7 rules for mental health at Christmas

What is Christmas dinner like at your place? Advertisers would have us believe we need a full table, happy smiling people all the time, all decked out in the latest clothes and having a wonderful time. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately you might say, the real family Christmas is often far from that fantasy.

Christmas is different things to each of us and there is no one right way to celebrate this time of the year. It is often when we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves that we end up creating tension, anxiety, depression and withdrawal for ourselves and difficulties between us and those we love.

Expecting it to all go smoothly and have no difficulties means we can be overwhelmed when it doesn’t go to plan.

So Rule #1 is to keep your expectations realistic. This can avoid much anxiety and depression that can occur because we don’t met these unrealistic expectations. Family dinners are often tense times and just because you have arguments around the table because someone did not bring the food they were to bring doesn’t make it all a failure.

Rule #2. Life is not black or white, it is often very colourful and mottled. At Christmas, it can be easy to think in terms of fantastic or dreadful. Keep it within reasonable bounds and remember that life is varied and it is normal for life to be complex and colourful.

Rule #3 is that just having one problem does not make Christmas a failure. Just because the turkey didn’t come out the way you wanted or you didn’t get the presents you wanted or Aunt Joan cannot come for Christmas, doesn’t make it a failure. This can help you keep it in proportion and not become catastrophic in your thinking.

Rule #4 is be prepared to let others help you. Do not try to do it all yourself. Being a martyr for the cause is not going to make Christmas any more enjoyable and probably will make it tense for those around you as you try to cope and possibly unpleasant as they deal with your tension. Engage others to do things to help you prepare so it is a team effort.

Rule #5 is make a list of what needs to be done so you can be organized and plan ahead. This makes for a calmer environment for everyone and those around you can be involved in doing what needs to be done in a timely way.

Or offer to help the hosts. This can give you a sense of inclusion and no doubt your hosts will be very grateful.

Rule #6 stay in the present. Avoid flying off into the future in your thoughts about Christmas and worrying about details and events that have not yet happened. Stay in the present. If it has not yet happened it needn’t take up your mind.

Rule #7 think about what you can control and avoid worrying about what you cannot. If you cannot control the outcome of something don’t worry about it. Other people are responsible. If you take over it makes other people less responsible and in the end, less accountable. You doing it all, only makes others more childlike around you, instead of more adult and equals. If you want cooperation you must give people responsibility.

In the end remember, there are no rules!!