How to deal with the pressure of the ‘perfect Christmas’

Categories: School of Health and Society
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As the Omicron variant spreads, people around the UK are once again trying to plan for an uncertain festive period.

This year restrictions are, so far, more relaxed than they were last year, meaning that people can choose to see as many friends and family over the break as they want to. But with cases again on the rise as the Omicron variant circulates, some people may be concerned about the risks of mixing. 

For others, the quieter celebrations of last year may have been a relief, and they may feel worried about the pressure being piled back on this year. Survey results suggest that around 39% of people will do more to celebrate Christmas this year, making up for lost time during Covid with a bigger and better party this time around. 

Dr Ashley Weinberg, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Salford, offers his top tips on how to manage your mental wellbeing, however you’re feeling about the festive season.

  • If you’re feeling concerned about the rise in coronavirus cases and are unable to be together, try to find a Covid-safe way to do something festive, whether it's having a sing-along over the phone, playing charades in a park/open space, getting out for a walk and simply chatting, or raising a glass or two on an online chat or video call.
  • Expect the unexpected and focus on appreciating things we might usually take for granted. Positive psychologists encourage us to spend more time focussing on things that are going well, rather than on what's going wrong. It is possible that your plans may have to change at short notice (for instance if further restrictions are introduced, or one of your loved ones is unwell or needs to self-isolate) which is naturally a source of frustration and concern. Sometimes it can help to try to find and focus on positives, such as what you have been able to do this year despite everything, as well as coming up with your own plan B to rearrange getting together for when things are safer.
  • Try to see material things in a new light. This year more than ever, perhaps true Christmas spirit is just about appreciating being together in whatever way we can, exchanging wishes and making plans for the New Year. For those who have experienced the worst of the pandemic, festivals such as Christmas can be a particularly challenging time of year, so finding ways to be in touch can make all the difference. 
  • Finally, try to keep an eye on neighbours or maybe reach out to someone who you know is alone over the festive season – even if it is just to say 'Hi'. You could make a huge difference to their day, and might even make yourself feel a little better too. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our own wellbeing is to help cheer the spirits of others.

Dr Mark Widdowson, Senior Lecturer in Counselling & Psychotherapy at the university, agrees. “Every year at Christmas we place a lot of expectation on people, talking about what we should and shouldn't do to try and make everything perfect. This year things may be even more heightened as we expect festivities to be bigger and better than usual too.

“Try to tone down your expectations – just because it's Christmas doesn't mean everyone will be nice and get along all of the time. While lots of people may have really missed spending time with family and friends and be looking forward to seeing each other, it's important to understand that being together for a few days is likely to be stressful and you may find you need your own space at times.

“If you do find yourself getting irritated or anxious, have a break and take some slow, deep breaths. This breathing exercise may help: slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of four, gently hold your breath for a count of two and slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of six. Repeat this 10-20 times, to give your body time to settle back to normal. Be patient, as it often takes a few minutes of breathing slowly for you to feel the benefit of it.

“Whatever your plans for Christmas just try to enjoy the break, stay safe and don't feel that you have to do everything – be kind to yourself!”

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