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Christmas is very nearly here, and the stress it often brings will almost certainly have arrived already in many households.  To say that 'peace to all on Earth' is a phrase some associate with the festive period, it can seem that sometimes there is precious little of it about at this time of year!  The old saying "what can’t be cured must be endured” can mean that some things have to be faced head on, hopefully with a little planning, rather than being avoided.  Christmas cannot be cancelled (or delayed until mid-March) no matter how unprepared or behind with jobs we may be.  It will be here on the 25th of December, whatever happens.  Families will come together, glasses will be clinked, toys will run out of batteries and turkeys will be underdone / overcooked / absolutely delicious.  But does it have to be a stressful time and one which we have to 'get through', or can it be a time of enjoyment and merriment?  I would suggest that although it may sometimes feel like the former, the latter can also be achieved, if we give management of the season some thought.

Discussions with clients over the years about their ways of approaching Christmas have introduced me to several tips which you may find of interest:

1.  Being realistic can be more helpful than being idealistic

If you have a grown up family, some of whom who usually live outside of the family home nowadays, or if you have relatives who will come through to see you for Christmas but who you don't see much at other times of the year, there can be a temptation to see things as you wish they were rather than as they are.  Some Christmas films on television show happy families who all get on at all times, yet in real life family dynamics can be very different from this.  People change, have their own habits and preferences, and children who once sat in their high chair at the kitchen table may now arrive in their family car with their new spouses and little ones of their own.  Although there may be a temptation to think back to how things were, and perhaps to how you may have preferred them, as time moves on so do situations and relationships.  It is normal and natural to wish everyone would get along at all times, yet allowing someone space and time to acclimatise and get used to being back together again may pay dividends.

2.  Sometimes the brake is more useful than the accelerator

It can be easy to forget when we are rushed off our feet that less may actually be more.  When we are going at such a speed that we might be virtually meeting ourselves coming backwards, time to pause and reassess, time to rethink and decide whether we want to carry on with that task / that idea / that approach can be invaluable.  We can sometimes be so intent on making whatever it is happen that we don't always notice when the game has changed.  Even if we feel in control of things, it can benefit us to take two or three minutes every half hour to breathe deeply, appraise how things are going, and act accordingly.  Although gifts that are wrapped in that exquisite way may look superb, if it is Christmas Eve at 10:37 p.m. and there are still twelve presents left to wrap, would it be better to make sure everyone has one beautifully wrapped gift, with the rest of a lesser but perfectly acceptable standard and so get to bed at a reasonable time?  If you are tired out on Christmas Day, Auntie X's gift can be as pretty as can be, but if you snap her head off giving it her it may as well have been left in the shop carrier bag and passed on like that.  Clients often report that adapting their approach and remaining flexible can be a lifesaver!

3.  Remember that Christmas will pass, and that January will arrive

A lot of effort goes into the 'big day', and the stakes can be high, emotionally speaking.  It can be a challenge to get everything done, keep everyone reasonably happy and to enjoy the day yourself.  At the times of greatest stress, when you may secretly wish that January would come and swallow you up, remember that in only a few short days it will be here, and that soon the festivities will be over for another year.  When we remind ourselves that the hard work is for a limited period, not forever, that temporary 'push' can seem more doable.  It may also be worth paying a little attention to what you do in the run up to Christmas so that the steps you take for the 25th don't turn into problems come the New Year.  Keeping things in proportion - for example the amount of food we buy and the amount we spend on Christmas trimmings and celebrations - can mean that when January does arrive we won't have to deal with poor financial or other choices long into the Spring.

A counselling colleague joked to me this week that the 'season of goodwill’ could at times be renamed the ‘season of stress and ill will’.  While it is tempting to think that just next door the perfect Christmas is happening, and that so-and-so and such-and-such will be carrying their entertaining off with much more prowess than you are displaying, it may be worth bearing in mind that your neighbours may well be thinking you are celebrating the season with much more style and composure than they are.  This year, with a few small changes (in action and perhaps perspective), could you rise above the demands and challenges and have a very Merry Christmas?  I certainly hope you do, and wish you all the best for what is to come!

Rob Oglesby MBACP (Accred) B.A. (Hons) BSc | Ashwood Therapy

Ashwood Therapy provides a discreet, confidential and professional online counselling service by encrypted video call, live instant messaging and secure email.  More details, including tips on wellbeing and information on current counselling session pricing, can be found at www.ashwoodtherapy.com

A Christmas Survival Guide

A Christmas Survival Guide | Ashwood Therapy Wellbeing Blog