Christmas - More Stress than Santa?

So, it is here, the time of year I love, but have battled with over the years. 

Why?

It is kind of like the perfect storm of all that is good, but also of all that is a button pusher for me.

1.  I love the family downtime aspect. I love playing games, monopoly, cricket or pool wars. I love the christmas cocktails, new desserts to be tried and exotic salads to be devoured. This is juxtaposed with my anxiety about getting together with family when I have been really depressed. It has been a battle at times to "show up"

2. Christmas Giving - I love shopping for gifts, I love cooking things, but I especially love wrapping gifts. I don't feel Christmas has started until I have settled on a Christmas theme for gift wrapping. Once this important first world problem has been sorted, I can then continue with Christmas. However, over the years, with the ebb and flow of our business Christmas has been a source of much financial stress. There have been many years, where it was hard to see how money would be found for our own children, when all other gifts for others had been sorted, bills had been paid, staff had been paid - you get the picture. It was foul.

3. Reflection. I love the opportunity to sit and be still. I have always found time over the Christmas period to sit and ponder things. Candles, Christmas lights and Christmas Eve Mass have a tendency to do that to me. I don't have a negative for this.

So why the down? Why has Christmas been less Santa and more Stress for me in the past?.

I have thought about the post for a little while, because I really get how Christmas, a source of so much happiness for so many people, can be a very lonely, stressful and sad time for many.

For me I have summed it up into 3 things

Expectations, Finances and Traditions.

EFT for short (because yes there is an awful lot of that at this time of year)

Expectations

This is the killer of all fun. If your brain is wired like mine things you one of two ways. You only see the negative in everything, so you worry a lot before anything actually happens. 

or

You expect that Christmas will be amazing, maybe 'Miracle on 34th Street' worthy - and instead of letting it just happen, you build it up so much in your head, that the actual reality is at odds with imagination. 

So rather than letting things unfold, I imagine what will happen,  with my control freak hat on, everything needs to exactly meet my definition of Christmas. This leads to a big funk on boxing day as well as niggles and frustration all day on Christmas Day that detracts from my enjoyment.

This leads nicely into my next area Traditions. Expectation also has significant part to play here - i.e. I expect people to have my tradition.

Traditions

When you are a kid, Christmas is just that Christmas.

How your family does Christmas is how everyone does Christmas. You don't really care about how other people do anything, you just go with the flow, oblivious to the undercurrent or otherwise of expectations adults bring to the traditions of the day. 

When you grow up and start to share Christmas with other people - i.e your inlaws, or friends, you can start to see that your idea of Christmas is not everyone else's idea of Christmas. Simple things are different, Christmas lollies are not the same family to family, Rules of engagement are different when it comes to food, to presents to the flow of the day. And that is just before 8am. 

On more serious matters, it can also be a day that brings up painful memories, feelings of loneliness, sadness family tensions. It can often proceed in a haze of overwhelm when you are feeling blue. The need to be with people and have them notice - is often juxtaposed with an unbelievable urge to RUN AWAY. The crowd of people not aware of how you are feeling in that moment can be quite devastating.

For me, the last 6 or so years have been more about resignation. Resignation that I want it to be different, but it just isn't. I want a certain tradition, that I am slowly coming to understand it is Ok to not have. I am very very slowly managing and understanding expectations. 

Because my EXPECTATIONS of Christmas TRADITIONS is getting in the way of actually enjoying Christmas. I can't control how other people see things, do things or react to things. I can only control how I see, do and react to things. 

By focussing unhealthy attention on how other people behave, I miss out on how I am behaving and feeling. This also feeds that voice in my head, the little control freaky voice that only serves to tip the balance into the negative. So I made it worse for me - I just contributed to that urge to RUNAWAY. 

And how does that help anything? I am trying ever so hard to channel my inner Elsa and just let it go!

Finances

So as I am typing this out, the news is on, with a news stories about people shopping for Christmas. It seems earlier and earlier we are fed a diet of news stores about consumer sentiment at this time of year. 

No wonder we all can get caught up in the SPEND mentality of Christmas.

But I am not about to pretend for one second that I don't enjoy buying gifts at Christmas. I do. I love buying presents for people. It makes me feel good.

So consequently when things have been very tight, this was a huge source of stress at this time of year. I am sure that it has wrecked Christmas for my husband in many ways. The want to buy gifts for your kids balanced with the huge weight of providing for your family and others when you run a business. As a business owner there are many many times you ride the cash rollercoaster and none more edge of seat, nail biting, bloodcurdling screaming than the christmas cash crunch. 

If you are a family that normally earns enough but watches everything, Christmas is a time of stress, a significant time of stress. It just is.

I am not for one minute going to pretend that you should just say 'but it is not about the gifts'. Many people who do not understand what not having enough money to hand often say that, when for them they have a choice to spend or not spend at Christmas. For others, this is not a choice, this is a reality. Feelings of failure, feelings of inadequacy are rife. People just want to be like 'everybody else'

I know for me, this time of year was often a really bleak time of holding your breathe and hoping that as the countdown to christmas was on that things would happen, just in time and christmas would happen. 

This sense of failure - because that is what it feels like, is strong. 

You just hang on.

You just set budgets.

You light your little tea lights and sit and watch them in the evening.

You cook and give food in cute jars. You lower your expectations of others and be kind on yourself.

You grit your teeth when people don't understand, and you read Dr Suess. 

 

We can get so very caught up with an idea of Christmas, that coupled with the end of year rush to finish things, see people, do stuff, make stuff and buy stuff that we fail to see Christmas.

A little baby, in a stable with a simple message of love. 

Hold onto that idea of Christmas.