When Christmas is hard

When Christmas is hard

How does the song go again?

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year….”

It’s a common refrain around December, but the sad truth is that for many people Christmas isn’t actually wonderful. For some it’s hardly bearable.

At this time of year, when family, friends and colleagues congregate and celebrate, many people may be keenly feeling the loss – recent or otherwise, of someone dear to them. Perhaps through death, or divorce, or a long distance move. Countless others may be facing yet another year feeling so very alone, whether it be social isolation or a battle with the black hole of depression.

While many of us may be looking back on the past year in self-reflection, and expressing our gratitude for all we’ve achieved and all we have, there are just as many others who are desperately counting down the days until they can say goodbye to 2015, because for whatever reason it was a harsh year for them. Perhaps a business venture failed. Maybe they lost their home. They might have struggled with their health. Or have been deeply betrayed by someone they trusted.

While many of us may be joyously wrapping presents and baking hams on Christmas Eve, there are also those who will look upon the tiny collection of gifts they could barely afford for their children, or the Christmas dinner they bought on credit for their family, through lashings of hot, angry, disappointed and despondent tears. Heartbroken they weren’t able to live up to society’s (or their own) expectations of creating the picture perfect Christmas.

Yes, there are many reasons why a large portion of people look upon Christmas with heartache and dread, rather than joy and laughter.

Christmas isn't always joyful.

Christmas isn’t always joyful.

If this is you. Please know that I feel for you. I truly do.

I know I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m so privileged to be able to have a roof over my head, a well-stocked fridge and smiling, happy, healthy daughters breathlessly counting down the sleeps until the big day. Although it has been a difficult year for me on a few levels, at this time of year, when I’ve had the chance to slow down, reflect and recalibrate, I’ve been able to truly feel the festive spirit and I know I’m okay.

But if you’re still struggling, if the thought of Christmas breaks your heart or turns your stomach, if you can’t wait to put a pin in 2015 and all it represents, then please take a look at these suggestions for ways to make it through these next few days.

How to cope when Christmas is hard.

1)  Recognise how you’re feeling.

Admit out loud to yourself that Christmas is going to be hard, or that you’re actually dreading it – be honest with how you’re feeling and why. Write it all down in a journal. Confide in a trusted friend. Pray to your God, or talk to a mentor, religious leader, or even call a crisis support hotline such as Lifeline if you can’t find – or don’t want to talk to – someone you know about this. But don’t try to fake it – don’t try to force yourself to feel merry if you don’t. Allow yourself to be sad, if you’re sad. Be angry, if you’re angry. Feel grief if you’re grieving. Be honest. With yourself and others. People will understand. They may not know exactly how to respond or support you. But they will understand.

2) Know that you are not alone.

My gosh, you are so not alone. There are thousands of people out there who share your feelings on Christmas. In fact, Lifeline estimates it will take 27,000 phone calls this festive season. That’s 27,000 other people also struggling at Christmas. You may not see them, because so many people haven’t undertaken step number one – they’re hiding how they truly feel, for one reason or another. Society’s notion of Christmas as a happy time of celebration and joy is a strong cultural line – it takes a brave person to put their hand up and say “that’s not how I feel about Christmas”. Which is why step one is so important. Honest communication is an integral step when it comes to addressing our feelings and working our way out of them. By admitting how you feel, you might be surprised at how many others tell you they’re feeling the same. You’re not alone. You’re not he only one who feels this way. Even if it feels like you are. Please trust that others are feeling the same way as you too.

3) Accept it – and let it go.

This one can be the hardest. Sometimes we rail so hard against any feelings of unpleasantness, we believe we need to feel happy or good all the time. Aren’t we supposed to be joyful – shouldn’t we do everything we can to fight against any negative emotions? Especially at Christmas time – our old companion, guilt, can get hold of us. “Look at everything you have, you have no right to feel this way, you should be ashamed of yourself for being so miserable at Christmas.” And how do we respond? By beating ourselves up – fighting against ourselves and our thoughts and emotions. Berating ourselves whenever despair or anger crosses our minds.

The trouble with this is that the more you wrestle with pain and anger and fear and hate, the more they will pull you under. Just like quicksand.

For this reason, acceptance is a powerful tool. When I talk about “acceptance”, I’m not referring to “resignment” or giving up – it is not about taking a blanket “whatever” attitude to everything, and accepting every little thing that goes wrong, as your lot in life. By accepting how you feel about Christmas today, it doesn’t mean you are giving up on ever feeling joyful or festive ever again.

