8 Tips for a Calm Christmas
Set yourself up for a calm Christmas at the end of a challenging year with these tips
by Beth Kempton
2020 has rocked all of our lives in unexpected ways. It has brought us together while keeping us apart, and reminded us of the fragility of our systems and societies. No-one has been unaffected by the pandemic, and many of us are grieving lost loved ones, lost rites of passage, lost opportunities, or lost dreams for the future. Much of what we thought we could rely on has been thrown into question this year, and it seems no-one knows what lies ahead.
If there is one constant we can trust in, it is that Christmas will come around again. Perhaps this year, more than ever, it will be a time to treasure.
Christmas, which is the single most widely celebrated festival in the world, is considered so important that we max out our credit cards to the tune of £11 billion each year in the UK. It is hardly surprising that almost two-thirds of us find the holiday season stressful. The mental health charity Mind recently reported that 11 percent of people feel unable to cope at Christmas, and that figure rises to 31 percent among those who have existing mental health issues. Similarly, as many as 28 percent of people (rising to 44 percent of those with mental health problems) struggle with the pressure of organising the ‘perfect’ Christmas.
Nevertheless, year in, year out, millions of people approach it in the same old way – a huge build-up, mounting panic, followed by a massive energy crash. Even those of us who adore Christmas often take on far too much, giving everything to others and leaving nothing for ourselves.
Many of us are missing a vital opportunity to relax, reconnect and be rejuvenated by this very special season, simply because of what we have come to believe about how it should be. But the events this year have changed so much in terms of our expectations of how things work, we have an opportunity to do things differently this year. It’s time for a new kind of festive season, one that allows us to create magic and memories without sacrificing our own wellbeing, ushering us towards a lasting sense of serenity and contentment.
Instead of overspending, over-preparing and overdoing just about everything in an attempt to create the perfect Christmas, what if we just relaxed and focused on what really matters? As we notice the first brush of pine in the crisp winter air, as we wrap our hands gleefully around a mug of hot chocolate, as we think long and hard about gifts, write cards, stir soup, stack kindling, and open advent calendar doors to count down the days until Christmas, let’s also remember to breathe, be gentle on ourselves, and savour the magic of the season as it unfolds.
Here are eight helpful tips for looking after yourself this year, so you have the energy and presence of mind to calmly create a special Christmas for yourself and those you love.
1. Set an intention for Christmas, and make your plans in line with that
So much has changed this year that you have the perfect excuse not to do Christmas the way you have always done it – at least, not the parts that don’t work for you. Taking a moment to get intentional about what really matters can transform your holiday season from one of stress and resentment to one of calm and joy.
Given the kind of year you have had, and the circumstances of your life right now, what kind of Christmas do you want and need? Consider how you want to feel at the end of it all, and what boundaries you will need to set.
Letting go of the notion of the perfect Christmas is not about lowering your expectations, but simply changing them. Try exchanging the word ‘perfect’ for something else – a memorable Christmas, a lovely Christmas, or a special Christmas, perhaps. What single word captures the kind of Christmas you want to invite this year? Use that as a guidepost as you prepare for the festivities.
2. Embrace the simple things
Simplicity is the key for calm in winter. Think about how you can embrace the idea of less in a way that feels like more. Streamline and simplify each part of Christmas, and let go of some of your commitments as winter moves in. A few tweaks in each area of your life can add up to a huge difference in your overall stress levels at Christmas.
Simplifying ‘out there’ – your spaces and your schedules – can bring a sense of order. And then simplifying ‘in here’ – with quiet, presence and mindfulness – can foster a deeper tranquility.
3. Remember that Christmas is a season, not a single day
According to a study by the University of Edinburgh, festive stress amounts to far more than a little extra pressure. ‘Christmas hormones’ – a potent mix of cortisol, serotonin and dopamine – race through our bodies causing highs and lows, but mostly chronic fatigue. Thinking about Christmas as a season instead of a single day can take some of the pressure off rushing and allow us to spread the enjoyment over a longer period.
4. Focus on one special thing
This year, consider this: If you could only do one thing to make Christmas special, what would it be?
Perhaps you will choose to pay extra attention to wrapping gifts beautifully this year. Maybe you would like to recreate your great-grandmother’s Christmas pudding. Or you might decide to write a special poem to share at dinner, to honour someone who has passed.
Focus on something that is enjoyable for you, do it brilliantly, and be relaxed about the rest.
5. Remember to nourish yourself, too
Imagine the difference it would make to your festive season, and to how you feel in January, if you were to usher yourself through December with care, allowing plenty of time for rest, reflection and delight.
There are many simple but effective ways of doing this, including keeping up with regular routines like your weekly Zoom yoga class or your Sunday afternoon walk, writing in a journal in the morning, sipping camomile tea before bed, or batch-cooking healthy meals, freezing some so you have good food available anytime.
Try to keep your attention on the good things unfolding in your festive season instead of being drawn too much into other people’s social media feeds.
Approached in a gentle way, Christmas can be a time of nourishment, rejuvenation and contentment, when you simply take time to take care of yourself.
6. Focus on individual connections
Extended family gatherings are unlikely to be the same as previous years. Why not use this opportunity to focus on spending individual time with each person who matters most to you?
You can use this sacred time to do something simple (but special) that will enable you to reconnect with each other. See the Christmas lights being switched on in your town, dig out your old turntable and play some records one night, hand deliver Christmas cards in your community, make something together, or just have a long, juicy conversation.
7. Let go and relax when the big day dawns
Before others wake up on Christmas Day, take a moment for reflection. Instead of stressing over what hasn’t been done, give yourself credit for what has been done. Think about what you have created in the kitchen and on the wrapping table, and all the care that has gone into decorating and otherwise preparing for this moment.
Hold those offerings close, together with gratitude for the Christmas you are about to share, take a deep breath and let the celebrations unfold.
8. Build in time for reflection and dreaming between Christmas and New Year
Have you noticed that something very special happens between Christmas and New Year each year? For a few days, a portal to another world opens up. Everything is quieter, less rushed, more gentle in this secret place.
‘Twixtmas, as it has been labelled in recent years, is a precious time. I call it ‘the Hush’. The hard work of Christmas is over for another year. There are no more cards to write or presents to wrap. New Year’s Eve is still a few days away, and many people are still off work. There is somehow less pressure on us to be productive.
We have faced so much change this year, both in the wider world and in our own lives. It has been one thing after another, all coming at us with barely a moment to process any of it. It can be tempting to fling ourselves into the festivities, but if we do that, it’s likely things will catch up with us over the holidays. Instead, let’s give ourselves the time and space we need to wind down, switch off and relax.
The Hush is a wonderful time to reflect on the year gone past and to dream of all that could be in the next, so you can head into the new year rested, inspired, and hopeful about all that lies ahead.
Find out more:
Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A Little Book of Festive Joy by Beth Kempton (£12.99, Piatkus)
This feature was first published in the November/December 2020 issue of Kindred Spirit, available from 22 October, 2020. Click here to subscribe and have each new issue of Kindred Spirit delivered directly to your door. Alternatively, you can purchase individual magazines directly from our website.
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