It’s Christmas…!!! (Ugh?! How Do You Feel About Christmas?)
How do you feel about Christmas?
December can be tough. It can feel like a frenzied crescendo that some people adore. Others find it really difficult. And most fit somewhere in between.
It’s a lot of work and expense, especially for parents. And it can put a lot of pressure on our relationships.
If you’re not sharing the load fairly, you might feel resentful of your partner. Who does most of the planning? The shopping? The wrapping? Decorating? Childcare? Tidying? Cleaning? Cooking? Entertaining? Driving? Who has to work? Who gets “time off” which is spent looking after everyone’s else’s needs? Who organises the diary?
Having to entertain the kids without school or childcare can be hard enough, without the extra pressure to make it special.
The children might be out of sorts, with the disruption to their routines, and all that stimulation.
So expectations are high. Pressure builds. Stress levels can go through the roof – and nothing hits relationships harder than stress.
The disruption in your normal routines can be a real challenge if you’re already struggling with your mental health. Not to mention the financial pressure. And the impact on your mood and your partner’s of all that over-indulgence. (Navigating each other’s moods can be hard.)
Despite the picture-perfect family photos you might see on social media, most family situations are complicated. It can be hard to hold your boundaries with your family of origin and your in-laws. And you might not always agree with your partner about what those boundaries should be.
You might feel obliged to spend time with people you don’t really enjoy.
There might be topics you need to swerve, to avoid arguments developing.
If you had a difficult childhood, you might not have those lovely memories everyone else seems to hold so dear.
If you’ve had difficult Christmases, you might worry about things going wrong again.
And if you’ve lost someone close to you, facing Christmas without them can be painful.
Meanwhile, it might feel like you and/or the kids are fighting off one bug after another.
Even if you love Christmas, some of this difficult stuff might be part of it sometimes.
The Pressure To Have A Great Time
Despite all of this, many of us have an image of a special, or magical, or even (eek!) “perfect” Christmas.
Often we feel the pressure to be in the “right” mood. “Cheer up, it’s Christmas!”
Images of Christmas as a romantic time seem to be everywhere, which can put huge stress on couples.
Feeling alone at this time of year can be particularly tough.
And sometimes the loneliest place is in a relationship where you’re not feeling seen, heard, or understood.
Add the idea that you’re supposed to make things wonderful for your kids – and maybe a house full of guests too – and the pressure can feel immense.
How Do YOU Feel About Christmas?
So how does this time of year feel to you?
Do you feel happy, excited, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, lonely, fed up, or indifferent?
Maybe you feel something completely different, or a mix of these emotions? (Feelings are not mutually exclusive.)
And then what’s your reaction to your feelings?
Do you feel pleased, disappointed, angry, guilty, or ashamed about how you feel?
Do You Ever Feel Guilty About How You Feel?
Most of us grew up in homes where some feelings were more welcome than others.
Did you get punished if you expressed anger, or criticised or ignored if you seemed “not yourself”?
You might feel like your feelings are wrong sometimes, or that you’re somehow at fault for experiencing them.
So i’s very common to feel guilty about feeling miserable or grinchy.
It might help to understand a bit better the purpose of our emotions, and the best way to respond to them.
What Are Feelings? (And Why Are Therapists So Interested In Them?)
I like to think of our feelings or emotions as the human body’s messaging system. They’re how your body and mind work together to communicate its response to what’s going on around it.
So in the most basic way, if you see danger, you feel frightened. This is one of the easier feelings to identify, as you might shake, sweat, feel sick, dizzy, notice your mouth go dry, your breathing speed up and your heart race.
It’s difficult to ignore that particular message.
Some feelings are much more subtle, but they’re identified in the same way: by paying attention to your body.
Thinking And Feeling
Luckily, we’re smart creatures who don’t just act on instinct. We’re also able to think. And thinking is just as important as feeling.
The reason for the clichéd image of the counsellor always asking “and how does that make you feel?” is not because therapists are obsessed with feelings.
