Despite all the glitter and bonhomie, the Christmas season can be anything but relaxing. The festive season comes with expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying luxurious celebrations and gifts, but the reality is often quite different. We find ourselves struggling to be jovial at all times. There is the constant worry of overspending our budget, combined with the stress of finding the right present for everyone.
For those of you who are single, this strained atmosphere can bring to the surface deeply buried feelings of loneliness and social inadequacy. If you have recently lost someone dear to you, the festive celebrations can bring back memories of happier times lost forever. This forced expectation to be happy and cheerful can magnify states of anxiety and depression, so it is not surprising that the reported rates of attempted suicides rise drastically during that period every single year.
So what can be done to make to make this difficult time more enjoyable for everyone involved.
I know how you feel because I have been struggling with Christmas for decades. Since this season is a minefield of potential obstacles to enjoyment, I have learnt that having some coping strategies in place beforehand can make a big difference.
On the financial side, we can reduce our spending by making a common family decision to only buy gifts for the kids, or we can agree together on a set budget for presents. We can also cut costs significantly on Christmas Day by getting everyone to bring a plate of food.
Dealing with family tension is a little more difficult. As we all know, being related doesn’t mean we all get along. This can create a lot of anxiety on the big day.
First of all, it might be a good idea to limit the overall expectations.
You could be surprised, but let’s face it, it will probably not be the highlight of your year. After all, Christmas should really be a special time for the kids, so the focus should be on making it very special for them.
Dealing with other adults is a little different. One should try to stay clear of the controversial topics that have triggered conflicts in the past.
Alcohol increases feelings of stress, anxiety and depression once the initial bubbles of euphoria have dissipated. Moderating alcohol consumption when children are around is always a good idea but it is especially important on Christmas Day since excessive drinking always seems to stir up simmering underlying conflicts amongst relatives.
For those of us who don’t have family or friends around, Christmas Day can present a unique challenge to avoid loneliness.
Of course, we can stay in touch with relatives over the phone or the Internet, but I have found in the past that volunteering to spend the day in a shelter helping others was the best way to lift my spirit. I had to make connections with people I didn’t know and it made me feel better knowing I was making a little contribution to others.
It is also important to realise that our Christmas anxiety is often the expression of long term underlying issues that have to be resolved.
Sometimes we struggle to find reasons to be cheerful. Coming to terms with another year gone by can be confronting, but it is also an opportunity to start again afresh with a blank slate.
How can we improve our lifestyle to make our lives more enjoyable next year?
For example, stress and anxiety can gradually build up during the year without us noticing how much it is affecting our family and ourselves. While organising time to exercise and eat properly can be very beneficial for our mental health, we often need something extra to get us back on top of things while staying clear of recreational or prescription drugs.
This is where acupuncture can be helpful.
Medical research has shown that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system and triggers the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional wellbeing.
It can specifically benefit anxiety disorders by acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010; Hui 2009).
Of course, when the problem is chronic, acupuncture alone might not be enough to get you back on the right track.There are registered psychologists who have been trained to help people struggling with anxiety and depression. They have developed strategies that can help you overcome the obstacles that are dragging you down.
So don’t let the festive spirit get you down, and develop your own Christmas plan of action beforehand. Remember that you are not on your own. Knowing that there is help available if you need it can make a lot of difference.
Merry Christmas after all!
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com