donate food. Make memories. Be the light.”, and this one from Kristi Ling who said, “Turn off the news. Be totally in love with everything and everyone. Remember that the best things in life are not things at all. Donate, give away or recycle any and all clutter. Take a break. A real one.”. Lastly this one from Marlo Thomas who said “Our many different cultures notwithstanding, there’s something about the holidays that makes the planet communal. Even nations that do not celebrate Christmas can’t help but be caught up in the collective spirit of their neighbour, as twinkling lights dot the landscape and carols fill the air. It’s an inspiring time of the year.”.
As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching offers Skype Video Calls, Zoom Video Meetings, WhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible. I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in enclosed environments. Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health.
Thank you very much for reading my blog. I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere. Please send any feedback or comments to email@example.com and remember to have a look out for a new blog every second week.