Embracing the Lead-up to Christmas.

How do we deal with the pre-Christmas rush?

I first wrote this blog a few years ago. Re-reading it, I realised it is probably even more relevant today when there are many anxiety inducing factors around. Unstable political parties, global warming, over-stretched health systems…I could go on…. More than ever, we need to stay grounded, to remember that most of us just want to do our best; to be peaceful, calm and happy, and go with the flow. Peace is high on my list for sure. I am determined to switch off regularly, to step out into the frosty clear night and look up at the stars. Somewhere out there in our amazing universe lies the answer to all our questions and fears if only we could trust in that….

It’s the time of year when there is a lot to think about. Perhaps more than usual. If you are prone to anxiety, the thought of coping with Christmas plans can add to your anxious feelings or to the feelings of someone you love. While for many, Christmas is nothing but exciting, this is not always the case for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and conditions such as OCD.

Do you find yourself caught up with the stress of the pre – Christmas rush? The build up seems to start earlier each year and before we know it we are bombarded with all sorts of smart advertising containing supposedly endearing stories and mini films with the ‘ahhh’ factor, that are really there to entice us into spending money in the big, well- known stores.  The media paints a picture of wonderment and happiness; we would all love this of course, but for some people this is not how Christmas is for them. The world is not perfect all of the time and we need to hold on to that thought and remember we are not the only ones who get anxious this time of year. For some, loneliness can be a real problem, perhaps because of the loss of a loved one, and the sadness of loss can certainly feel desperately raw at this time of year.

Christmas parties, whether it is with colleagues or old friends can be hard to cope with at the best of times, but add anxiety to this and before you know it you may dread the social scene. You can be out of your comfort zone having to speak to people you don’t know well and worried about having to impress – maybe a new boss or confident looking colleagues. With parties closer to home, it may be a case of meeting new neighbours or friends you haven’t seen in a while.

Food shopping is something else to negotiate – for some reason we feel the need to buy massive amounts of extra food this time of year; ok we may have people coming to stay or extra mouths to feed at Christmas Day, but even if not we tend to buy stuff we wouldn’t normally buy – think big tins of biscuits, the Turkish delight, the boxes of dates and the mountains of Yule logs and mince pies. I know it is good to have a treat this time of the year, but perhaps we do get tempted to buy too much. Then there is the alcohol too – would we dream of drinking chocolate liqueurs and mulled wine (often not even worth drinking) or egg nog any other time of year?

Apart from the fact we end up spending a lot more money on food and wine this time of the year resulting in a negative effect on our bank balance; eating and drinking extra calories and rich food this time of year can make anxiety levels worse and again have a negative effect on us, this time on our health.

Buying presents is something most of us get concerned about. Of course, we want our loved ones to have something they like to open on Christmas Day , especially the children, but for an anxious person, the results of spending a lot of money in a short space of time can seem very scary and worrying. Money aside, the crowds, loud jarring music and queues can make Christmas shopping seem unbearable.

So okay, the above situations are those which most of us have encountered at sometime in our lives and I am painting quite a grim picture of what should and can be a magical and completely enjoyable time of year. Because it really doesn’t have to be such a stressful time of year. Who makes it that way? And why?

Going back to the advertising, we are taught from quite an early age what we can expect Christmas to be like. But it cannot apply to us all. We are not all the same. And we are all coping with our own personal situations. What may be wonderful for one person may not be right for another. What do most of us remember when we look back down the years? Piles of presents around the tree, huge amounts of food and big parties? Or do we remember the excitement of hanging the stockings at the end of the bed and the thrill of opening the small gifts in the early hours, so lovingly and haphazardly wrapped by a caring parent.  Or sadly, there may be memories that are not quite as happy, and that may be another reason Christmas evokes pain and stress.

