Posted on 07:31 03/01/2018
Recently I spoke to a friend who had a terrible Christmas: his father had a heart attack on Christmas Day and his mother had a stroke two days later!
He wasn't the only one who had a challenging Christmas break. A number of people have told me that they struggled with parents or children hospitalised around Christmas Day. Others have told me that the happy Christmas dinner was ruined by a massive family fight and people walking out. Sadly, Christmas can very quickly change from a joyful holiday to a stressful event that you just want to end.
When holidays don't live up to our expectations, we may feel cheated and more stressed than before the holiday. At those times for a little "emotional first aid" can help you recover! Here are my tips for recovering from an unexpectedly stressful Christmas!
1. Congratulate yourself - you got through!
You may be feeling a bit battered or weary but you got through the worst. There may still be things to do, but you've made a start! Sometimes we're so focused on what we still have to do or how difficult the situation still is that we forget to look at what we've achieved! Maybe you did end up spending Christmas Day at the hospital - but your loved one knew you were there supporting them and that is part of giving, part of what Christmas is all about! Well done! Give yourself a pat on the back!
2. Appreciate the Beauty in the World
Every morning, take five or ten minutes and just look at something beautiful. It may be a flower. It may be a photograph of a beautiful scene. It maybe your garden. It doesn't matter what it is, just sit and look at it. Don't think, just look. And enjoy - there is beauty in the world and there's no time when it's more important to appreciate it than when we're very stressed.
3. Enjoy Something, Every Day
When we're very stress or things don't go right, it's easy to think that nothing good is happening in our lives. But there are moments of happiness happening every day! Once, when I was returning my trolley at the supermarket, I found a packet of blueberries in a discarded trolley - it made my day! Good things may be very small - like a good cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Sometimes we need to look for them - and when you start looking, you may be surprised how many there are each day! Try this exercise: get a little pocket diary and each night, write down at least one thing that happened that was good or you enjoyed. On the days when it seems that nothing good is happening, look back as see all the things that have happened in the past!
4. Experience Gratitude
Gratitude is an emotion you feel when somebody does something unexpected that benefits you. Small, unexpected, acts of kindness happen all the time. It maybe a stranger handing you some money you dropped at the bus stop. It may be a health care practitioner who opens their clinic to you after hours. It may be the friend who sends you a quick text message each night so you know you're in her thoughts. Sometimes when we're in middle of a stressful situation or it's just passed, we can feel isolated. When we recognise somebody has done something extra to help us and feel grateful to them, we also feel connected and part of a community.
5. Get the Negative Emotions Out
Okay, things didn't happen as expected. In fact, things were awful. It's alright to admit that. It's alright to feel sad, angry, frustrated or disappointed. It may not be appropriate to have a melt down, starting screaming or crying but it is important to acknowledge those emotions and get them out - if you just try to ignore them or repress them, they're going to find other ways out like giving you headaches or making you sick! Getting those emotions out without upsetting others can be tricky but there are ways:
6. Do a Mental Review of the Events
At the end of each day, mentally review what happened. Could you have done something different? Maybe you yelled at the kids because you were tired or stressed - acknowledge you could have handled this differently and let it go. Maybe you're feeling guilty about something but can't really see how you could have done it differently - let it go.
If you're really beating yourself up about something - something you did or didn't do - try this exercise: imagine that somebody else is telling you the story about what happened. Would you beat them up and tell them they did an awful job? Or would you console them and give them a hug? Give yourself the same kindness you'd give to somebody else.
7. Give Yourself a Treat
Things have been pretty stressful and you feel like you've been through the wringer. Give yourself a little lift - do something kind, just for you! Maybe having a spa or a massage would give you a little bit of relaxation. Maybe a couple of hours reading a book with a glass of wine would make your day. Or maybe an hour going for a bushwalk or just sitting by the lake would be heaven. Choose something just for you and do it!
Sometimes you don't feel you have time to do something for yourself - there are all these other things that have to be done. Believe me, those things will still be there in an hour or two - and you'll get through them much faster if you're feeling a bit more relaxed and calm. Maybe the stressful event is over or maybe you're still going through it - being kind to yourself will help you to cope with the situation.
There are times when the situation is overwhelming. You may feel you're not coping or having trouble eating or sleeping. This is where professional health care practitioners may be helpful. An acupuncturist can help you manage the stress. Psychologists can give you strategies for managing your thoughts and feelings. And doctors can help with medication. If you feel it's just getting too much, help is at hand!