Surviving Christmas

While Christmas is known for being “the most wonderful time of the year,” it can also be an extremely difficult period for many. Those of us who struggle with mental health, chronic illness, addiction or who have difficult family situations, know this first hand.

We are bombarded with advertisements showing us what “perfect” families/ friends/ couples look like. We’re confronted with hearing about how great everyone else is doing (while we’re maybe not feeling so great about how we’re doing). The focus on food (and the vastness of it) can often cause eating disorder or body image related anxiety. You cannot move a step without seeing alcohol and people partying. There’s people we might feel obligated to see who we’d really rather not… It can be a lot.

I’ve often struggled at Christmas time. I’ve struggled to stay sober when I can smell and see booze EVERYWHERE. I’ve struggled with my mental health; remembering all the parties I used to go to, how social I was, how many friends I used to have. How much of life I have missed and continue to miss due to my illness. I’ve struggled with the urge to make myself sick after eating Christmas lunch because I conflated feeling full with ‘feeling fat,’ and ‘feeling fat’ with ‘being worthless and a bad person.’ I’ve been filled with anxiety and repressed shame because my relatives are homophobic and I sure as fuck ain’t straight. Christmas hasn’t always been a joy but I have always survived it and today I want to share my top tips on doing just that – surviving Christmas.

1. Stay in frequent contact with people who understand. Call, message, DM – make sure you have a support buddy who is going to be there for you. If you don’t feel like you have family or friends who you can talk to, reach out to people online. I have received so much love, support and wisdom from people I’ve met online (and some have now become my best friends). Whether you need to vent, get perspective or advice, or just not feel so alone; I’m sure there will be someone online who would love to hear from you. Please know: You do matter and you are worthy of validation and support.

2. Set Boundaries. Believe it or not you do NOT need to accept every invitation. You do not need to attend every event, even if you feel it is a family/ friend obligation. You decide how you spend your time and energy, nobody else. Do what is best for you. Check in with your body and mind, make sure you are keeping enough energy and sanity for yourself. Examine your motivations – do you actually want to go to this event or is it just fear or obligation that is making you go? If you’d rather be at home watching Christmas movies than out at that office Christmas party – don’t go!

3. Rest. Some people advocate for staying busy and occupied during this season, I think it’s important to remember to rest. If you exhaust yourself you will be more likely to revert back to old, unhealthy behaviour. Remember: You need energy to be resilient! Do what works for you but personally I think this season is busy and stressful enough without putting more on your plate by using ‘busyness’ as a coping strategy.

4. Outsource. Is there a way you can make things easier for yourself by outsourcing? Will anyone notice if you buy the pudding/ roast chicken/ dessert etc instead of making it from scratch? Does it actually matter if they do? Can you ask someone to bring a plate, or help you clean, or do whatever it is that could make your life simpler and easier? It is not weak to ask for help. It is wise and strong to know and use the resources available in order to make life easier.

5. Take a break from social media (if it is making you feel worse). If seeing the many social media posts of people out eating, drinking and partying are making you feel uncomfortable – either think of signing off or perhaps focus your social media time on pages that support you – ie communities that are about body positivity, sobriety, chronic illness, mental health , or funny animal videos, etc.

6. Create a new Christmas tradition all of your own. This can be a way of reclaiming the holiday for yourself. Think of options that will suit where you are in life physically and mentally. You don’t want to choose something that requires a lot of energy and concentration if you don’t currently have that available. Some suggestions could be:

– Watching Christmas movies

– Reading Christmas centred books or fanfiction

– Creating a Christmas songs Playlist (and maybe even having a sing-a-long).

– Decorating the tree in a certain way, or on a certain day, or having certain decorations that go on the tree.

– Making Christmas decorations

– Looking at neighbourhood Christmas lights and decorations

– Baking Christmas goodies

Good luck this Christmas and please know that you are not alone. This season will pass, just like it always does.

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