Maybe this year  – with still some time ahead before Christmas is really upon us, we can decide to take a different view and look at what is really important. One thing that always strikes me every year, and I always comment on to my husband without fail every year, is that the build up to Christmas is huge; we all rush around trying to get things done, caught up in the whole rush and excitement and then suddenly we arrive at Boxing Day and hear murmurs and mutterings of: ‘well that’s that for another year’, and: ‘where are you going for your holiday this year?’ It seems to be indicative of the society we have become: always looking for the next thrill, the next celebration or occasion before we have had time to enjoy and digest what has just occurred. So this year how about making a decision not to get too ‘wrapped up in Christmas’? Have a year where you do not make too many commitments. Be honest with people and say no in the nicest possible way if you don’t want to do something. Do most of your present shopping online and do it in your own time. Book an online food shop well in advance if it suits you, and apart from the convenience you won’t be so tempted to buy lots of unnecessary goodies (which aren’t really goodies at all). Also, explain to everyone that your Christmas this year may be a little more low key and that includes your present giving. Offer loved ones time instead. Time is the most valuable gift of all.

Decide a few things in advance to help keep your anxiety at bay. Plan to eat healthily and avoid too many stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Have plenty of rest and not too many late nights. Cortisol is the body’s most powerful stress hormone. It causes a number of changes in the body, including increasing stimulation and the perception of fright. Getting regular good rest and sleep can keep cortisol production to a minimum and reduce the feelings of dread.

If you reduce your expectations about the holidays you will not be disappointed when things don’t always go according to plan; likewise if you are feeling calm you will be more able to enjoy things and ‘go with the flow’. Good things that do occur can be received with joy and thankfulness. Do things you like to do too, like walks in the clear, crisp night when the stars are out and the world is peaceful. Spending time doing the things you love and want to do is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and you will feel better for it. This isn’t being selfish but just being your true self. Having healthy boundaries is essential when you are prone to anxiety.

A good tip is to think and act a bit more like a child at Christmas – have you noticed how children don’t run around getting stressed about Christmas? Far from it! They just enjoy the time while it is there.

So now that the lead up to Christmas has started remember that every day is special and also has it’s own challenges and delights. When the events of the holiday season threaten to overwhelm you, breathe deeply, take time out until you feel calmer, and look forward. Look forward to celebrating in your own way and until then remind yourself there are no rules to follow for a good Christmas break!

closeup photo of person wearing white long sleeved shirt holding turned on string lights
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Love That Knows Our Name…

 

To know you are loved or have been loved is more than uplifting, it is at the core of everything.’

Having recently experienced loss, I entered an all encompassing tunnel of sadness where daylight seemed all but obliterated and the sound around me was literally muffled. Life was put on hold except for all but the most necessary of tasks and the most basic needs. Time seemed to be suspended and yet the days passed quickly; the world going by my window and the morning light still throwing shafts of sunlight across the floor every morning whether I liked it or not.

But going through the motions of daily life I came to know more about love and kindness than ever before. People I knew well showed great kindness and kept me going, but what also surprised me was the outpouring of love and kindness from neighbours, from waiters in coffee shops and even people on the end of a phone that I called to report the loss of my dad to for clerical purposes. And I wondered why often it is not until we feel deep pain that we also find the most love? When we are in a ‘normal’ state; on an even keel and just following routine, we don’t always stop to notice the small but profound things that are ever present yet not on our radar during the bustle of everyday life. But in a state of grief life changes; normal and trivial irritations lie unnoticed, worries about work deadlines, so important last week, stay in the ‘in-tray’ tucked at the back of our minds, and the cloak of regularity falls from our shoulders.

Most of us are lucky enough to have friends and family that love us; maybe we even take it a little for grated at times; sometimes complacency can come with familiarity, but perhaps when we are sad or in pain, even if we are not always vocalising what we feel or are going through, our vulnerability opens us up to others and their natural and inbuilt   ability to reach out. And if we do open up, even to strangers, more often than not we are treated with a compassion we were not expecting, yet in reality is never far from the surface.

