Every year the build-up to Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier with the pressure increasing with every day. Get gifts, plan and prepare the Christmas dinner, organize family activities and gather everyone. And all this in a festively decorated home, carefully prepared with a beautiful tree and homemade cookies and turkey on the table. The hairstyle fits, the dress is new and the mood is great. Or not?
Big wishes and high expectations
The number of those who suffer during the Christmas season is not small. One in five of us feel stressed during the holiday season according to a survey by MIND, the mental health charity. And in Germany, the University of Göttingen in a recent study concluded that many people doing a survey during the holiday season say they are less satisfied with their lives than people who gave information about their well-being outside this period. The scientists blame the growing hustle and bustle before Christmas and increasing consumer pressure.
For many people, Christmas is, so to speak, the annual finale – the highest festival day in the course of the year. Everything should be perfect. The first preparations and plans are made weeks in advance. Especially in the run-up to Christmas, almost everything is geared towards Christmas Eve and the first two days of Christmas. Most of the time there are overly high expectations and desires that often cannot be fulfilled. If there are underlying family issues, the pent-up collection of feelings – consisting of stress, excessive demands, disappointment, etc. – quickly becomes an explosive mixture. The full range of this is often revealed even after the actual holidays. And at the beginning of the new year, many people fall into an emotional, psychological “hole”. Women in particular can be found among those affected, since it is often they who take care of the Christmas preparations and who are eager to take on the task of creating a magical time with the perfect gifts and excellent culinary delights.
The post-Christmas anti-climax
For counsellors, the psychological plunge that some of us experience after Christmas is not unusual. Low moods and even depression can be common side effects that go hand in hand with relief from a stressful, pressured period. Christmas could easily be compared to an important test that was mastered perfectly but instead of elation there is just a void of emotions. And as a result of this lack of positive feelings irritation can quickly follow: “I should be trilled, everything went so well. So why do I feel flat and low?” And if it was chaotic and frustrating, the disappointment and the supposedly wasted strength are now all the more apparent with people asking themselves: “Why am I doing this to myself every year? Why am I putting so much energy into it that nobody appreciates anyway?”
This emptiness usually disappears after a few days – mostly in connection with new tasks – but if the dull, numb feeling does not let go, you might want to look into seeking support out of this negative stagnation.
Christmas & loneliness
Christmas is a socially busy and emotionally charged time. After all, Christmas is the festival of love. And this message is pushed home with numerous movies and beautiful advertisements day in and day out. While some of us are happy to surrender to these images of love and togetherness, others seem to fall into a vacuum of loneliness and isolation often suffering in silence and out of the spotlight. Negative feelings seem out of place, since Christmas is praised as a blissful, joyful festival and this can become particularly difficult, especially for those of us without family to celebrate with. The lack of contact can often be accompanied with a negative internal dialogue, lowered self-esteem and confidence.
Surviving the holiday season
To keep stress and disappointment to a minimum, you might want to kee the following in mind:
1. Try to approach your expectations of the festival realistically
Talk to family about ideas and wishes and possibly reduce stressful tasks. How can we all carry the load? Which traditions are too much? Do we really want to give something to everyone or just to children?
2. Question your own assumtions.
What makes a great time in your eyes? Quality instead of quantity. Space for retreats for everyone often prevents aggression and disputes.
3. Connect with people
If you are lonely yourself, try to find alternatives early on, such as how to spend the day or evening with others. Charities are often very thankful for an extra pair of hands.
4. Be mindful of your needs
This point cannot be stressed enough in my opinion. Too much alcohol, food or company can overstress your system in many ways. Mindfulness exercises are a very useful way to get in touch with what we need. This might include a bit of peace and quiet, a long walk in the fresh air or taking time to really listen to someone we have not seen for a long time.
Whatever you do, take care of yourself.
Have yourself a very peaceful time and see you all in the New Year!