Could your Christmas be cancelled? A therapist tells us how to soften the blow
As much as many of us were hoping things would be different this year, there’s no denying it: Christmas could end up cancelled.
Regardless of what happens with official restrictions, if you need to isolate, plans to get together with loved ones might well be scuppered. Also, some families might decide to skip the gatherings as a preventative measure, to keep more vulnerable and elder relatives safe.
Feeling those festive fret levels rising? We hear you. But there are some things you can do to make it a bit more bearable.
Let yourself feel itIf you’re disappointed, even devastated about cancelling Christmas plans, you’re allowed to feel it. Forcing ourselves (or each other) to never express a ‘negative’ emotion – because someone always has it worse, for example – is usually not helpful.
“Christmas is a time when you can feel under an awful lot of pressure, including to conform in terms of being happy and joyous and embracing the season and the rest of it. Now is a time more than ever that we have to give ourselves permission to be really kind to ourselves,” says Liz Ritchie, an integrative psychotherapist from St Andrew’s Healthcare (standrewstherapy.co.uk).
And how you feel doesn’t have to be the same as everyone else. As Ritchie says, some might even “breathe a sigh of relief” at gatherings being cancelled. Letting ourselves feel things and react is healthy and may actually help us come to terms with things.
Let the guilt go
It’s not only our own disappointment we have to contend with. For many, there’s the anxiety and guilt of letting others down – especially if you have relatives who had their hearts set on all being together. Letting go of guilt can take a lot of practice. But with so many things out of our control, trying to do this may help.
Ritchie says it helps to remind ourselves that “everybody has to restrict in some way”. And “because it has been a couple of years now, it’s really important we prioritise what is best for us. To really think about our needs and how we might be able to cope with potentially feeling that we’re disappointing others.
“That’s the obligation element of Christmas, the expectation that we should just be appreciative of seeing people and making a real effort – and of course we can’t really do that this year,” Ritchie adds. “So don’t feel bad if you have to cancel plans and adjust.”
You can still make it niceChristmas might not be ‘the same’, but can you still make it lovely? Rip up the rules and eat whatever meal you fancy on December 25, for example. See which local restaurants are doing deliveries or home cooking kits, order some nice bits in. If you’re isolating, could somebody help? Gift yourself a crafting kit or an extra movie subscription – whatever it takes.
Don’t feel pressured to do a billion Zoom calls if that’s going to make you feel worse (we’ve all made peace with our personal Zoom limits by now, right?), but do schedule in some lovely calls or remote game sessions if that’s an option.
Yes, it still sucks, but we’ve learned a lot over the past couple of years. We’ve got this. “Whether we realise it or not, the last couple of years is testament to the fact that we are resilient and we can adapt,” says Ritchie. “If we’d been told 10 years ago that we’d have to face this pandemic, many of us would have thought no, we can’t cope with that.“We’ve surprised ourselves really, the coping mechanisms we have are very effective, and often we don’t even realise we are doing it.” And having a good cry or moan can be an important part of resilience too – so if you need to let that out of your system, do it.
What else is going on in your life?The pandemic dominates so much now, it’s easy to forget it’s not the only thing going on. But, as Ritchie says: “Christmas is already difficult for many, for other reasons.
“There will be people who’ve lost family members and this will really shine a light on those losses, people who have become estranged during the pandemic, people who still have health problems. Things like trauma and abuse, which has been on the rise during the lockdowns, this can be a time where people might be reminded of those experiences.”
Then there’s the financial pressure, stressful family situations, general loneliness… Christmas really can be emotionally fraught. If you do end up dealing with the fallout of a ‘cancelled Christmas’ too, Ritchie suggests just being “mindful” of whatever else might be going on for you that could benefit from an extra dose of self-compassion.
“We talk about having empathy for others, but we also need to have empathy for ourselves, so we can feel more comfortable about the decisions we make,” she says. “So be mindful of setting boundaries and really listen to yourself.”
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