Think about times of adversity, tragic terror attacks or emergency. We help each other, open our homes, give money we can’t really afford, offer the coat from our backs even….then we retreat back into our safe world again for a while. Maybe there is a comfort from day to day routine where we just focus on our own world, but we all seem to have an inbuilt mechanism to bring our love and compassion to the forefront. And there are times when we show that and are shown it just when we need it.

There cannot be many parts in our day that are not touched by love in one form or another; it may not always be obvious but it is there. It is waiting in the wings – an unceasing energy and in limitless supply. Even when doing a mundane job like housework, chances are you will have the radio on in the background and before long you will be humming along to a love song. In the coffee shop you may see a mother absently plant a kiss on her baby’s head, or hear a dad shout ‘love you’ out of the car window as he drops his child off at school – (they may be embarrassed but they will remember).

When we love deeply there are no boundaries. The heart finds a way to love when the time is right and knows when to give love out. Sometimes we need courage to reach out, but when we do we are rewarded a thousandfold. Love can be gentle when it needs to be; it can be held in a reassuring wink from across a crowded room, it can be in the gentle squeeze of the hand or the fragrance of a bunch of primroses. Love can be bold too. It can be shown by standing up for someone against the crowd, it can be in the giving of a chance of life to another, or it can be shown by knowing when to let go. And most of all, love is unconditional.

Having said this, there are still times when we feel alone; times when we feel no one understands what we are going through. Perhaps we are floundering, perhaps we are ill or have been treated badly or unfairly. Perhaps we are thinking ‘why me?’ These are the times that we find it harder to reach out, but these are the times we need to remind ourselves that we ARE loved, even in darker times.

I have to remind myself now, especially having experienced loss, that love is borderless. There isn’t a set number of times you can tell someone’s you love them. There isn’t a set amount of love to go around. Love has a bottomless pit. And love can encompass us even in times of immense sadness and get us through. So many people who survived the terrible atrocities of the holocaust emerged to live again in the light and found the courage to give and receive love.

We learn how to live and work and grow and play in the material and physical world and yes we need to do that, of course. The world is our resting and our doing place. For now. As Professor Stephen Hawking is quoted as saying – ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love’.

Love is all around us and is a natural spiritual state, but what happens to the love we felt for someone who has departed this life? I believe love crosses realms. It stays with us long after a loved one has departed. In fact, it never leaves us; it sits in our memories, it stirs us when we least expect it, it appears in our dreams and it runs through our veins. It is part of us; both our past and our future and for all time.

If love is energy then surely it cannot be extinguished by death.

 

A Trace of Me

Love is part of who you are,

A vital speck sent from afar.

And sometimes when you close your eyes,

You see from the past, familiar skies.

And you will know, and one day see,

That somewhere, there’s a trace of me.

                                                                                                          (C) Lyn Halvorsen

 

 

How DoYou Define Love?

This week I said goodbye…..

A short blog today….

This week I said goodbye to my beloved father.  I loved him dearly and miss him very much.

I have been lucky to have been embraced by my wonderful family and friends and the love between us all has been incredible.

 We try and cope with life’s sadnesses as best we can, and when times are really bleak we can be truly touched by acts of kindness from ordinary, yet extraordinary people.

From the young guy in the coffee shop who, on learning of my trouble, rushed over with a piece of cake and a kind word and told me to call in anytime I felt like I needed a chat, to the elderly and infirm neighbours of my dad’s who struggled out to pay their respects; to the guys next door who I have only just got to know and who embraced me with a loving hug when I was standing in the road in tears; and to the countless people on the end of the phone lines who didn’t know me, but did their best when I was trying to sort out paperwork, and to the lady who served my dad at the post office counter every week and who referred to him as a perfect and kindly gentleman, my spirits have been truly lifted.

For anyone else going through a bereavement, my thoughts are with you.

A very good friend sent me this message:

Maybe we feel we lose, but this is only in our perception. Nothing gets lost, it just changes form. I am with you’.

