I doubt if many of us have had a Christmas quite like this. I suppose most of us have had difficult times during Christmas, to varying degrees, but this year feels different. There is a collective difficulty this year, so even if we are not directly affected, we are still surrounded by news of the pandemic and its effects.
Normally during this time of year I would be starting to feel excited about Christmas, there would normally be a buzz in the air. This year it feels a little flat. A few weeks ago there was an air of optimism in the country, the vaccine was being rolled out, Christmas as coming and we were being told we could have a few days to see family if we wanted to and just catch up and recharge, with the prospect of this beginning to come to an end during 2021. Last weekend the mood shifted, parts of the south went into further restrictions, we were told that there was a new variant of the virus that appeared to spread more easily, our chances to meet our families of Christmas was drastically reduced. Then over the past few days we hear that most of the world is imposing travel bans and we saw pictures of lorry drivers in Dover waiting to hear if they could get home to see their loved ones for Christmas. On top of that we see the numbers of infections start to rise again, and the number of patients in our hospitals start to go up. Our hope and optimism dashed, and the buzz for Christmas fades.
Now as with most of my blogs I generally write them to help me work through my emotions. So I am feeling fed up, and sad about Christmas for all those people who are sick or stuck in the cab of a lorry, or sat at home by themselves, even for those of us that would normally be out down the pub, or in a restaurant spending time with our friends. How can I view this differently how can I shift some of the hindering thoughts about this Christmas into helpful thoughts that will shift my response to what is going on around me and give me a better outcome?
When I was coming home from work yesterday I was listening to BBC Radio 5 Live, and they had a Behavioural Psychologist on talking about this very thing, and she made a point that reminded me of something I had read a year or so ago on Acceptance Commitment Therapy by Russell Harris. In a nutshell they both said allow yourself to be upset, frustrated, sad, or angry about the fact that Christmas is not want you wanted it to be. I don’t know about you but I seem to have a default setting that says I have to be happy, I have to be pain free, and this is especially acute round Christmas time. Christmas is a time of joy! That is what we are told from a very young age. Therefore, if you are feeling miserable at Christmas it can come with a degree of guilt. As I am writing this I have just thought of a name for this guilt, the “A Christmas Carol Complex”. So it is all Dickens’ fault. Christmas day after all is just a day as like any other, only us in modern (post 1840s) western society that have turned it into such a big event, that lasts for over a month.
Don’t get me wrong I love Christmas, I love getting presents, I love eating and drinking and spending time with friends and family as we all do. But should we feel that we have to be happy every year? This year I am going to allow myself to be sad, to feel deflated if that is how I feel. Right now that is how I feel. But then again even when I am feeling sad, there are often points in the day when I feel happy, when something makes me smile. Russell Harris suggests that we make room in our minds for what makes us sad, give it space, hear what it has to say. Sadness, anger and frustration are normal useful, functional emotions and deserve our attention. So we shouldn’t push these emotions away, we should acknowledge them. On the flipside that means we should do the same for joy, happiness, love, and contentment.
Every day I look for what gives me joy, I note it, and I am grateful for it. So Christmas will not be as it always is. Christmas will have moments of sadness, maybe anger, but it will have moments of joy, laughter, and love. Seek those moments out, and cherish them. Make the most of opportunities you have, whether that is a time for quiet, restful reflection, time with family, going for a walk, or exercise, volunteering, working, whatever it is seek out those moments that make your heart sing, even if it is short lived.
We can all feel happy and sad, interchangeably throughout a day so let yourself off the hook, sit with your emotions and have the best possible Christmas you can have.