Keeping your Christmas Sparkle...

Christmas is a time of incredible joy as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, at the same time the festivities themselves can cause real emotional turbulence. Suddenly the normal rhythm of life is overtaken with an array of impending social, family and financial challenges. All this is couched in the need to remain joyful as we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Keeping your festive sparkle in an emotional sense can be a real challenge, for some people the season can be the catalyst for darker and more depressive feelings.

The need to be ‘in good spirits’ as well as charged with energy for ensuing tasks is matched with the lethargy and lowness that is caused by the continual lack of winter sunlight. For many emotionally sensitive individuals healthy lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, walks in bright sunshine and just getting out of the house are all compromised at this time of year. During cold dark Decembers we tend to eat more, drink more and generally look after ourselves less. This combination of poor self care and increasing demands can lead to an emotional deficit which can lead to the common ‘January Blues’ or even depression.

It is exceptionally important that we walk through Christmas with an awareness of the impact of the season, both the weather and the festivities. We need to consider our needs as well as the needs of others. Many people find this time of year unbearable as they are herded, against their will, into family or work contexts that are dynamic and challenging at the best of times. We tend to compromise usually healthy boundaries over Christmas because being the season of ‘Peace and Joy,’ we assume that everyone will become unusually peaceful. Sadly the reality is that more arguments and fall outs happen over Christmas than any other time of year. It is the mismatch of expectations that so often causes us the greatest hurt. Many emotionally sensitive people will find themselves crying not over conflicts themselves, but over the fact that their reality was so far from their ‘White Christmas’ dream.

Expectations are also problematic where finances are concerned. Much emotional strain is caused by the pressure to spend ‘enough’ both in terms of gifts and the cost of entertaining. We all worry about looking stingy or failing to match our family in terms of giving. Of course the reality is that students or unemployed cpeople annot compete with brothers or sisters in full time employment. The result of the perceived need to spend can be debt, guilt, anxiety and low self esteem.

We all need to approach Christmas with hope and optimism, particularly where our faith is concerned. At the same time we do need to recognise that Christmas and the New Year carry high levels of expectation and the potential for serious stress. Sensible emotional preparation can not only make us more resistant to depressive feelings but also enables us to actually focus more intently on the true reasons for our celebrating. Greater objectivity about the complexities we face actually helps us to engage with the simplicity of the Christ of the manger.

Below are a few pointers to help you deal with the festive pressures:

1) Plan your season carefully, including shopping, budgeting and carving out time for yourself and your immediate family.
2) Decide how much time you wish to spend with extended family, let them know in advance and stick to your plan.
3) Avoid over indulging in drink or food, and try and maintain some level of exercise during the festive period.
4) Worship Jesus over Christmas, keeping the focus on Him makes everything worthwhile and eases many tensions.
5) Buy you 2011 diary now and have it with you for quiet moments of looking ahead when the pressure is on.
6) Have realistic expectations of yourself. Treat yourself with compassion and gentleness.
7) Watch Mary Poppins.

I pray that the Prince of Peace, Jesus; the reason for Christmas will show you all love and compassion as you celebrate his birth this year.
Will Van Der Hart, 17/11/2010