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!

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

 

 

 

If You Want to Change the World Stop Trying to Change the World!

Just look around at the moment. Here in the UK it is difficult to make any sense of the current politics and the behaviour of some of the politicians does not fill me with confidence and certainly not any admiration. I have followed various parties in my time time but I have come to realise that we can never be satisfactorily governed, or certainly not governed in a way which keeps everyone happy.

Many points of views are bandied about. I imagine those people who become politicians set out with the wish to change things – to make a difference and create change for the better. We see up and coming politicians come to our attention, fresh faced and full of hope and wise ideas. We are impressed if they support our cause, and we gather and discuss them at length, ever hopeful that the state of ‘things’ will improve.

But so many theories are put forward and so many theories are rubbished. Criticism hails from every corner. Praise is rarely given. Instead, people who put themselves forward to govern are often ridiculed or knocked off their shaky and newly acquired pedestals. They are heckled when giving a speech even if they dare to cough. They are laughed at when they half-heartedly attempt to join in and dance with some visiting children in an attempt to appear approachable.  Their private lives are scrutinised. They keep going, they may climb the political ladder and find power, but rarely, if ever, do they have a straightforward path.

But I have digressed. Because I am not here to write about politics. I do wonder what make us all tick though. And I wonder where genuine kindness and politeness has gone when I see how those in the public eye are treated and treat each other.

How do we change things? How do we try and change the world?

Perhaps we shouldn’t wait for others to change. They won’t. It is no good waiting for others to take responsibility for our future. Do we make the change ourselves? We can increase our awareness, read and listen to wiser people. But old habits are hard to change. And it is easy to say “No one else is changing so why should I?” And we may not want to change the beliefs we feel are important to us. They are part of who we are. The main thing to avoid is resistance. Being an immovable object. If we resist something or someone we are in conflict. That makes us and those around us unhappy. Many people make themselves unhappy every day.

There is a paradox in all this. When you stop trying to change things, you will often find things WILL change. Both in your world of your inner consciousness and in the world around you.  If you go about your business being kind, peaceful, loving and happy you will make a difference just by being you.

“Ah yes” I hear you say, “That’s all very well. But it smacks of laziness. Someone has to take responsibility and run the country/business/health centre.” It is true that we may not look like we are doing much, but when we act from a natural state, good thoughts and acts happen. We are not interfering with anyone else. If we could all come from a place of peace and goodwill, we will interact well together and THEN we will make headway.

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Staying Sane in a Crazy World

I’ve been thinking this week about how we cope when all around us is in a condition of uncertainty. In the UK with the political situation nothing short of farcical, we could be forgiven for thinking that a decent solution to the current problems and deliberations will never be found.

Perhaps it is time to close our ears to illogical political theories and time to sift through the rules foisted on us that are the results of sometimes selfish and manipulative governing.

The world around us is suffering. This is nothing new – since time began there have always been monumental global challenges and there always will be. To list all the recent and ongoing global wars and tragedies would take us a long, long time, and finding a way forward seems impossible at times. We are heartbroken when we see innocent families fleeing their homes amid hostile conditions. We despair when we hear of countries in turmoil. We are disturbed by examples of greed and question some social policies. We see the divide between rich and poor become ever greater. In Europe we are exasperated by Brexit. Perhaps we cling to on to the fragile bonds of national identity, but how do we find what connects us universally?

What do we do to keep sane in this insane world?

I think the key is to maintain our relationship with reality. And that is much harder than we think. I’m not talking about the diversionary reality of Reality TV or social media here but the real reality that connects everyone with everything. As humans, we are not all-powerful but we are all powerful. We need to remember that there is both huge advantage AND limitation with power. When we understand that, we are able to maintain our sanity and manifest a saner world. WE have the power to choose new responses and keep our own lifestyles healthy. We may not be able to control our politicians and the way they use their power, but we can at least keep ourselves real.

None of us are completely rational at times. We can be afraid of everything that could go wrong or we can accept reality and make the best of it. Reasoning is good but sometimes emotions are good. Empathy is good. Getting depressed or angry about reality will not help us change things. If we use our own inner power we can become optimistic and have confidence to adapt to challenges and look for solutions.

Most of us look up to someone in this world who we admire. Often the people we admire the most are the gentle and peaceful ones, the ones who have no agenda, and no great personal ambitions. And yet they make their mark. Coherent and compassionate people have no need to dominate others, instead they seek to help rather than be in competition with others. Compassion freely shown reverberates around us like ripples in a pond.

Many times, bad things are predicted by those who think they are ‘in the know’. We are warned that all sorts of ills may befall us or the country if we don’t adhere to various policies. But when I think back to last weeks news it is mainly not relevant today as there have since been new twists or turns. There are now new predictions! And this is true of so many predictions we are either faced with, or make ourselves. Often what concerned us yesterday is forgotten and replaced by new concerns which in turn are replaced. Perhaps we should realise that most things get processed and dealt with one way or another. Can you remember what you were worrying about this time last year, or what was in the news headlines?