It’s because most of us in our culture have been taught to think quite effectively.
What we often haven’t been raised to do quite so well is to pay attention to our bodies’ communication systems: our feelings.
Thinking, Feeling And Doing
Satisfaction with your life comes through being pleased with the choices you make.
You make a life that works for you by doing things that line up with your values.
So how do you do that?
By both thinking and feeling before you act.
Your feelings, like your thoughts, are just data to inform your choices. So they’re not in and of themselves good or bad (although some might feel more comfortable than others – that’s how we know what we want to move towards and what we want to move away from).
When We (Try To) Ignore Our Feelings
Thoughts and feelings are, however, extremely persistent, as anyone who has ever tried not to think of an elephant will know.
(Still picturing it, aren’t you?)
If you think you shouldn’t feel a certain way, you might make a deliberate effort not to notice a certain feeling.
Or you might do it without even being aware of it, especially if you weren’t brought up to recognise your feelings.
Either way, feelings are persistent, and they have a way of morphing into other feelings that we do recognise in an attempt to get our attention.
The most common of these are anxiety (more frequent in women, who have been often been brought up not to show anger) and anger (more common in men who have often been raised not to show fear.)
All Of Your Feelings Are OK
So if you feel miserable or overwhelmed, or you think “I wish all this fuss would just stop!” pay attention, but don’t berate yourself.
Remember when you tried to stop thinking about an elephant and you could think of little else? Well if you try to stop hating Christmas, or feeling sad or lonely or angry, your system is unlikely to give up easily on that either.
It’s OK to feel bored, frustrated, or disappointed.
It’s OK to think we’d all be better off not bothering.
Feelings and thoughts are all temporary. Let them pass through. What matters is what you do.
What If Your Feelings Are Overwhelming?
I often talk to clients about letting go of trying to control their thoughts or feelings.
I recommend that they practise just noticing them, sitting with them, without judging or trying to control them.
This isn’t easy, especially when you’re new to it.
If you’ve been trying to control your feelings, it’s probably because they’re uncomfortable, upsetting, worrying, or even frightening. It’s understandable that you would be nervous that those feelings might overwhelm you if you stop trying to control them.
It’s not healthy to avoid all your emotions all the time, but it is helpful to be able to distract yourself from them when you need to.
If you’ve been avoiding feeling a lot, bear in mind that your emotions will have been making themselves heard one way or another already.
Here are three ideas to think about if you would like to feel more relaxed and confident about your emotions.
1. Practise Feeling Your Feelings – With A Time Limit
How would it feel to spend 5 minutes each day over Christmas checking in with yourself about how you feel? Could you let yourself pay attention to your body’s messaging system, sit with your feelings, and focus on identifying and accepting them, without trying to change them?
Once the time is up you might like to consider whether you want to do anything differently over the next 24 hours. (That’s the process of feel > think > act in action.)
2. Label Your Emotions
During that time, as you sit with your feelings, see if you can name them. Research has found that people who are better at recognising and labelling their feelings have better mental health, greater satisfaction with their work lives and relationships, and fewer physical symptoms like headaches and backaches.
There are many excellent resources available online to help you expand your emotional vocabulary, including this list from Dr Jonice Webb.
3. Get Professional Help
If you feel overwhelmed by the strength of your emotions, or find it difficult to make sense of them, you might like to consider getting some help with this from a professional counsellor.
How Do You Feel About Christmas? It’s About Meeting Your Needs
So how do you feel about Christmas, and why does it matter?
Often what your feelings are trying to communicate to you is something about what you need.
My wish for you this Christmas is that you pay attention to how you’re feeling, and think about what it’s telling you about what you need.
With that information, may you find the courage to make choices that are right for you, while respecting the needs of others. That might mean having a soft drink, going for a walk, declining an invitation, reaching out to a friend, or having an early night.
It will probably mean talking to your partner about who’s doing what, too.
Go easy on yourself. You can only do your best.
I’ll be back in the new year.