Self-care during the festive period

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Christmas is held up as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’; a time spent celebrating and catching up with our nearest and dearest. For many of us, this may ring true. However, the festive period can also be an extremely difficult and challenging time for many too. For those experiencing financial stress, it may be wrapped up with feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. For those grieving the loss of a loved one, it may be associated with feelings of sadness. For those spending Christmas alone or with an unsupportive family, it may bring up feelings of loneliness and isolation; and for those who have a complicated relationship with food or alcohol, the festive period may present more triggers and difficulties maintaining boundaries. Even those who ordinarily enjoy this time of the year may be feeling anxious about navigating the festive period in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the festive period we are bombarded with images of merriment, joy and happy families enjoying the ‘perfect Christmas’ on our TV screens and our social media feeds. The constant exposure to these images can sometimes make it more difficult to articulate any negative emotions we’re feeling. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings and to allow yourself to feel them without guilt or shame. We must remember that they are valid and okay. We all have bad days or sad thoughts, and they don’t go away just because it’s Christmas. Once we acknowledge this, we can also acknowledge the importance of taking time to process these emotions, and to look after ourselves over the festive period. This self-care guide will outline some practical steps for doing so.

Step back and delegate tasks to manage your stress levels:

It can feel like there are a million and one things to do over the festive period, from decorating the house, to buying presents and cards, to doing the festive food shop and preparing Christmas dinner. It’s okay if you need to step back from commitments that you find stressful. Make sure you don’t overwork yourself or take on more responsibilities than you feel able to. Talk to your partner, family members or housemates and work out where you can delegate some tasks in order to spread the workload equally and manage everyone’s stress and anxiety levels.

If you’re still finding it difficult to manage your stress levels, make a plan of all the things you need to do over the festive period including chores, social events and calls etc. Then chunk your plan down into small to-do lists of no more than five small tasks each day. This will make the tasks from your overall plan feel more manageable. Being able to tick tasks off your to-do list will make you feel in control and fulfilled.

Take time for yourself:

Over the festive period, a lot of us will be spending an extended amount of time with our loved ones. Whilst this can be really lovely, sometimes spending such a long period of time with other people can feel a little intense and overwhelming. These feelings may be intensified if we’re grieving the loss of a loved one or processing anxious or depressive thoughts. Remember that it’s more than okay to take some time for yourself if you need to — whether that’s spending short interludes in your room or in a quiet space by yourself throughout the day, or dedicating a morning, afternoon or evening to having some me-time and doing something you find soothing and enjoyable such as reading, journaling, going for a run or watching some TV. It’s important to remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking the time that you need to re-energise will allow you to enjoy the time spent with loved ones without feeling burned out.

Remember that it’s always okay to say no:

Even if we know that honouring our boundaries is important, sometimes it can feel really difficult. Over the Christmas period especially, we often feel a pressure to say ‘yes’ to everything and stretch ourselves to do more than we’re happy or comfortable with. A lot of the time this stems from a fear of upsetting our loved ones, or feeling as if we’re not behaving as we’re expected to. The pandemic is also adding an extra complication, with the thought of socialising in pubs, bars or restaurants feeling a little daunting for some. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to say no to extra socialising over the festive period if you’re not feeling up to it. You do not need to feel guilty about it, nor do you owe anyone an in-depth justification detailing your reasons for doing so. An integral part of a healthy relationship, whether that be with a family member, friend or romantic partner, is respecting boundaries — your loved ones will understand if you need to sit any social events out and will continue to love and care about you regardless of your decision.

Honour your boundaries with alcohol:

The festive period can also present difficulties with honouring your boundaries surrounding alcohol. It’s important to remember that it’s completely okay to say no to any alcoholic drinks if you don’t feel comfortable drinking. You don’t owe anyone an excuse as to why, but if it would make you feel more comfortable, have a set response prepared such as “I don’t drink”, “I’m designated driver tonight”, or “I’m on medication so I can’t drink”. If socialising with others or being hosted by a family member, friend or partner, talk with them before the event and communicate your concerns or fears about possible triggers. They can ensure they have alcohol free alternatives and support you in processing any of the emotions that may surface over the festive period. Make sure you maintain a good routine by getting up early, getting plenty of rest and eating and taking fluids regularly. It’s important to remember to use healthy coping mechanisms to process any painful emotions that you may experience — try meditating, reading a book, going for a walk, run or bike ride or watching a film. If you’re feeling really low, contact a loved one or a supportive friend and talk through the emotions you’re feeling. If you feel you may relapse, contact help ASAP. It’s important not to isolate yourself and to reach out if you need help.

Stay connected with others if spending Christmas alone:

If you’re spending this Christmas alone, stay connected to and in regular contact with friends and family members by scheduling video chats throughout the day. Spending Christmas alone can also still be really lovely. Make time to do the things that you enjoy — go for a winter walk, watch your favourite Christmas film or take the time to prepare a special meal that you can enjoy. Through doing these things you can make your own traditions. This may help to focus your mind and combat any feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Limit your time spent scrolling on social media:

Social media is an amazing tool for staying connected to family members and can be really useful for feeling close to them if you’re spending Christmas alone. However, it’s important to be mindful of how we’re using social media, particularly the amount of time we’re spending scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. People use social media to present their best selves and only ever share their picture perfect moments. Over the festive period our feeds can become saturated with pictures of huge Christmas dinners, new presents, people’s partners, families, pets etc. Everyone’s circumstances are different and sometimes these images can lead to feelings of inadequacy. However, it’s important to remember that nobody is going to upload a picture about an argument they just had with a family member, or a moment where they felt sad or anxious or stressed. Do not compare your behind the scenes to someone’s highlight reel. If you’d find it easier, delete your social media apps for the duration of the festive period. Or set yourself limits such as only allowing yourself to spend 5 minutes scrolling at one time, or only going on Instagram from 3–4.

Set realistic expectations for your Christmas:

Christmas brings with it an intense pressure to have the perfect day where everything goes smoothly from start to finish. This is an unrealistic expectation because perfection in this sense doesn’t exist. Sometimes things go wrong and it’s completely outside of our control. The image of perfection that we’re shown on our TV screens and social media are also not representative of everyone’s different circumstances. It’s important to remember that we have the power to construct our own personal definition of ‘perfect’ and what the ‘perfect’ Christmas looks like to us. To avoid any feelings of disappointment, we can set realistic benchmarks for our ‘perfect’ Christmas such as: ‘I’d like to go for a winter walk’, ‘I’d like to watch a Christmas film at some point’, ‘I’d like to catch this Christmas special on TV’, ‘I’d like to sit around the table as a family and have a meal’. Setting small, realistic benchmarks will help us to combat feelings of inadequacy or disappointment this Christmas. This may be especially helpful this year with the Covid-19 restrictions radically changing the ways many of us are spending our Christmases.

If you are fearful of spending Christmas with an abusive partner or family member, please reach out to Cardiff Women’s Aid.

  • Call us, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 02920 460 566.
  • Text us, Monday to Friday 9am — 7pm and weekends 9am — 4.30pm on 07727 462 793.
  • Our webchat is available Monday to Friday, 9am — 4pm, at rise-cardiff.cymru
  • You can arrange a convenient time for a video chat by emailing reception@rise-cardiff.cymru. You can also use this email address to access support via email if you’d prefer.
  • Access to peer support is available via our online survivors’ forum. To request to join, email SHOUT@cardiffwomensaid.org.uk
  • Join our free SHOUT workshops for women, to find out more, email SHOUT@cardiffwomensaid.org.uk

- Bethan Gilson, CWA volunteer

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