Does the thought of the Christmas season make you feel excited or does it fill you with dread?
I am totally obsessed with Christmas.
As one of my friends pointed out, I’m one of those people, who puts their Christmas tree and decorations up as soon as it hits November. I’m also one of those people who gets tagged by just about everyone they know when the Perfect Ornament Placement Disorder memes are posted on social media. (I bought my 4 year old his own mini tree this year so he could go wild and I could still have the big tree the way I wanted it). I LOVE Christmas music, craft, baking, gift wrapping themes, home made everything, Christmas shows, activities and holiday entertaining. Even hosting Christmas for the whole family fills me with excitement!
I’m so inspired during this season and I want to do EVERYTHING.
But, of course, that’s not possible.
Despite my unending love of the season, I have definitely found myself exhausted and stressed in years gone by. When I’ve been consumed by planning, organising, creating and doing, it hasn’t left a lot of time for being present and enjoying. There’s hardly an opportunity to savour the moment before thinking of the next thing. It’s full of rushing, multitasking, overwhelm and feeling exhausted.
When I think about the sort of Christmas season I’d like to have, these are the words that come to mind: calm, peaceful, joyful, fun, full of love, time with the people I love.
What words describe the type of Christmas season you’d like to have?
My best Christmas yet
I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided that I’m going to make sure that I have that type of Christmas season this year.
By practicing self-awareness.
You see, self-awareness is a form of self care. The better you understand what you need, how you respond to things, who you are and how you are feeling in any current moment, the better you can manage the things that you have to do, and the things that are happening around you. Self awareness can be your guide to getting through the holiday season, helping you to:
- Focus on what’s important to you
- Sustain your energy and attention
- Stay calm
- Be present with loved ones, and
- Enjoy yourself.
I know that self care often doesn’t get a look in during this time of year. It’s not surprising that if you struggle to prioritise your needs throughout the year, it’s even harder to do so at Christmas.
But self care is even MORE important in the holiday season or during any time when you really feel you are just too busy for it. Seems counter intuitive but I promise it’s true!
If you’d like to give self-awareness a try with me this year and have your best Christmas yet, here’s how…
Self awareness to prepare yourself
It’s still a few weeks before Christmas, so it’s the perfect time to think ahead. Prepare yourself by answering these 2 questions:
1. What triggers stress, overwhelm, anxiety, worry or low mood for me at this time of year?
The answers to these questions could be particular people, places, events, activities, dates or traditions.
For example, your mother-in-law criticising the way you look since you’ve had a baby, hosting Christmas at your place, dealing with the politics of attending all the family Christmas gatherings, going to social events where you don’t know many people, buying gifts for teachers, dealing with the crowds at the shopping centre, having no time to yourself, shopping for gifts with children in tow or being without a loved one at this time of year.
This question can also be about the limit of your capacity. How much can you handle? When does it become too much?
Once you know the answers to this question, you can look at how to eliminate or minimise the occurrence of the triggers, or set up coping strategies for those that are unavoidable.
For instance, if you struggle with the pressure of hosting the family Christmas gathering, you could:
- Ask if someone else would like a turn at hosting this year, even if you still contribute
- Start planning and preparing early, so you have more breathing space
- Simplify or change the menu (prepare more food ahead of time, or use pre-made options)
- Ask others to bring a plate of food
- Ask for help with other tasks, such as decorating, or cleaning before and after (even hire a cleaner for those tasks!)
- Take other things off your plate, or say no to new things, so you can focus on this event.
2. What makes me happy and energised at this time of year?
Again, these things could be particular people, places, events, activities, dates or traditions.
These are the things you can plan to make happen over the next few weeks.
Personally, I love Christmas baking, and in the past have made many gingerbread houses (I even ran gingerbread house making workshops!). I haven’t made one for the last 3 years and this year I’m reinstating the tradition because I think my son would really enjoy it. But, because I am always at full capacity at this time of year, when I add something to my plate, I am also going to take something off! So, this year we aren’t going to make our own wrapping paper, which we have done for the last couple of years.
