Written by: Emily McRae, Health Psychologist, PGDipHealthPsych, MSc
As soon as the Halloween decorations are dismounted, and the tinsel-trees are placed, our heart rates all collectively increase. Although Christmas and the accompanying ‘silly season’ can be a time of great joy, it can also be a time of great stress. And this was even before we had babies! This is a time of year when everything seems to come to a head, and there seems to be an endless list of things to do.
It is also a time where we can end up putting immense pressure on ourselves. Tasks unfinished from the year suddenly need finishing. Friends we haven’t spoken to since Easter suddenly need to be caught up with. The ‘perfect’ gifts need to be bought and wrapped. Christmas dinners need to be planned. The interesting thing is that year after year we ‘promise ourselves’ we will not fall back into this trap; vowing to make the next year “more relaxed”. Yet, here we are, collectively losing our heads all while blaming it on ‘this time of Year’.
As parents, however, it is important that we look after ourselves during this time. This is particularly true if you are still waking frequently during the night, battling teething, struggling your way through ‘solids’ or perhaps managing toddler tantrums. When life already feels challenging, the very last thing we need is to add in more pressure.
A value that tends to (or at least should) underpin Christmas is that of ‘kindness’. It is typically a time where we like to show others how we much we care for them – or perhaps to show gratitude for the year just been. However, whilst it is important to show and give kindness or gratitude, it is equally as important to show ourselves kindness and compassion.
Most of us, however, really struggle with self-compassion or kindness. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why this is, but a large part of this is likely because (a) it feels much easier to celebrate others, (b) we are expert at finding our own flaws and berating ourselves for these and (c) it seems somewhat self-indulgent to show ourselves kindness. What we know, however, is that being kind to ourselves, and showing ourselves respect and compassion, can do absolute wonders for our psychological and physical wellbeing.
It is also an important tool to help us navigate the build-up to Christmas and actually begin to enjoy “the silly season”. Here are some key ways that you can start to cultivate self-compassion and kindness:
- Turn off the internal self-critic: one of the best ways we can show ourselves kindness is to stop berating ourselves. Stop beating yourself up if you cannot do it all. Accept that as a mother, you simply cannot do everything all the time. Focus on what you can do and do those tasks well.
- Listen to what your body needs: if you are not sleeping well, or your baby is going through a clingy or fussy stage and you are simply exhausted – it is important to prioritise your downtime and sleep. Even if that means you miss out on one or two (or ten) social occasions. If your body is exhausted, listen to it and respond accordingly.
- Prioritise what is really important – stop and ask yourself – what is really important during this time? The most extravagant gifts, and a Michelin-star dinner even at the expense of our happiness, health and wellbeing? Family and friends would much rather you be in one piece come Christmas than falling apart with the world’s best Christmas dinner! Really consider – who or what is important during this time?
- Take a ‘needs-based’ approach - in keeping with the above point, taking a ‘needs-based’ approach can help you to prioritise what really needs to be done – rather than what you’d like to be done. Really evaluate what you must do in order to prepare for Christmas and focus on achieving only these tasks – anything else achieved is a real bonus!
- Don’t attempt to fit in all the social activities – recognise that you do not need to do catch up with everyone before Christmas. Those friends that you have to catch-up with – they’ll still be there post-Christmas! Being kind to yourself is being able to look at what is actually do-able versus what you’d like to do. Remember: you’re better off not doing everything and keeping sane rather than fitting it all in and ending up exhausted and unhappy.
- Remember your self-care – when we add more onto our plate, sadly, the things that tend to go first are the things we need the most – such as self-care activities. Remember to keep up your self-care during this time (things such as exercise, taking time out, reading a good book etc) – do not undervalue these tasks to make space for Christmas-related activities.
- Prioritise your sleep – this is particularly important if you are still doing night-wakes. Keep ensuring that you are getting as much rest and sleep as you possibly can. Feeling as rested as possible is fundamental to managing our wellbeing over a very busy time.
- Ask for help – always remember help is available, it is just about asking! If you feel overwhelmed with everything you need to do – get help. Being kind to ourselves is about recognising that we do not need to do it alone.
When we are able to really prioritise our own health and wellbeing and show ourselves kindness during this festive season, who knows – we may ‘keep our heads’ and we may actually, end up enjoying the ride.
About the Author
Emily is a Health Psychologist (NZ Registered) with a decade of experience in psychology. Emily runs a health and wellness website - thewellhub.co - where she provides online support to enhance psychological wellness. Emily also assesses and supports patients prior to surgery at a private hospital in New Zealand. Emily is a mother to three young children - Archie (5) and twins - Eli & Sienna (3) and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.