After a busy weekend making preparations for Christmas, Monday’s first appointment was the dog groomer for our little Shih Tzu, Boo. The groomer lives within walking distance of the beach and it was a beautiful day. There are geese wintering on the Thames Estuary, the sun was out, and the tide was coming in.
It’s amazing how easy it is to relax out in the open air next to the sea and as I cleared the busyness of the weekend from my mind, these ideas emerged about how to survive the busyness of Christmas.
Take Time For Yourself
These are in fact the Christmas holidays. It can feel far from that for busy Mums who often seem to be the ones doing everything – the shopping, the present wrapping, the cooking, the general organising. The build up to Christmas can feel quite stressful. The best way to counter stress and anxiety is to take some time out to be calm. This can be anything from a walk to a warm bath.
Replace Your Expectations With Gratitude
It’s difficult to take time out when it feels like there is a lot left to do. However, what is really necessary for the holiday? What expectations are driving the busyness? Is there comparison with other people's Christmases going on? Is there some perfectionism involved?
Women can drive themselves hard due to thoughts about the way Christmas "should" be, and they can also place expectations on others as to the way they "should" behave. Examples of my Christmas expectations that I have tripped over in the past include:
- Everyone must enjoy themselves
- I’m responsible for everyone’s enjoyment
- Everyone should want to be sociable
- All the food must be home made
- I have to make mince pies while listening to Carols from Kings College Cambridge
- I have to do everything myself
- Other people (especially my partner) should anticipate my needs
Over the years I’ve been able to let go of these expectations and what a relief it is for myself and others that I allow people to be themselves. By recognizing I’m not responsible for their feelings, I no longer try to control them - because I do not have to measure my self-worth by whether or not they are happy.
I find several freedoms result from this:
- I'm free to be able to appreciate the way people are, rather than the way I want them to be in order to fulfill my needs.
- I’m free to decide what sort of Christmas I want to create as a Mum and that doesn’t have to involve make mince pies on Christmas Eve. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Christmas. I make an effort to make it fun and create family traditions and memories - but it doesn’t have to be perfect and neither do my family.
Whenever stress arises, take a moment to appreciate what you've already done. Take a moment to appreciate what you already have. Take a moment to appreciate the uniqueness of each person around you.
For foodies, Christmas is a lovely time of year. There are so many delicious flavours on offer. It can also be quite comforting for people to sit down to a traditional dinner that has been served every year for their entire life.
The difficulty comes with over-eating. How many of us over-eat at Christmas and then panic in the New Year and diet or “detox”? This can establish a pattern of binge-diet-binge-diet that is hard to overcome. It speaks of self-criticism and the need to conform to idealized standards. But how to break the pattern?
The following ideas may help:
- Recognising that, to a certain extent, over-eating when there is an abundance of food available is something that humans are programmed to do. This instinct protected them from famine. So it is almost against nature to resist food. Self-criticism for over-eating will probably only lead to more bingeing. Accept this is part of the human condition and let it go.
- However, also recognise that this knowledge enables less over-eating by the use of careful planning. It is possible to make it easier not to over indulge by buying fewer treats, planning healthy meals and putting treats such as chocolates away where they are not visible.
- Christmas is a celebration. Life involves special times and this is one of them. Sitting and eating together with all the generations there deserves the attention of especially prepared foods. People do not need to be cross with themselves for eating richer foods at this celebratory time of year. No food is “bad”.
- However, eating mindfully allows full appreciation of the food that has been lovingly prepared. Taking time to really notice the flavour and texture of the different foods slows eating down and people are then more likely to notice they are full. This enables them not to over-eat
- An anxious host may try to persuade people to eat when they’re not hungry. This however is putting the host’s needs to be acceptable above their guest’s needs to eat healthily. There is no need to feel guilty about declining the offer of food. It may be disappointing to the host but that is not the guest’s responsibility.
Get Enough Sleep
Life seems a lot easier when people wake up refreshed from a good night's sleep. Whilst having small children can affect the amount of sleep time available, these are some thoughts on trying to ensure enough “zzz’s”
- It’s easy to go to bed too late because of trying to fit too much in. What is really necessary? Can any of the tasks be dropped or delegated?
- If late nights are due to social occasions, what is driving the need to attend? Is it to meet other people’s expectations and would it be possible to politely decline and meet another time? If it feels too hard to turn down a social invitation, what does this say about the balance of life when it’s not Christmas? Is there enough “me-time” for socializing at other times of the year?
- Is it really necessary to stay up to watch that old film? What is vegetating in front of the TV really saying about the need to relax and how well it is met?
- Would it be possible to alternate getting up for the children with a partner, if they’re around? Would it be possible to ask relatives for an hour or two of babysitting to allow some nap time for a tired Mum? What expectations of yourself and others are stopping you from asking?
- It’s surprising how much technology affects sleep. Most of us go to bed with our phones and they’re the first things we reach for in the morning. Deep relaxation can come with turning the phone off and charging it elsewhere than the bedroom. Trust me, I’ve tried it!
- Alcohol adversely affects sleep. Sorry! Drinking alcohol to make sleep easier is, in fact, counter-productive because alcohol affects sleep quality.
- Likewise, all the rich food over Christmas can lead to indigestion and disturbed nights. See mindful eating above!
- 4.00am is not a good time to contemplate the meaning of life, the quality of relationships or whether the turkey has been taken out of the freezer. Some people find it helpful to have a notepad next to the bed in order to write down the things they’re worried they might forget.
My personal favourite way to cope with sleeplessness is not to engage with thought. The way I do this is to focus on this moment in time. As I lie in the dark, I will ask myself to find five things that I can hear and five things that I can feel. This helps me to “be in the moment” and I’m normally asleep once I start recognising how safe and cosy I feel in bed.
Get Some Exercise
This doesn’t have to be hard – a walk will suffice – but it does require commitment. It does mean not letting the day slip by (because of tiredness or a hangover) because, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, the days are very short and the temperature begins to drop by the early afternoon. So make getting out and about a priority. It freshens everyone up. It tires children out. It aids relaxation. By producing endorphins it makes everyone feel better.
And that’s it – my five top tips for wellbeing over Christmas. Try and be kind to yourself, it doesn’t have to be perfect – and neither do you.
I spoke about my top tips for Christmas in my video. If you're reading this by email and the link doesn't work, you can find it at www.thegoodenoughmum.com.