It’s a time like no other in the calendar year. A time when the whole world goes a little tipsy on holiday cheer, joyful expectation, family madness, and a touch of goodwill.
This global high brings people together, opens hearts and makes the whole world seem a little rosier for a time. Or does it? It seems there can often be a post-Christmas downer, with people reeling from family dramas, overspending, and the physical manifestation of too many mince pies, glasses of bubbly or celebratory dinners.
There is so much to embrace about this time of year–the fervour of giving, celebrating family and friends, communities coming together and the expression of loving kindness to all. It seems our hearts open a little wider; we are more generous with ourselves, with our thoughts, our words, our actions, and peace seems possible in this haze of oxytocin-filled wonder. And then it’s like the happy music skids to a tuneless end as the hope comes crashing down and ‘reality’ strikes once more. Psychologists say that the stress and anxiety in the lead up to Christmas tips many usually happy people over the edge into depression.
Studies show that there is a psychologically protective effect for people feeling depressed or vulnerable, with a reduction in self-harm suicides and alcohol-related fatalities, during the lead up to Christmas, but then a spike in these issues directly after the holidays. Statistics show that over 40% of the population just feels exhausted and inadequate. The biggest stress, it seems, comes from trying to meet the Christmas dream, to have your Christmas be like the movie version, along with the perfect family, angelic children, supportive parents, overflowing bank account, and beautiful country home.
So is there a way to ride the high and ameliorate the pending lows of this time of year?
Embracing the Middle Way
In Buddhism, there is a teaching–and some say it is the epitome of Buddhism–which is to embrace the middle way. This describes the path that transcends and reconciles the duality characterising most thinking. While it is referring to a spiritual pathway, I think it can be successfully applied to the holiday crazies as a strategy to support people in coming out the other side of December feeling balanced, happy and unscathed.
The Middle Way is the rejection of extremes. Perceiving the inherent dignity of all life–your own and those of others–is a wonderful starting point when considering the holidays. This path does not equate to society’s definition of what may be accepted or considered ‘normal’ and instead, it transcends the personal, connecting with something more fundamental; our basic humanity. So instead of getting caught up in the ‘shoulds’ and the collective demands of our materialistic society around Christmas, we detach from it and come back to our hearts; to what is right for us and our families, and to what really matters in life, and make our choices from there.
Any extremes are going to end in tears. Extreme eating, extreme drinking, or partying–along with extreme pressures and extreme spending–are a surefire recipe for disaster. Walking the middle path will keep you steady and peaceful through this time of excess. The middle path is one of moderation, and is regarded as the first teaching the Buddha delivered after he awakened. The middle way is the solid path between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification.
The Middle Path for Christmas Time
Here are a few important points to consider that will help you avoid the possible pain of the holidays:
- Keep it simple – Lower your expectations of yourself, and of others. Many people find the endless parties, gatherings–not to mention the expense of presents and entertaining–utterly overwhelming. Less is more, and this is never truer than at this time of the year. Embrace quality over quantity. Soulful gifts and quality time with close friends and family are far better for you than attending every party.
- Stop people pleasing and look after yourself – Taking time for yourself benefits everyone. Find time to be still, do nothing and reset. Do things that nourish your spirit.
- Get back to Nature – Now’s the time for that beach walk, forest trip, or contemplation in the gardens. Nature heals like nothing else can. The restorative power of nature can help you release stress, and rediscover your inner calm.
- Gratitude – Focus on what you have. Get back in touch with all the gifts in your life, and with what really matters. Take the lens off what you don’t have and stop comparing yourself with others to avoid going down the unending tube of madness.
- Get enough sleep – There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep. When you go to bed early and enjoy good quality sleep, you’re invincible. Sleep is the primary healer, the way we reconnect with our true selves.
- Remember you’re allowed to say No! – Reduce your feeling of obligation and be authentic. Make sure you don’t do too much. Not overexerting yourself by saying yes to unending invitations, or compulsory get-togethers, and generally wearing yourself out by being pulled in too many directions is a major first step to being able to handle this time of year gracefully.
- Don’t overspend – Put on the brakes and don’t get caught up with the mass consciousness and collective craziness of Christmas–where people run around with trolleys like they’re on some game show, trying to grab the most stuff before the alarm goes off–is a wise way to stay grounded this Christmas. Create a budget and stick to it! You can also do things more simply, be more creative in your cooking, make homemade, meaningful gifts.
- Consider fresh, natural, healthy, vegetarian meals – You’ll feel better and your waistline will show the gratitude!
- Cut your family some slack – Don’t expect them to behave in a certain way. Let go of the childish desire for the Christmas miracle, where everyone gets on and your childhood fantasies are finally realised. Be happy and accepting of the reality of your life.
Be grateful for everything you DO have, connect with nature and look after yourself.
By prioritising self-care, long walks on the beach, soulful times with family, slow meals, and simple gatherings, you can reel in the Christmas crazies and return to a peaceful, manageable and truly special time. One that will be nourishing, fulfilling and rich with lifelong memories you will always cherish.