The giver’s holiday survival guide

Mental Health

Christmas may be the season of giving, but that doesn’t mean you should burn yourself out. Follow these tips to find balance this year

At this time of year, there’s a lot of pressure to make the holidays a magical time for everyone. We don’t want to let anyone down, and yet wonder if we’re going to get to the end of the season needing another holiday!

It can feel like you are being pulled in every direction – by family expectations, the financial pressure of finding perfect gifts, making sure everyone is having a good time, and finding it hard to say ‘no’ to requests – and that can quickly become overwhelming. Here are some simple steps to harnessing a sense of peace over the holiday period.

Master ‘the pause’

If you find that you automatically say ‘yes’ to any request, next time someone asks you, inject a pause. Breathe. This is enough for your conscious mind to recognise you have a choice.

In many cases, you don’t need to give an instant reply. You can let the pause become a delay by saying something like: “I’ll get back to you on that” or “I need some further information from you about that.” This gives you time to check in with yourself about what you really think and feel, and how you actually want to respond.

The automatic ‘yes’ often comes from trying to avoid feeling guilty when we say ‘no’. You can handle that feeling, and know you must take care of yourself first.

Illustration of person holding present

Illustration | Rosan Magar

Forget expectations

Other people will have expectations, but you don’t have to adhere to them. Even more so, you may have burdensome expectations for yourself. You may over-commit yourself, or expect that you won’t get angry with the same relative who annoys you every year.

Expectations can set you up for disappointment, so try to re-frame them as preferences. Instead of: “I expect to have a phone call with my father on Christmas Day” it becomes: “I would prefer it if I had a telephone call with my father on Christmas Day.”

Ask for help

You may be used to helping others, and yet feel you shouldn’t have any needs, or that no one wants to help. Most people do want to help, but they may worry that they’re interfering if they offer, or figure that you will ask if you need help. Remember that other people can’t read your mind, and if you need help, please ask for it. There is a good chance you will get the help you need, and you won’t feel resentful about having to do it all on your own afterwards.

Remember to turn that wonderful attention that you give to everyone else towards yourself

Put self-care at the top of your list

Remember to turn that wonderful attention you give to everyone else towards yourself, and to ask yourself every day: ‘What do I need?’ Then, make sure you meet that need. It could be rest, chatting with a friend, going to bed on time, and so on.

This will help you to avoid running on empty, and will instead mean that when you do give to others, it will be from a place of fulfilment.

Take the good and leave the rest

Enjoy your favourite Christmas show that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Even if the parsnips are burnt, take pleasure in the rest of the meal.

Maybe your family is dysfunctional. You can still feel touched by the conversation you had with your mother about her life growing up. You can still enjoy witnessing your nephew learning to walk.

You can look out at the sky, the clouds, the stars. They are always there for you. Sure, some things won’t go to plan. But you can still take the good from it all, and leave the rest.


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