No one can deny that troubles occur, both in our immediate circles and in the outside world; often in life there is much to deal with. Interestingly, when we are focused on healing something in our own life, the outside world tends to carry on regardless and this should tell us something. We can just BE. We can think about the little things in life which are really the big things.

We are born with an inherent understanding of the world. It is a strange miracle that deep in our psyche we know things. When our minds are uncluttered we look benignly at the world and we are spiritually healthy. We are whole human beings and we have our own essence. Sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of that.

Don’t break your own spirit. Your sanity depends on seeing the world as a good place, having faith in one another and believing in human dignity – not just in our own small corner of the planet but all around the world. It is not what people have become in this world that makes them special necessarily- it is what they are inside and how they behave when no one is looking.

Everyone, even your greatest role models have had to cope with uncertainty at one time or another. Recognise you are part of a tribe of people who have amazing survival instincts. Out of the thousands of experiences we have in life, people doing wrong by us is not common. Most people are inherently good and we are biologically wired to love one another and to unite during bad times, and when we believe people are inherently good, this will determine how life treats us.

You can’t calm the storm so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself and the storm will pass.’            Timber Hawkeye.

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The Brexit Effect -When Niceties Go Out of the Window….

Is there any excuse for bad behaviour in politics? When will the media circus calm down?

Well it could be quite a momentous day today. Here in the UK all the focus is on the vote regarding the Brexit agreement put forward by the Prime Minister for leaving the EU. Following weeks and weeks of haggling and bickering, the next few hours seem quite critical. I have my own views on what I want to happen, but this post isn’t about just me. I think this is what is often forgotten. The bigger picture.

Here I quote an excerpt of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Year speech….

There’s a parallel with our country today. We’re much more diverse than we used to be. Yet we disagree on many things. And we are struggling with how to disagree well. Turn on the television, read the news, and you see a lot that could tempt you to despair. Hope lies in our capacity to approach this new year in a spirit of openness towards each other. Committed to discovering more of what it means to be citizens together, even amid great challenges and changes.’

Wise words.

It sometimes it seems that the whole nation is in disagreement. Have we forgotten our basic and fundamental manners? Certainly some of the politicians I have listened to recently have. There needs to be a wake up call. A return to civility and respect for others. This doesn’t mean that those who govern can’t take action; of course we need to be governed, but governed in a way that benefits all of us. And even if the outcome isn’t one we would choose, if it is objectively administered and sensitively handled we could at least start to move forward.

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. There is a description in one of my favourite books ‘In Tune with the Infinite’ by Ralph Waldo Trine. He describes a man who owned a beautiful lotus pond. It was in a natural basin on his farm, supplied with water from a reservoir in the foothills some distance away:

‘ A gate regulated the flow of water from the main reservoir to the pond. It was a spot of transcendent beauty. There, through the days of perfect summer weather, the lotus flowers lay full blown on the surface of the clear, transparent water. June roses and other wild flowers were continually blooming upon its banks. The birds came here to drink and bathe, and from early to late one could hear the melody of their song. The bees were continually buzzing and at work in this garden of wild flowers. A beautiful grove in which many kinds of wild berries and many varieties of ferns grew stretched at the back of the pond as far as the eye could see. The good man who owned the grounds put up a sign to welcome all people to the lotus pond so good were his intentions. Here, were often merry groups of children playing and those who were weary could rest. Men and women seemed to be lifted of their heavy burdens. Many called the place ‘The Garden of God’. The man called it his ‘soul garden’. He would often sit and enjoy the fragrant flowers and sit on a bench in the moonlight. He was a man with a simple outlook but in this place, all his successful dreams and plans came to light. Everything in the vicinity seemed to breathe a spirit of love and kindness, comfort and good cheer. Even the cattle and sheep in the fields flourished. The gate of the pond was always open giving them pure mountain water to drink. For so long this wonderful place flourished until sadly, the man had to go away for a year. A new man was put in charge; one who had not much time for anything other than practicalities. He turned off the water flow and made the area private and invited no visitors. A great change came over everything; the flowers in the pond wilted; birds no longer came to drink and sing and the flowers no longer bloomed. The bees no longer hummed and as the stream dried up so the cattle no longer got their supply of water so they perished. By shutting the gate to the pond, thus preventing the flow of water from the reservoir in the hills, which was the source of life, the appearance of and around the beautiful lotus pond was entirely changed.’

Do we not see a parallel here? When we are connected to the source of good things, to the infinite, then all good things flow, and we live in harmony with the universe. We are connected to beauty and all things that are pure and health-giving. When this is taken from us or we disconnect from what is good, then we can fail to flourish, just like the lotus pond.

So on these, some would say, tumultuous days and when we are feeling less than optimistic, its good to remind ourselves to stay focused, to remember that good actions and good deeds bring the best results, and that when our hearts are open to others we live and let live. We remember that everyone has their own thoughts and opinions and we respect their right to go their own way.

Good manners and kindness are always in fashion.’

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Is it safe to come out yet?