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“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”

Fiona Nicolson

All This And Then Christmas!

Posted on 24 Dec 2020

At this time of year I usually blog about Christmas anxiety. I am sorry if that makes me sound like Scrooge. I do not mean to. I like Christmas a lot. But as a therapist I know that every year I see clients who are prone to anxiety and they find it difficult. Some may get worse at this time of year. People who live stressful lives and find it difficult to cope can find the festive season very difficult. It is the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some.

This year, this strange 2020 year unlike no other in our lifetimes, I will not be blogging about Christmas anxiety. Well, that is not quite true, I am going to be talking about anxiety but in a very different context.

Most of my ideas come from my clients, they teach me as much as I teach them. I also notice trends because I see a lot of clients from many different backgrounds. As I said, usually at this time of year there is a spike in anxiety. This year it is different. Obviously, anxiety levels are high anyway, and people are very worried about what is going to happen. Are they going to manage to see family and friends? Questions like this are coming thick and fast. People seem much less worried about the usual things: buying all the presents, the office party or the monumental task of cooking Christmas dinner. It is as if their big worries have pushed out the littler, more routine, ones. In a way I think this is healthy. It pulls us all up short about what really matters and makes us ask the question if we worry far too much about things which don’t really matter in the greater scheme of things..

So where are we? I would say many of us are anxious, more anxious than usual. We are worried about finances, jobs, the health of ourselves and our loved ones, especially of the vulnerable. We are delighted about the good news on vaccines, but know the roll-out to everyone is not immediate. However, there are new things which I am seeing. I would say we have less social anxiety. We are less worried about ‘doing things right’ or what other people think about us. We are not thinking about what to wear to the office party or whether we can successfully cook a whole goose. Surviving and protecting those we love has taken the place of these worries.

We are also desperate for a change. For many people the constant lockdowns and restrictions give the whole world a grey aspect. Every day feels too much the same and the chance of a few days which are different, and hopefully brighter, is something of us crave.

If that is the background to our 2020 Christmas what should I blog about? What advice and support do my clients and readers need this year?  I would sum it up as surviving in the healthiest way possible, holding on until the vaccines are rolled out, and perhaps beginning to plan for life in the post Corona world.

This means looking after ourselves both mentally and physically. Let’s try to set out a bit of a route map. All of you will be different but I hope I can provide some general guidelines and also give you a model to make your own roadmap (you might want to do this is conjunction with your nearest and dearest who you will be spending the festive season with).

So here goes:

Asses your risk and what you feel comfortable with

The chance to meet up with family is causing tensions as different people perceive their, and their loved ones, risk of the virus differently. If this sounds like you I would suggest you do the following:

Start with an honest open statement about how you feel. Talk to your nearest and dearest about this and do not stop talking until you have your own family risk assessment on which you agree. If this proves impossible you might have to move up a gear and consider spending the Christmas window apart. This sounds drastic, but do not underestimate how harmful spending time feeling scared and out of control is for you. It will leave you with bad memories and bitter feelings, so perhaps it is best to avoid the situation altogether.

Communicate clearly

If you can agree with your immediate family, or your partner what you do feel comfortable with, the next step is to inform others around you of your preferences. Plan this out carefully.

You need to be clear, if you have done step one you should have covered this. But remember you cannot clearly communicate with anyone unless you know your own mind.

Next step is to hone your communication style so the people you are telling will listen, and accept and respect your decision and will not feel hurt or personally slighted. This does not mean they have to agree. But your aim is that they do appreciate your views and take them seriously.

Understand the styles of the people you are talking to

You will communicate this best if you understand and acknowledge the thinking style of the people you are communicating with.

It can be useful to check out the different personality types in the Myers Briggs model to get an idea. For example, if you are talking to someone who is a thinking type then be armed with facts and evidence. If you are dealing with someone who works through feeling then talk about how we need to look after each other and how you worry about the safety of the family.

Next you may want to look at how your interlocutor perceives the world. If they are creative you might want to tell them stories about your fears and your hopes for the future. If they are strategic you might ask them to draw up a way forward for the time the vaccine arrives. As I said, it is worth taking a look at the Myers Briggs site to get more detail on this, but once you start to reflect upon it you will probably realise that you know a lot more about the person you are talking to than you think. We do a lot of this by instinct and innate knowledge.

Stick to the point

Stay calm and on the point. Do not be afraid to bring the conversation back to the main point. Promise to talk about other things later but make it clear that you need to sort out the Christmas arrangements now not later.

Offer hope and show love. If you are telling someone that you are not going to see them face to face over the Christmas period then make it clear that you will speak to them and make some plans for later in the year. Stress that you are doing what you think or feel is best for everyone and that the situation is only temporary.

Make new expectations

A route to feeling miserable is to try to replicate a traditional time in a world where this is impossible. So don’t try to live up to old expectation, make some new expectations.

It might even be that you can do this in a positive way. Are there things you have always wanted to do for Christmas but have never managed? I know of several people who have always wanted to spend the day going for a long country walk but have felt obliged to stay in eating the traditional lunch. This year they are heading for the hills with a pack of sandwiches.

Don’t worry if things are not perfect

This is a traditional Christmas stressor, and this year is the time to break it. You may not want to spend too much time in shops and you may be cooking for fewer people. So take advantage and say good enough is best this year. You may find you enjoy yourself more when the expectations of others are pushed into the background a bit.

Make a difference the difference

One thing most of my clients have found tough about the lockdown is the monotony. The Christmas break should be a chance to do things a bit differently. Think about how you can break your usual at home routine. Don’t neglect the little things. Eating a different breakfast, taking a different route for your morning walk can send signals to the brain to wake up and appreciate the changes.

Moving your body, laughing and getting out in the fresh air are good for your physical and mental health so keep doing them over the festive period. If you are seeing other people its a chance to swap experiences and rituals.

Now is the time to get your cousin to show you some simple yoga positions and your niece can introduce you to the app with the dance routine. Remember having a good laugh will do you as much good as getting rid of some calories.

Remember you will always remember Christmas 2020

We will be talking about this year well into the future. Whether this Christmas is good or bad for you, you will remember it. So make at least some good memories. If it is going to be tough carve out some space in which you feel you can make something which you will look back on with joy.

Happy Christmas

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