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Changing Our Expectations to Enjoy the Festive Season

By Dr Sima Patel

“Christmas is not a date. It is a state of mind.” – Mary Ellen Chase

The holidays can be a time of joy, cheer, and gratitude; they can also be really challenging and stressful. On the one hand there is the increasing pressure on buying gifts and expensive ones at that. There is also a heightened emphasis on being part of a perfect relationship or perfect family. On the other hand there are a vast number of people struggling to make ends meet on a daily and weekly basis let alone having the funds to buy additional gifts and food. There are also people that feel acutely alone at this time of the year and who experience an overwhelming yearning for comfort, security and safety with loved family and friends but who do not necessarily have key people in their lives to gain this comfort. So it is clear that some people will thrive during the festive season and some people will feel acute sadness and grief and many will fluctuate between the two extremes at any moment in time.

Expectations at all levels increase and yet human beings have to somehow protect themselves against disappointment at this time of the year. So how can we modify our expectations from high to moderate and even low in order to enjoy the festive season as much as is possible for each individual that we are? The following strategies may be helpful to you:

Instead of buying gifts, could you give the gift of ‘doing something kind for someone’ over the coming months or year. This could be a household chore or agreeing to visit someone each week or month to keep them company or fix something for someone or teach them a helpful skill or agree to lend someone something for a period of time. Research shows that doing something kind for someone benefits both the giver and the recipient.

Accept the situation and try to find other ways of enjoying the festive season: Rather than spending all of your energy on feeling alone or sad, try to think of who is around you that you can enjoy the festive season with, agree to spend time with them and cherish and enjoy their company. Many sports events now take place on Christmas day so even if you do not want to enter the sport, just watching can enable you to have a sense of feeling light and at least having a laugh or two. More social venues are now also open during the festive season so there are always people to be around.

If the meal is not perfect, try to laugh it off rather than feel bad or guilty.
Try to lighten up your mood by watching a funny film, recalling funny moments in your life, listening to or watching your favourite comedian, spending time with people who make you laugh, telling jokes and encourage others to do so as well.

Reflect on some good moments that you have had during the year. The following questions may help you to warm your heart and feel a sense of contentment:

  • Who has meant the most to me during the good and bad times?
  • What have I done to help others this year?
  • Where do I find my strength?
  • Who are the key people in my life that I want to be thankful for this year?
  • Who has pleasantly surprised me this year?
  • What was my biggest lesson learned this year?
  • Is my life aligned with my values?
  • What’s one thing I want to change for next year?

Enjoy the outdoors even if it is grey, cold, wet and windy. It will help you to feel so much better to have had fresh air and then return to warmth and comfort. Just seeing other people outdoors doing their own thing means that you are not indoors feeling alone and sad.

Life is rarely perfect and when it is, it tends to be momentary. So do what you can to increase those moments of feeling good over the festive season. The holidays are a time for connection, joy, and camaraderie. If you take care of yourself, you can increase your chance of not only enjoying the season more thoroughly, but you’ll also make the holiday season enjoyable for those around you.

Finally, thank you to everyone at the magazine who have allowed me to share my thoughts throughout this year and for helping to make our community a better place.

Dr Sima Patel Chartered Psychologist and Coach

15 New Road | Brighton | East Sussex | BN1 1UF Telephone: 01273 803 013

Posted in Wellbeing Practice on Dec 01, 2016