Christmas – The Beautiful Fantasy
- Family Support
- Health and Wellbeing
There's no such thing as a perfect holiday season
Society has largely agreed that Christmas is all about love and hope and family and togetherness. Yet, what many of us actually experience at Christmas is far from these ideals. We buy more than we can afford, commit to more than we have energy for, eat and drink to excess, and care for ourselves less than we ideally need. Many of us allow ourselves to be pressured into versions of Christmas that are not really satisfying or nourishing and that leave us feeling the opposite to what we should be feeling at this time: loving, peaceful and full of renewed energy for life. And for those facing complicated family dynamics, isolation, addiction, divorce, or the loss of a loved one, Christmas can be a time of deep loneliness, marred by complex feelings and mental health challenges.
Contrary to how we like to see Christmas, it is usually a time where anxieties, pressures and expectations intensify, and we are vulnerable to abandoning our needs to please others or to manage how overwhelmed we feel. Quick fixes and band-aid solutions leave us exhausted with many of us supported by family and society to make a whole lot of small choices that push us past our limits and ignore our own needs. This is how we unground ourselves, because when it comes to Christmas, the small choices are the big ones. The small choices can determine whether we end up anxious and dysregulated by the collective anxiety of Christmas, or whether we stay solid and settled despite it.
Christmas comes with such a strong push for togetherness - especially family togetherness - that absences, losses, relationship distances and tensions can make this time of year fraught and painful. The pressure to ’be merry’ or to somehow be closer than we actually are to others can be deeply anxiety-provoking for people. Contrary to what we are sold, family reactivity generally goes up at Christmas, not down. Thomas Moore describes family as ‘a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating house of love and pain’ which is true of families on every day of the year, especially, on Christmas Day.
So what do we do when our Christmas departs significantly from the beautiful fantasy?
Just reminding ourselves what families are really like at Christmas, can be grounding and settling. In this way we can accept the truth of our situation, be more of who we are and allow others the freedom to do the same. With more realistic expectations, we are less likely to extend ourselves in ways that don’t fit for us, nor expect others to suddenly become different because its Christmas. When we take this approach love tends to flow more freely, and connection and closeness emerge naturally rather than being forced or imposed.
Caring for others does begin with caring for ourselves. We do this by not only slowing down, breathing more, spending mindfully, eating well, and getting rest, but by saying no, setting boundaries and in some cases limiting time with people or places that are triggering for us.
We don’t cease to be human because it’s Christmas. We continue to have needs and limits, and when we respect them, we begin to care for ourselves and for others in the process.
Know that if you are really struggling with Christmas (or any day of the year) and you need someone to talk to or immediate support, you can reach out to these 24/7 support lines:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636000
Turning Point - 24/7 support 1800 888 236
Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
Byron Private offers an effective pathway to recovery for those struggling with mental health, addictions, and trauma. If you or someone you love is struggling, please reach out to our clinical team for a confidential discussion on 02 6684 4145 or via our online contact form.