With 2020 finally coming to an end (can I get a Hallelujah?) and Christmas just around the corner, I think we could all probably do with some self-kindness this festive season.
Christmas can be a difficult time of year. Let alone when we’re in the midst of a pandemic. So many people are going through financial hardship and struggling with mental health due right now. It’s little wonder that some parents say they ‘would avoid Christmas if they could’ this year.
The past 11 months have been a rollercoaster (if not a complete sh*t show) for many. I know I’m not alone in wanting to write this year off and look ahead to 2021.
But hopefully, for most of us, we can salvage this last part of 2020 by focusing on what’s really important. If there’s anything this year has shown us, it’s what we truly value in life.
What’s most important
One good thing that has come out of this year. We’re seeing a shift towards valuing our time and our mental health over money and ‘productivity’. (We call it this but a lot of the time we’re busy for busy’s sake, which is anything but productive.)
I’ve been working on slowing down and simplifying my life for the past five years. Learning to reject busyness and live with more intention. I’m certain that the changes I’ve made over the years have helped my family and me cope more easily with what’s been thrown at us this year.
I want to share some of the things that have helped me most, especially when dealing with anxiety and stress.
So here are 5 tips to help you have a magical Christmas without all the worry and hassle it can often bring.
These may not work for everybody and I’m not a medical professional (if you are struggling with your mental health, please talk to your GP) but if this post helps just one person then it’s worth my time writing it.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others
Comparing yourself to others, whether it’s people you know or strangers on the internet, is likely to leave you with negative feelings about yourself and your life.
Social media in particular, encourages us to share only the good. We rarely, if ever, share the bad (or even the average). When you see that Instagram post about someone’s perfect day or pristine home, remember you’re only seeing what they want you to see. What’s off camera or missing from the caption might be an altogether different story.
And even if they do have their sh*t together as much as it looks like they do, they may have taken years to get to that point. Besides, I guarantee they still have good and bad days, just like everyone else.
If you struggle with this, I strongly urge you to reduce the amount of time you spend on it. You might consider removing the apps from your phone, tablet etc, even if only for a few weeks.
I also think it’s important we don’t compare ourselves to previous versions of ourselves. If you’ve been hit hard by the pandemic, be that financially or mentally (or both), it’s likely you’re not going to be able to ‘do’ Christmas to the same level you would normally.
But perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps a slower, simpler Christmas with less fuss and less stuff (so less waste) is just what’s needed.
2. Put yourself first
This is one of the first things I work on with my clients. Making sure they are dedicating enough time to themselves and meeting their own needs.
By ‘needs’ I mean more than just what we need to survive – food, water, shelter etc. I’m talking about whatever it is that refreshes, centres and fuels you. A walk in the countryside, intimacy with your partner, dancing your socks off or reading a good book.
These needs are too often pushed to the side, so that we can tend to the needs of others – be they family, friends, employers or the wider community.
If you don’t take care of yourself and make your wellbeing a priority, then eventually you are going to burn out. And that’s not going to help anybody.
Christmas is a time where we focus on kindness and giving to others. Of course, I’m wholeheartedly for this (and not just at Christmas).
However, because we give more of ourselves than we might be at other times of the year, it’s even more essential that we show ourselves the same kindness and stop to refill our own cup.
Make sure that you’re spending time each day on what you need to recharge. Even as little as 15 minutes a day can make all the difference.
3. Get outdoors
One of the things that helps me to recharge and re-centre is getting out doors into nature.
According to the charity Mind, spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
Being outside in natural light can also help if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are usually more apparent and severe during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).
Getting outdoors into nature doesn’t have to mean going for a long walk in the countryside. If you can’t easily access the countryside, look for green spaces closer to home, such as parks and public gardens. Even your own garden, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
I try to get outside every day, whatever the weather, for my own benefit as well as my 3-year-old daughter’s. It’s always nicer when it’s sunny but, even when it’s wet, I feel so much better after getting out of the house.
And when you’re out, take your time. Look around. Listen to the birds. Feel the sun (or the rain) on your face.
Be present in the moment – and leave your mobile phone at home if you can.
4. Practice gratitude
As trite as it might sound, there is true power in practicing gratitude.
Especially in these strange times, it can be so easy to focus on the negatives. Acknowledging and actively being thankful for all the good in our lives can give us perspective and lift us out of a low mood. If done consistently, it can help us stay motivated.
Of course, I’m not saying it can combat depression (as I’ve said, if you’re struggling please talk to your GP). However, practicing gratitude on a daily basis can have a significant positive effect on our mental health.
Find a time of the day when you can remove yourself from distractions. Spend some time reflecting on what you feel grateful for. Try to be consistent by doing it daily.
I usually recommend writing down 2 or 3 things that you feel most grateful for right in that moment. This helps to keep it from becoming repetitive or forced.
Nothing is too small or insignificant to be worthy of making the list. Sometimes acknowledging the seemingly little things in life can have a more profound effect on our outlook than focusing on the obvious.
5. Buy less
We’re conditioned to think we need a lot of stuff to be happy. The latest gadgets, fashion, etc. – and shopping can be addictive.
When we shop, our bodies release greater amounts of dopamine, which makes us feel good and so we keep shopping. But that high doesn’t last and we often feel guilty afterwards, driving the need for another dopamine fix.
It’s a cycle of consumerism that leaves us out of pocket, drains the planet of its resources and doesn’t bring any true joy or value into our lives.
While buying Christmas presents for our loved ones might bring us joy, do these gifts bring joy to the recipients?
I’m sure some do. However, according to a YouGov poll, 57% of those who celebrate Christmas receive at least one unwanted gift per year. That’s an estimated 60 million unwanted gifts sitting in cupboards collecting dust or potentially ending up in landfill.
This is why one of my top tips for having a greener Christmas is to give experience gifts. Personally, I think giving someone the chance to learn a new skill or make exciting memories beats any physical gift. And, if it does end up being unwanted, at least it won’t give the recipient the hassle (and guilt) of having to rehome it.