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December 20, 2019

how to survive christmas

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a guide to getting through christmas

By Ella Bowman, guest blogger

Christmas, for those in its grasp, can be a high-octane time, as many of us know. Surges of sugar, alcohol, probing questions from family, emotions: and all wrapped up in the often misleading ribbon of ‘a nice break.’ Here we’ve got some tips that we hope will help you equip yourself for the season. It’s a whopper! Longer than a metre of Toblerone, this.

drink water

Tests have shown that even mild dehydration can alter a person’s mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly. Crisps, sweet treats, alcohol: it’s an especially indulgent time of year so don’t forget to stay hydrated. It can fuel anxiety, so if you’re prone, then be especially sure to keep yourself topped up.

make your bed

Each day, before you let Yuletide fever overwhelm you, make your bed. Not only will it help you change the world, but it’s a quick win, will reward you later, and sometimes, like Emma Thompson in that scene of Love, Actually, it’s those little moments alone during which you can regroup.

carve out time for yourself, gently

What are each day’s plans? Moot the idea of taking a break from the fray with your family at a reasonable point in the day -- nap, read a book, get some fresh air. Unless you’re at an especially low ebb, and getting out of bed isn’t an option, then it’s good to choose your moment. Not when everyone’s opening presents or offering to help the chef, but after lunch, or when everyone’s being swallowed by sofas. It’s nice to have a break to look forward to, a time when you won’t have to cook, to wash up, to clash over Brexit. Your own time.

... and remember that everyone’s time is their own

Some people will turn into their inner sulky teen at Christmas (not me. Not since last Christmas). Often there’s one elected elder spearheading the day’s plans: it means a lot to them that everyone’s together, helping out, maybe even going to church. That everyone’s generally showing enthusiasm for this joyous occasion.

Ah, but this can feel suffocating to those that aren’t enthusiastic about spending a day in the same space with the same people (even if they are family. Maybe especially because they are, god love ‘em). Help!

But you can look at it another way. If you’re following the general plan, remember that the ringleader is wanting the best outcome for everyone and that, instead of feeling forced into a strict schedule, you can choose to participate as a gift to them: reframing your participation so you feel more in control of your day. ‘I’m helping because it means a lot to you’ feels better than ‘I’m helping because you’re forcing me to.’

On the other hand, if you’re organising the day then remember that people have lots going on. At this time of year, intense emotions can bubble up in the tradition and nostalgia of it all. Don’t take others’ behaviour to heart. You’re doing the best you can and it’s been a long year for everyone (2019! What a hoot!). This is where Christmas TV can help: collective escapism from reality. Thank you, Richard Curtis.

challenging characters

People, remarks, opinions: not all of them will align with you. There’s no sweeter revenge than forgiveness, though, and they have their own issues, which may be why they take it out on you. Remember you don’t have to actively contribute to an escalating debate. What will you achieve? Why don’t you take out the recycling and be glad there’s a front door to escape out of? Know that you’re not the only person out there with frustrations like these.

drink more water

Seriously, (I know it’s boring).

recall the good, if painful, memories and make new ones

When people get together it makes it all the more apparent if there are gaps in the headcount: people that aren’t around, for whatever reason. Be gentle with yourselves. Remember the good memories, and make new ones in honour of those that are away or who have died.

A recent scientific discovery this is not: crying’s just saltwater coming out of your tear ducts. With this in mind I say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ and, ‘Cry away, if you need to.’ Defy the shame or others’ embarrassment (poor mites!), accept the saltwater (seriously, what’s the big deal?) and maybe even laugh gently about it. Christmas can be a rough time of year. (If no-one’s cried over their breakfast mimosas, then is it even Christmas?)

And if you’re alone at Christmas, then make your own traditions. Give bits of your day structure: pyjamas are great if you’re indulging yourself, but don’t let them trap you into feeling glum. Leave the house and you’ll find there are some people out and about willing to share encouraging smiles. Or maybe you can share yours because, well, maybe they’re the ones that need it. Equally, feel glum: that’s fine, too. It’s just a day, and you will have better ones.

other people’s christmases

Torpor will likely hit you, and it might coincide with looking at other people’s dreamy Christmases on social media.

Don’t prosecute yourself with guesses about how great other people’s lives are and how bad yours is by made-up comparison. This is one day! Two, maybe. You’re fine slobbing around if you feel like it. Most people aren’t having a perfect time. Some are. Some Christmases are better than others. You’ll get your turn.

So they’ve got a magazine-ready house and the perfect-seeming family. Allow them their celebration. Christmas isn’t the one day we have to measure ourselves against everyone else: if you’ve had The Greatest Christmas it’s not at the expense of others’. So you’ve had an okay Christmas but you’re not on a family walk at the beach? You don’t lose. We’re all ordinary and we’re all special. Another science-backed fact, that.

And if that doesn’t help, then think of me, reverting to my teenage self again this year (let’s be realistic), and be glad you’re not that sulky, that selfish, and that hell-bent on attention-seeking. I absolve you of your demons, for I am the worst of us all.

be thoughtful

Is there someone you could drop a text to and wish them a Happy Christmas? A friend not expecting to hear from you; a colleague who will appreciate it; someone vulnerable at this time of year: something you could try giving a whirl to see how good it makes you feel? I really think it will.

You could sign up for the Be My Eyes app, which connects sighted people to those with vision impairments, to help them in their day-to-day. Whether it’s helping answer questions like ‘what colour is this shirt?’ or ‘what does this Christmas card say?’ or maybe you are yourself visually impaired and need help with your Christmas shopping: it’s an uplifting experience for everyone involved.

Maybe, too, get in touch with your local Dog’s Trust and see if they need volunteers over the break.

Or go and litter pick as an excuse to get out of the house. Please do this past my house.

paws for thought

I asked Ashley at Paws in Work what recommendations he would make for Christmas, and he responded with his customary thoughtfulness:

Christmas is about stopping and taking a step back. A good time of year to find a bit of time to realign on the things that are important to you, whether that’s surrounding yourself with family and friends or being in your local pub alone, dog at your feet, soaking up the atmosphere of ill-advised Christmas jumpers and others’ questionable singing.

‘Reflect on your achievements. It can be easy to say, ‘What could I have done better?’ and ‘What can I change for next year?’ Try instead to reflect on the positive: ‘What have I done well?’; ‘What pushed me out of my comfort zone?’; and ‘Who have I helped?’

‘And, finally, whilst you are reflecting on the year you’ve had, remember that some people are finding this time of year really hard. Asking, ‘How’s your year been?’ can go a long, long way.’

We’ve not mentioned the puppies here. The Paws in Work team’s off for Christmas now, resting up before the excitement the new year will bring, the new litters they’ll help to socialise, the companies they’ll meet with their forward-thinking wellness programmes, the charities they’ll be supporting through their various fundraising and initiatives... If you’re wanting more puppy content (and to be on the more cheerful and relaxing side of social media), then I recommend you check out the Paws in Work Instagram. It’s how I’ll recommend my family cope with my tantrums this Christmas. Here we go...

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