Wellness Tips

How to survive Christmas: expert tips on dealing with alcohol, grief, money pressures, being alone and more during the holiday period

“Everything is a performance. The holiday is a performance; it diffuses from the idea that it’s supposed to be a beautiful family time,” says Economou, a professor at Rutgers University, in the US state of New Jersey.

Peter Economou recommends approaching the holiday season as if you were a professional athlete preparing for a big event. Photo: Leigh Castelli Photography

“I might not feel great on game day, I might have a bit of a cold, but I go ahead. I encourage an acceptance-based strategy.”

Such a strategy acknowledges that we have limited control over our thoughts and urges, and that being able to tolerate unpleasant internal experiences is crucial for us to adapt.

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“The festive season creates high expectations. But festive doesn’t mean it has to be perfect, it doesn’t mean it’s full of love and cheer. There will be moments when it’s not wonderful; understand that’s part of the process,” says Economou.

This could mean setting a couple of ground rules, such committing to drinking mindfully and not attempting to solve family conflicts at this time.

Committing to drinking mindfully and not attempting to solve family conflicts are two good ground rules for celebrating the festive season. Photo: Shutterstock

For many people alcohol has been a staple of Christmas celebrations for many years, whether at a work gathering or with friends and family. However, for those who have experienced addiction problems in the past and for those who choose not to drink, the pressure to consume alcohol during the festive period can be overwhelming.

“Substance use does augment emotion and can disinhibit behaviour. Drinking mindfully at Christmas might mean waiting for everyone and having a drink at lunch, alternating drinks with water, or committing to a goal of staying at a state of 3/10ths of drunkenness,” says Economou.

It is not uncommon for people to want to heal old relationship wounds at Christmas, but this can increase the pressure on a day which is already potentially loaded with expectation.

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“Try and keep things light and sit non-judgmentally in people’s company. Try not to judge yourself for not liking a sibling or a sibling’s partner. Acknowledge to yourself that it’s OK,” says Economou.

The holiday season can be a difficult time for those who are grieving, whether it is the first Christmas without a loved one or you have been without them for many years.

We often make an effort to connect with friends and loved ones during this time, so the absence of someone who is no longer with us can be particularly noticeable and amplify feelings of grief.

The British bereavement charity Sue Ryder advises people to acknowledge and accept their feelings during the holiday period.

It recommends taking part in activities to the extent to which you are comfortable. If you do not feel like pretending to be happy, then do not.

Keep a check on your social media consumption lest you get the false impression that everyone is having an amazing time, and feel lonely as a result. Photo: Shutterstock

Similarly, if being around others and getting involved in the festivities helps you cope, do not feel guilty about it.

The pressure to spend money over the holiday season can be overwhelming, especially for those who are concerned about their finances or have a mental health issue which makes managing money difficult.

To alleviate feelings of anxiety about money, consider creating a budget to limit unnecessary spending and discussing your concerns with others. You are most probably not alone in harbouring this concern – you could agree with family and friends to limit spending or the number of gifts.

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If you know that you are going to be physically alone over Christmas – or during any other holiday – it can be helpful to plan activities and your days ahead of time. You might use this opportunity to try a new hobby or connect with others online.

If you are feeling alone and want to do something impactful, consider contacting a charity to offer to volunteer. In Hong Kong the Home of Love was set up by Mother Teresa’s organisation the Sisters of Charity in Sham Shui Po. It serves homeless people in the area a nutritious meal every day, including Christmas Day.

You could offer to peel potatoes or serve a meal. You might enjoy it so much you decide volunteer on a regular basis.

Whether you have wall-to-wall parties from now until the new year, or are facing the festive period alone, the season can likely throw up some challenges, so go easy on yourself and those around you.

If you know that you are going to be physically alone over Christmas, or during any other holiday, it can be helpful to plan activities, such as hiking, and your days ahead of time. Photo: Shutterstock
Do not neglect the self-care routines you practise the rest of the year, because this is a period when you will probably need them more than ever.
Economou recommends keeping a check on your social media consumption, since it can give the false impression that everyone is having an amazing time – and thus make you feel lonely. Comparing your holiday time to other people’s seemingly “perfect” Christmas can leave you feeling like a failure.

He adds: “Christmas is just another day; try going into it with an open mind and heart.”

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