Managing Stress at Christmas

For me, this is the time of year I take stock, and reflect on the year that’s passed, and plan for the year to come. As I thought about what to write for this article, I reflected on some of the Christmases for our family while my son was unwell. I also thought about isolation – a much experienced situation for 2020. My thoughts led me to the conclusion, that for myself and my son, there were several Christmases where I felt we were isolated.

I am blessed with a wonderful extended family, and Christmas is very special for all of us. But as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) was not well understood in the mid naughties, it was hard for those who only saw my son across a few hours at a time to understand he was ill. Sadly, there is still a lack of knowledge about the condition, which means there are still sufferers who may feel isolated, even when surrounded by those who love them.

If you are in this situation, here are my thoughts on what may improve your Christmas experience:

  • Acceptance – You will not be able to change people’s perceptions in a day. If you are challenged about CFS by a family member, be prepared, have some references on hand about the illness, and suggest, if interested they may like to look at these. For example, refer them to . Emerge is a support group for people with CFS, and should have articles and information to answer most questions. Take questions posed by family as coming from a place of interest and concern and answer accordingly.
  • Kindness – This is along similar lines, responding from a place of kindness, not only treats the questioning family member with respect, it diminishes your stress. Acting out of kindness has been shown to provide all sorts of positive health benefits. So being kind to others, is a way of being kind to yourself. For more information I recommend the book by Dr David Hamilton, ‘The Five Side Effects of Kindness’. If you are curious, the side effects of kindness are – makes you happier, improves relationships, is good for the heart, slows aging and is contagious.
  • Forgiveness – Most people who haven’t been touched by CFS have no way to relate to those who are experiencing it every day; this is understandable. After all, so much of what the sufferer experiences is invisible to the casual observer. While I recommend reaching out to those who can offer the support you need, forgiving those who cannot is another kindness to yourself.
  • Food – Food can be a challenging issue at Christmas.  A sense of connection and belonging to family is often forged through traditions of sharing holiday meals, and when new ways of eating are introduced, this can potentially be confronting for some family members. If you are aiming to improve your family’s health through better nutrition and are wondering what approach to take to Christmas here are a couple of approaches which may help:
    •  For Christmas day put aside your dietary restrictions (if it is safe to do so) and enjoy the day guilt free. Guilt free is important, as guilt creates unnecessary stress, defeating the purpose of adopting the strategy in the first place; so, make the decision and enjoy it for what it is. If you are concerned that one day could turn into several, I suggest sharing your plan for getting back into a healthy routine with a trusted friend you can be accountable to. Being accountable to someone increases motivation, as you are more likely to meet you goals when you are accountable to a friend, a group or a coach. Your accountability buddy is not there to judge, but to motivate, discuss any obstacles you encounter and provide the space for a learning opportunity for you to get back on track.   
    • The other approach is to stick to your healthy eating. This is what I do these days. It is still a very special day, with special food, but my whole extended family now eat some version of whole food diet so the food we surround ourselves with is nutritious and delicious. This was not always the case, and for a while I was the crazy relative who chose not to eat some of the traditional treats. If you are the host, managing the food is easier as there are plenty of healthy Christmas recipes available on the internet – if you are not hosting, offer to bring some Christmas treats, and let the hosts know your dietary requirements, so they won’t be expecting you to dig into all the foods they prepare and can cater accordingly.
  • De-stress – Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace, love and joy. I suggest approaching it with that intent. Starting the morning with a meditation or mindfulness session will create a more resilient foundation to your day. If you are new to meditation or mindfulness refer to my article on stress management. For the rest of the day, remember gentle breathing exercises can be carried out anywhere anytime. If you are feeling stressed a simple breathing pattern to de-stress is to breath in through the nose for the count of four and out for the count of six, repeat for as long as you feel comfortable doing so – keep it slow and gentle and focus on the air filling from the bottom of your lungs.

I hope these approaches are of use to you, they may even act as a catalyst for your own ideas which better suit you and your situation. Some form of planning ahead for any non-routine event allows for a more considered approach and can lead to reducing obstacles and increasing positive outcomes. I wish all my readers a merry Christmas (happy holidays), and a happy New Year.

If you’d like more information about how health coaching can help you make meaningful lifestyle changes that work best for your values, strengths and circumstance contact Annette for a discovery chat.

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