Problem: I find myself really stressed coming into Christmas this year. 2016 was a difficult year for my business – we are hit hard by Brexit and it has meant we have little spare money this year (and 2017 could be worse).
I have felt really bad not being able to get everything that the children need. Everything is getting on top of me and I'm not sleeping – I keep waking at night with my mind spinning with worries. I am much more irritable at home. I never used to be like this.
Also, my wife’s father has become ill this year and this has meant she has been dealing with all this. I have tried to support her, but for some reason we are just ending up in rows all the time. I find myself dreading the Christmas festivities rather than looking forward to them this year.
Answer: Reading your question you sound very stressed. This is completely understandable given all you are going through.
Once stress gets a hold, it can take over and everything can feel more difficult. It can interrupt your sleep and make you more irritable and make it harder to cope all round.
You can see things more negatively and make it harder to be creative in response to problems. Dealing with her father’s illness, it sounds like your wife is stressed also. With the two of you stressed and dealing with challenges this can pile on extra pressure for both of you.
Stress at Christmas
Though Christmas is presented as a great time of family connection and celebration, it is also a time of great stress.
People can feel losses and sadness more acutely at Christmas and the pressure to spend and provide as a parent can lead to guilt that you won’t meet your family’s expectations.
In addition, anxiety and worry can be amplified during the Christmas season, especially with the prospect of a new year which might bring more challenges. The expectation of being happy and jolly can even make you sadder when you simply don’t feel that way.
The first step in overcoming stress is to acknowledge and accept how you are feeling. Be self-compassionate and cut yourself some slack. Take a step back and to acknowledge all you have been through in the year. Taking time to express how you are feeling to someone can help (it is great that you have reached out and written this email as a start).
Maybe there are friends and family you can easily talk to or perhaps you could consider getting some professional help or to ring one of the national helplines for guidance and support (eg, samaritans.ie and aware.ie).
Try to support one another
Stress takes its toll on relationships. While partners can initially be supportive when someone is stressed, this can diminish and wear thin if the person is irritable and distracted over time.
The tragedy is that when people are stressed they often take it out on their nearest and dearest. They end up fighting with the people closest to them and stop supporting one another, which further increases their stress.
Make a conscious effort to break this pattern. The key is separate yourself from the challenges you are experiencing and to realise you have a choice in how you respond.
Try to ally with your wife against the stressful situations you are both dealing with. Don’t let the stress drive you apart but instead let it teach you to become closer.
Set aside a special conversation with your wife when you can discuss this. It might be a good idea to send her a note in advance describing how you feel. You could acknowledge all the stresses you are both under, and apologise for how you have behaved in response. Express your positive feelings for her and your wish that you can work together to deal with everything. If you can find a way of supporting one another this will make an enormous difference.
Make a plan to tackle the stresses
Make a plan by yourself or with your wife to tackle the stresses that you are dealing with. This can include making a plan to address your work stresses (eg, could you get help from specialist services such as a business mentor or Enterprise Ireland about coming up with a business plan to address the economic changes?)
This plan could also involve organising a rota at home as to how you can support your wife caring for her father or as to how you look after the children together. You could also decide in the plan how to manage your stress levels by taking steps to eat healthily, get exercise and to prioritise times of relaxation and switching off.
Focus on the small and important things at Christmas
Let go of some of big expectations this Christmas, and instead focus on some important things that might make it go well for you and the family.
Talk with the children in advance about how there is less money this year, but you will be concentrating on happy family experiences.
Often, once parents explain challenges to children in ways they understand they can be very understanding and supportive of their parents.
Make a list with your children of fun things (and low cost) you can do together such as seeing the town’s Christmas lights or visiting family and friends or doing a special trip together. Consider also contacting local charities such as the Vincent de Paul for support and ideas.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus Programmes. He has just published a new book 'Bringing up Happy Confident Children' and will be delivering a course on Helping Children Overcome Anxiety starting on Monday 6th, February 2017. See www.solutiontalk.ie for details