Preparing for the Christmas season by asking yourself these two questions, will help you be more intentional about looking after yourself and creating the Christmas you really want to have. You could also ask your family members these same questions!
If you think it will help, write your answers to these questions down and review them regularly to keep them front of mind.
Self awareness in the moment
Intentions are great, but you also need to monitor your progress along the way to stay on track.
To do this, regularly ask yourself 3 key questions (it can take just a minute!):
1. How am I feeling right now?
The answer to this question could be an emotion or physical feeling.
For example, I’m feeling happy, balanced, overwhelmed or anxious. Or I’m feeling tension in my upper back, my head is pounding or my body is relaxed. If you answer with a physical feeling, then try to link it to an emotion also. I know when my upper back is tense, it’s often from the way I hold my body when I’m stressed.
Prevention is better than cure! When I was younger I had a tendency to keep pushing myself until I collapsed in a heap of exhaustion. I’d never check in with myself about how I was coping. I would relentlessly keep focusing on what was next. Now I have a better way. By checking in with myself regularly, and intervening early, I can avoid getting to that point of exhaustion.
2. Why am I feeling like this?
Take your self-awareness a step further by identifying what’s causing the feeling. Is it:
- Having to make small talk with people you don’t know?
- Seeing relatives that you don’t get along with?
- That you’ve overcommitted yourself this week?
- A lack of time to yourself to recharge?
- A strong desire for things to be perfect?
- Comparing your Christmas efforts to those of others?
- Spending the afternoon outside with your family?
- Your favourite Christmas tradition?
- Having everything organised early?
If you can identify what the cause of the feeling is, you’ll have a much better chance of intentionally recreating it (for the positive ones) or dealing with it in a lasting and impactful way. Sometimes you need to get a bit vulnerable here and face up to things you may not want to admit. For example, you might be stressed because you’re trying to control a situation or you’ve caused some damage to a relationship that you can’t avoid at Christmas. It might also be hard to admit that you can’t do it all.
3. What do I need right now?
Lastly, identify any action you need to take to look after yourself and stay focused on what’s important. There are no right answers here. It’s going to be unique to you and your situation.
It might include something that helps you recharge, calm down, do less, refocus on what’s important or reset unrealistic expectations. You might need to ask for help or support, change your environment, take a break or connect with your children. Whatever it is, the point is, that you are actually taking action to address your needs regularly, rather than waiting for the situation to get dire.
Now, let’s run through an example with all three questions:
How am I feeling right now?
I’m feeling irritable and overwhelmed. I keep snapping at everyone and I’m rushing all the time. I’m having trouble focusing and I feel guilty that I’m not spending enough one on one time, playing with my daughter.
Why am I feeling like this?
I’m overcommitted this week both for my job and at home. I’m meant to go to a social gathering on Friday, that I don’t really want to go to, but have already said I would.
What do I need right now?
To simplify my week. Take some things OFF my to-do list. Respectfully decline the social event. Write down just 1 or 2 things I need to do each day and just focus on those. Get take away for dinner tonight so I don’t have to cook. Stop and play with my daughter now, without interruptions for the next 30 mins.
Building a self care habit
Once you get into the habit of asking yourself these questions, you’ll find it takes hardly any time at all. And you’re practicing a self care strategy that you can actually use all year round!
At first, it may be difficult to remember to do this, so set up some reminders or prompts to help you build a habit. You could try:
- Writing the questions on your noticeboard or on a post-it note somewhere obvious
- Including them in your journaling routine
- Setting up a recurring reminder in your phone
- Asking your partner or someone else to ask you the questions.
Lovely mum, I know this may seem like yet another thing to do. But let’s reframe that. This is a way to make sure you don’t have too much to do, and that you can manage what you have to do, while enjoying this beautiful time of year.
The sooner you get started with this, the more benefits you will reap, so why not start now! By practicing self-awareness, you’ll be on your way to having your best Christmas yet!