This is part 2 of my Christmas series on getting through the holiday season with more joy and less stress. If you’ve missed part 1 you can check it out here.
You know how everyone says that you can’t take care of anyone else, unless you take care of yourself? (totally true, by the way)
Well, that lovely, joyful Christmas you’re planning, also won’t be possible, if you’re in a stressed-out heap on the floor (figuratively or literally).
You won’t enjoy yourself and your family won’t enjoy seeing you that way.
So, while there seems to be even less time for self-care during the Christmas season, now is not the time to neglect your own wellbeing.
Find a way to look after yourself and you’ll be better able to cope with your to-do list, connect with your family, deal with issues that arise and enjoy this time of year.
If you have self-care routines in place already, stick with them, even if you need to modify them slightly. These rituals will help you feel stable and grounded when things get crazy.
It’s also important to identify and watch for your own signs of stress. For me, it’s a quickened heartbeat, shallow breathing and tension in my upper back and neck. I’m also far less patient and tolerant. Once you notice your signs of stress, then act fast to restore balance.
Looking after yourself during the Christmas season
Here are my top 5 suggestions for looking after yourself over the next couple of weeks:
1. Take care of the basics
It’s almost laughable that these are basics, because as mums, we struggle to maintain these at the best of times. Nevertheless, if you want to get through the next couple of weeks in the best way possible, then pay attention to these areas:
Sleep – Christmas requires some late night squirrelling around while the kids are sleeping, but try to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Most of us already have our sleep interrupted every night, so every minute counts. If you’re kids are still napping, this might be the time to join them.
Exercise – Regular exercise improves your mood, energy and sleep, and can reduce your stress. So, go to the gym, get active with the kids or go for a brisk walk.
Eat well – Go ahead and enjoy those Christmas treats, and eat well in-between festivities. You’ll have more energy and be in a better mood (plus you won’t need to worry as much about extra kilos).
I’m not talking about Christmas parties and other end of year catch ups. I’m talking about the type of connecting that feeds your soul and keeps you going. If things get a bit overwhelming, call a friend for a quick chat, vent, some perspective and support. Be present with the people you love. Dial back the social media and other distractions and carve out time for unstructured, quality family time, as well as time with your partner (more on that later).
3. Say no
Give yourself permission to make decisions that are helpful and healthy for you. Say no to things that make you seriously unhappy. For example, Christmas functions you’d rather skip, the obligatory catch up with a ‘friend’ you hardly see (and hardly like), or a tradition that causes more anxiety than joy. Try saying no this year.
4. Incorporate little things that make you feel calmer and happier into your days
Even just a few minutes at a time can help.
Listen to your favourite music while you wrap presents, spend time with your pet, sing Christmas carols (singing is good for you!), or have that cup of coffee with your neighbour.
Get outside when you can, because research shows that being in nature helps you feel less stressed, happier, more alive and helps your brain recover from fatigue and overwhelm.
I’ve been trying out some wonderful essential oil blends and the one labelled ‘calm’ is getting a lot of use! Try lavender, rose, vetiver, bergamot or chamomile, or a stress fighting blend.
Schedule quiet time for you to be still and recharge. Just 10 mins per day is really beneficial. Use the time for deep breathing, meditation, prayer, journaling or simply sitting still and letting your mind wander.
Finally, accept offers of help because it’ll make you feel calmer in the long run!
5. Treat yourself as you would your best friend
With all the extra pressure that comes with Christmas, our need for self-compassion is greater than usual.
Things won’t always go to plan, you might make mistakes, people will have opinions and everyone may not be happy and well behaved all the time. Be kind to yourself and remember you’re human, and that everyone struggles sometimes.
Don’t let your inner critic dominate your thoughts and emotions. Chances are you expect way more of yourself than others do, so cut yourself some slack.
When the negative self-talk starts, ask yourself, ‘would you say that to your best friend?’. The answer is likely to be ‘no’. So, reframe that thought to something that you would say to someone you really cared about.
Looking after your family
You’re already an expert at looking after your family so, I just want to mention that it’s important to remember that while this is a fun and exciting time of year for children, it can also be exhausting and overwhelming. Late nights, extra events, extra sugar and extra people around.
While you’re getting through your to-do list, watch for signs of tiredness in all your family members. Think about scheduling some time each week where you have no plan and can just spend time together. Remember that kids crave connection with you and that’s what they’ll really remember in the long run.
If you’re getting your kids to help with the Christmas preparations, try to accept the standard they’re capable of and make it a positive, joyful experience for them, rather than worrying about having everything perfect.
If you’re having more guests than normal, help your children by preparing them. Let them know what will be happening and what they will be doing while everyone is around. If they’re going to places they’re unfamiliar with, help them understand the boundaries, (physical and behavioural) ahead of time.
Remember, if you’re stressed, your children can also feel more stressed. So, be compassionate with them at this time too.
Looking after your relationship with your partner
Women are more likely than men to feel increased stress in the holiday season (no surprise). This means that while your partner might be cruising along normally, you might be more tired and emotional and less interested in connection and intimacy. You might have even less time for each other and have more reasons to argue.
Here are 5 things you can do to look after your relationship with your partner at Christmas:
1. Small, everyday gestures of kindness
These regular actions, like making a coffee for your partner, helping them with a chore or leaving them a loving note, build stability and resilience into your relationship. These things protect a relationship from the effects of conflict and stress.
2. Allocate time to connect
Can you afford 1 night each week or 15 mins after the kids go to bed each day, to really sit down and talk about how you’re travelling or what’s been happening in your lives? Do something you love together. Even start a new Christmas tradition for just the two of you.
3. Talk about what’s causing you stress
It’s not really fair to make our men guess what’s troubling us. They may not even notice that you’re stressed, if you’re able to hide it well. Sometimes just being able to talk about what’s stressing you, can help you manage it better. So, be honest and open with your partner about how you’re coping. Start by letting him know if you need him to just listen or if you’d like his help. And if you do want his help, be really specific about what you need.
4. Work together
Create a plan together for any major Christmas celebrations you need to host or contribute to (including cleaning up afterwards). Write it down and make it really clear, so you know who’s going to do what. You’re in it together!
5. Use each other as support at family gatherings
Christmas gatherings often spark big debates or resurrect old family issues. Navigating these issues together means they won’t be as likely to come between you (which is possible, especially when we’re talking about in-laws). Discuss any conversation topics or other things that make you feel uncomfortable at family gatherings. Agree a game plan for any recurring family conflicts. Be clear on the support you need from your partner and how you can support him. Identify what you can say to put a stop to any arguments, how you can give yourself a break and if necessary, agree on an exit plan as a back-up.
Don’t forget yourself this Christmas, lovely mum. You deserve to enjoy a magical Christmas, just as much as everyone else does.
We can get caught up in the presents, decorations, food and all the rest of the trimmings, but it’s our relationships with the people that we love, that matter the most.
Your children will remember the time spent together, more than the money and hours spent on creating the (unattainable) perfect Christmas.
There’s a lot to choose from, but let’s start small and manageable.
What is 1 thing you will do over the next 2 weeks, to look after:
- your family?
- your relationship with your partner?
Wishing you more joy and less stress for the remainder of the Christmas season.