What it IS about, is about making room in your mind for the unpleasant feelings and sensations that come with negative events you can’t control. It’s about accepting that you’re going to have these feelings, and letting your body experience them, without struggling against them or constantly questioning them, so that you can experience them and let them go.

The next step on from acceptance is about figuring out what you’re really comfortable with leaving the way it is and what it is that you’d like to change from your current state. Then moving forward and taking action on those changes. But perhaps, Christmas isn’t the easiest time to undertake this second step. At this point, it’s okay to just accept, let go, and commit to moving on a little bit later once the holidays are behind you.

Finally…

As always, dealing with major issues in our lives is never as easy as a three step guide you find on the internet. Ultimately, it’s up to you to be aware of how you’re feeling and whether you can move through this on your own, or perhaps whether you need a bit more support. From family, friends, or a professional, such as a counsellor or mental health clinician.

This holiday season certainly has the ability to stir up many wounds and emotions, some often thought to be long forgotten. So please be gentle with yourself these holidays. You’re only human after all.

Until next time,

Sarah xx

Please always remember that Lifeline is always available to people in need of someone to talk to when you feel like you need support. Call their hotline on 13 11 14 to speak to a trained counsellor 24 hours a day.

For those of you in a more festive place this season, perhaps you might be willing to support Lifeline by donating to their Christmas Appeal. Your donation might mean that a few extra calls get taken this year.

(Please note, this isn’t a sponsored post for Lifeline, but having volunteered for them previously I’m a huge fan of their work.)

 

Work hard. Play hard.

Work hard. Play hard.

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When was the last time you felt the sand between your toes?

 

“I want my staff to work hard. But I also want them to play hard!”

This was what an awesome businessman once told me when he was discussing how he runs his clinic. He’s an Occupational Therapist – like me – and he employs about a dozen other OTs. He wants them to work hard, but he sets shorter working hours and is super-strict on his employees taking leave. Because he also wants them to have balance. Time for family. For rest. For recreation. For adventure. Time for life.

I like his thinking, because I know that far too often those of us who have families and mortgages can repeatedly put off doing those very things that can bring us balance.

To succeed in life we have to work hard. To make more money we have to work longer hours. More hard work equals more money and more reward. That’s how the story goes.

And it’s true. To a point.

But what’s also true is that we frequently fall into the old trap of working more, doing more, trying to be more. We drown out the little voice in our head that starts telling us to pull back, that we’re taking on too much, that we can’t possibly maintain the pace we’re setting for ourselves. That we haven’t taken a break in nearly two years. That we’re working such long hours some days that we barely get home in time to tuck the kids into bed.

But it’s okay, we counter – it’s just for now, just until the end of the financial year, just until we get through this round of bills, just until the kids go back to school. I’ll put in the hard yards now, and I’ll take a little break sometime soon.

It’s easy to understand why we do this. We all have goals, we want our careers and businesses to prosper, to create an ideal future for ourselves and our families. So we convince ourselves that the sacrifices we make now will pay dividends in due time. It’s the rule we’ve always been taught – delayed gratification at its darndest.

But the problem arises when that planned break gets continually pushed back. And back, and back. When we live our life constantly forging ahead, but never retreating.

Retreat is all about giving yourself space. Emotional, physical and social space. It’s important because space is where we bloom – both personally and professionally. It’s where and when we develop amazing experiences and memories with our partners and children. And experiences are more valuable to them than any gadget you’re planning to buy with your next paycheque.

I know it seems counter-intuitive. That to push your life forward you should step back for a bit. But it’s absolutely the truth. The challenge is knowing how and when to make that retreat – how to balance your work and personal commitments. This takes practice, and the ability to read your own personal signals as to your stress and energy levels. For some, it may mean enlisting a health or business mentor to help you learn how to do this.

My advice to my clients is to schedule your retreats. Plan your calendar well ahead of time and build space into your life on a daily, weekly, quarterly and yearly basis.

It doesn’t have to be oodles of space. Just enough to make sure that you (and your family) get the best version of you in the present, without sacrificing your future wellbeing.

So embrace your space. Value the importance of retreat. By allowing yourself the space to breathe deeply, you’ll breathe more life into your life.