A different sort of Christmas: Tips for managing the holidays

The best way to deal with this year’s Christmas concerns is to plan for uncertainty, says psychologist Alison Keating

As a community being more mindful of people who might spiral into a negative space without the normal chit chat or people dropping in over the Christmas season is vital, Keating says. Photograph: iStock

As a community being more mindful of people who might spiral into a negative space without the normal chit chat or people dropping in over the Christmas season is vital, Keating says. Photograph: iStock

 

Christmas is usually a time for celebration and merriment, presents under the tree, families coming together and some over indulgence.

However things are going to look a little different this year. And while not minimising the sadness or disappointment people are feeling around that, psychologist Alison Keating says there are many ways people can mentally prepare for the challenges as well as making the days around Christmas meaningful and joyful.

“People are concerned about how this Christmas is going to play out and the best way to deal with that is to plan for uncertainty. It’s perfectly normal to be stressing about what-ifs and by allowing yourself some time to reflect on the fact it’s not going to be a normal Christmas and to acknowledge the feelings around that is important.

“By allowing yourself some reflective space and knowing that you’re going to have to drop some expectations and deal with some of the disappointment now will help us prepare,” she says.

As a community being more mindful of people who might spiral into a negative space without the normal chit chat or people dropping in over the Christmas season is vital, Keating says.

“In March there was a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ and I think people are struggling a little bit with that now but Christmas is a time we can show we’re one family, community and nation.

“It’s about figuring out how to create a sense of meaning around what Christmas is to you and that’s different for each person. Without trying to put a silver lining on it, perhaps there are some things we can do to bring back that sense of community and family, without the chaos. Let’s not forget Christmas can be stressful too, so maybe we bring it back to our shared values, and we try this year to have a more restful Christmas,” she says.

Watching a funny movie, or listening to a funny podcast is good for your brain. Laughter releases endorphins which can help your mood. Photograph: iStock
Watching a funny movie, or listening to a funny podcast is good for your brain. Laughter releases endorphins which can help your mood. Photograph: iStock

For those that are feeling very upset about the lack of traditions, Keating says people should acknowledge their emotions, write out their concerns or disappointments and see what they can actually be in control of.

“I think the theme of 2020 is flexible adaptability. It’s been a mental gymnastics of a year and it’s important to have contingency plans, especially when circumstances are out of your control. But you do have control over your reaction to the situation. That doesn’t mean you have to be pandemic perfect and pretend that everything is fine,” she adds.

There is also an opportunity to support local businesses, where possible, as well as charities. “We are moving from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and being altruistic and doing things for others makes you feel good,” she says.

Recognising the rituals and participating in them in some way is still possible. “For those that go to midnight mass or church, and are watching it on a laptop- lay out an area, light a candle - it will bring a sense of reverence to the moment. There is going to be that sense of loss of community spirit as it’s about the social aspect too. All these norms feel a little bit out of reach, so you need to mind yourself physically, emotionally and mentally.”

Keating doesn’t subscribe to ‘fake it till you make it’ but advises people to think about what brings fun into their lives. “Watching a comedy or having a chat with a friend you know is a good laugh is helpful. Emotions are contagious so it’s more useful to seek out what will make you feel better right now. Also, people are exhausted so I do say drop everything and rest too.”

For parents that are worried about children’s anxieties around Santa’s visit, she says: “Kids will ask about Santa and they will be fearful for his safety and if he can deliver toys, but Santa has been in quarantine all year because of where he lives and is perfectly safe.

“You need to allow the magic of Christmas to continue but set expectations at a level parents can deliver on,” she says.

FIVE TIPS

Alison Keating gives the following advice on how to remain stress free and upbeat this Christmas:

  1. Make sure you’re getting a combination of activity and rest. I recommend getting outdoors at least three times a week but also lying on the couch and watching a movie can be just as beneficial.
  2. Try to inject comedy into your life - watching a funny movie, or listening to a funny podcast is good for your brain. Laughter releases endorphins.
  3. Relationships might be under strain so be mindful of alcohol this Christmas as it can heighten emotions.
  4. Be patient with teens. Listen to what they’re saying. Let them have their rant, and give out about how life isn’t fair. They miss their friends, so see behind what might seem like a strop. Sit and acknowledge how difficult it is for them. Say: ‘That must be so hard, I’m really sorry this is going on.’
  5. Not to downplay the sadness but just remember, it is one day and there will be many more Christmases ahead with our loved ones around us.