Growing up, I used to spend every month of the year counting down to December. My most beloved month, full of Father Christmas, family and food. However, the older I get, the more I realise that in many ways Christmas isn’t always the happiest time of year, and dismantling the pressure to be happy is crucial, this year more than most.
For many people, myself included, Christmas is a wonderful time of celebration. However, 2020 has been a year like no other, so it’s not sensible to pretend that Christmas will be the same. It’s not the happiest time of even this year in fact, with the pandemic worsening daily, the statistics are terrifying, and millions of people have spent the majority of the year isolated from their families.
Despite the eighteen happy Christmases I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy, as I’ve got older, I’ve come to realise that the festive season doesn’t have to be joyful, and I’ve found myself pondering whether as you get older, does Christmas lose its magic and become more of a challenge?
Firstly, for many, December is a particularly stressful time of year. The financial implications of Christmas are arguably one of the most significant causes of stress. For many people there’s an expectation that you have to spend a ridiculous amount of money on presents, food and decorations in order to have a perfect day. The financial impact of Covid-19 will certainly have had an effect on this pressure, because although many people haven’t earnt a proper wage since March, they want to make Christmas even better for their families.
Furthermore, the thought of having to spend time with family members can be very stressful if you don’t get on with them particularly well or don’t necessarily agree with them; it can be daunting and an uncomfortable experience.
On the other hand, for many, not being able to see family this Christmas is terribly upsetting. This lack of togetherness can trigger a lot of anxiety or fear. Many people, particularly those who live alone, have spent much of the year isolated from their loved ones and Christmas acted as a glimmer of hope which is quickly disappearing. It’s difficult, and if you’re not in the mood to celebrate the festivities it’s ok. That said, there are ways to get around not seeing your family. Although, I’m sure we’re all sick of the words ‘let’s do a family zoom!’, it’s all we have at the moment, and I truly hope that by next Christmas, everyone will be able to celebrate in the way they want.
Christmas can be a lonely time of year in normal circumstances and constantly being bombarded by the supposed happiness you are ‘meant’ to feel can be absolutely exhausting. Yet after a year of relative isolation, the rules and travel restrictions preventing people from seeing their loved ones means loneliness is more significant, which means not succumbing to the pressure to be happy is more challenging than ever.
Arguably, everything is heightened at Christmas: emotions, stress, alcohol consumption. This combination isn’t necessarily the best for mental wellbeing, and the restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19 have also heightened everything further. It’s not a particularly happy time this year and that’s okay; it will get better.
So, if you’re not feeling 100%, what can you do?
Firstly, take time for yourself, even if it is as simple as lying on the sofa doing nothing; relish the quiet. Prioritising yourself is the most important thing to do this year in order to fight against the intense pressure to be happy just because it’s Christmas. Don’t push it too far, set yourself boundaries and don’t feel you have to do anything you’re not entirely comfortable with.
I know it is easier said than done but acknowledge your emotions and if you’re not in a position to confide in a close friend or family member, contact charities such as CALM or MIND, which provides online support and as well as a support line at 0300 123 3393, although they are not open on Christmas day or Boxing day.
Remember to check in on your friends and family. Send them a thoughtful card, it’s more meaningful than you realise or simply send them a text asking how they are. It will make them feel better, but you’ll also feel more connected.
This year more than ever, it is important to ignore the pressure to be happy and not push yourself. It’s been a year like no other and to expect Christmas to be as usual is unrealistic. Let’s just cross our fingers for 2021, surely it can only go up from here.
– Maggie John
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