 

13F847B7-F282-4BC9-921C-2395AABE0ED7

As the sun goes down in one part of the world, it rises in another.

 

How do you ‘get better’?

 

After a slightly ‘muddled’ start to the week I’ve been doing a bit of thinking whilst out on my walks in the woods beyond the house. Nothing is really wrong but for some reason I have forgotten about the small but important things in life and focused on things that do not matter, like buying a new carpet which I can’t afford. It is a paradox really. Small things are often of the biggest importance. So today I asked myself this question: how many times do I need to be pummeled and prodded by the Universe before I realise that I have a God given chance to use my days wisely?

Does age bring us wisdom? I’m really not sure. I know I am not the same person as I was in my twenties, I think differently and have different opinions, but whether I have life worked out any better, I’m not sure. One thing I do know for sure though, is that life is not about making predictions, it’s not about having the best of everything or being the best at everything. I wish I could remember that more often than I do and get on with being grateful for what I have now. I wrote recently about living in the moment – living in the now, and I have come to the conclusion that this is the only thing we can be sure of. Today.

I’ve been thinking about my little nephew who died when he was just a few months old but who had and still has, a big place in my heart. He would have been 28 this month –  a little person who should have had a whole life ahead of him; who should have had the chance to play, be naughty once in a while, to grow up and to fall in love. His mum should have had the chance to give him a lifetime of cuddles. How could we have known a few weeks before he was gone, that the family holiday we took him on would be his last? I can only think that for the short time he was here, he was able to teach us about love and how to cope in the face of terrible loss, to be compassionate, and to somehow become better people because of him.

I have written a lot about anxiety in recent blogs, and how we try and deal with anxious times. Most of us get anxious when we fear things that are out of our control – and sadly the unexplained or unexpected can happen in life and somehow we have to cope.

I think the simple questions in life turn out to be the most profound. Maybe in this world, where unrest and tragedy unfolds in the media on a daily basis, we would do well to think about some simple questions. Maybe even write down some answers so we can ‘ground’ ourselves when we feel we are on unsteady ground.

Where are you from? Do you think about your roots; your home town where you were born? Do you remember growing up and spending time with your grandparents? Do you have happy memories? Think about the people who made you and helped you become what you are now; even if the memories aren’t always good ones they have been a part of you and you can learn from them.

Where is home now? Home is the one place where we can totally be ourselves, shrug off the cares of the day and do absolutely what we like. Our home is small but we have a sign in our hall which reads ‘Love Grows Well in Small Houses’ and I look at it everyday and know it to be true.

Right now, at this very moment, you can tell yourself how important it is to enjoy your everyday life – it is the life that is currently flashing unnoticed right before your eyes. It is the time you will look back on before long and wish you had back. Let the future come naturally but live willingly in the moment.

What are you going to do next? Are you doing what you really want to do and going where you really want to go?  It takes time, especially if you are the sort of person who always wants to please people, but remember that it is important to do what makes you happy as long as you are not hurting anyone else in the process. Maybe think about taking another turn along the path that is seemingly laid out for you. Who knows what may turn up there.

Each day you grow older but each of those days has the ability to be extra special and only happens once.

With the future comes uncertainty for all of us, but by concentrating on today rather than thinking about tomorrow you will ease up on worrying and focus on reality  – that is really all any of us can do if you think about it, no matter who we are.

Spending more time with loved ones is the key to being happy. If you are a parent and even a grandparent,  you will know how those precious early years pass so quickly and before long you are watching your children forge ahead on their own. By showing your children love as they grow and by showing them how you love those in your life you will be passing your love on into the future. This is the way we ‘get better’ and the world gets better too.

  ‘You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.’

                                 Henry David Thoreau 

 

  ‘What day is it?

‘It’s today,’ squeaked Piglet.

’My favourite day,’ said Pooh.

                          A.A.Milne