The are many reasons you might be feeling stressed this silly season. Maybe itâs how busy everything is, how difficult it can be just to do your regular stuff when the shops are jammed with people gift-shopping, or kids out of school. Maybe itâs that cheesy Christmas music and the decorations that seem to be everywhere. Maybe itâs the heat, the stuff still to do before you finish work for the year, or the money to do everything you feel you have to do, buying gifts and stretching out the budget between holiday pay periods. Maybe itâs an aching feeling like you know youâll be getting so tanked it will take days to get over itâŚ How did a simple summer holiday get SO complicated and stressful?
For many people, the Christmas period takes a whole lot of stressors and brings them all together into one place at one time. Sometimes itâs memory triggers from Christmas past of friends and family who are distanced from our LGBTI lives, or being torn between a solitary time at home or going to a venue where being ignored by strangers feels even more solitary and lonely. Then there are those things you donât want to do, but that you know will tempt you - drugs, alcohol, excessive eating, excessive random sex - somehow the message of joy, peace, a new year and a better you get lost because the reality is very different to the Christmas cards and movies.
Whatever way people find to deal with this not-so-Christmas-card Christmas is their way, and thereâs no single answer. The first step towards finding a solution is to let yourself feel safe to say that itâs tough. Possibly the biggest single Christmas stressor is our need to put a brave and happy face on it, after all, who cries at Christmas?
Well, frankly, many of us do. And itâs ok. And itâs also ok to be gentle with yourself.
Gentle Ways to Cope With Stress
Being gentle with ourselves often doesnât come easy and thereâs no simple solution to stress but there are some things you can do that will help make stress less intense:
Breathe. In stressful situations, we often take shallow breaths and lots of them. Gently push yourself to breathe in deeper, right to the belly, and to breathe out slowly. If it feels like youâre suffocating yourself with slow breathing, get into a comfortable position (sitting, standing or lying down) and gently slow your breathing until you are breathing deep from your tummy.
Drink plenty of water. Itâs summer and we dehydrate. Mild dehydration can cause us difficulties in the way we think or plan â and stress arises when we make planning mistakes.
Be realistic about commitments. Few people mind if you say ânoâ to something, and you may need to be sensible rather than rushing from one thing to the next.
One-on-one time. Include a bit of quiet time catching up with a good friend. And listen to what they may have to say. Anyone who knows you well will spot the signs of stress.
Be careful with what you eat and drink. Try to make sure you have fresh food and either water or a healthy drink available. If you plan a binge or a big night out, minimise the stress or âmorning afterâ by healthy eating of nutritious foods before you go out, and by remembering that many of the things we do to celebrate have a depressive effect: even eating lots of chocolate is likely to give you a sugar rush which is often followed by a feeling of low energy.
Get regular moderate exercise. A walk (or if youâre more of a fitness junkie, a run or a swim) can be a great way to give yourself permission to relax, or to disconnect, or to let your mind off the clock for a while.
Loneliness and isolation can be best overcome by a safe process of reaching out. Try taking a walk instead of using the car, and greeting people along the way. Itâs about gently engaging with the people around you.
Keep an eye out for community events. Sometimes it will be a huge challenge to go to a social event that may be full of strangers. Thatâs ok, we donât need huge challenges. But maybe people you know are hosting an event thatâs open to everyone. For example, in Auckland thereâs a Christmas orphans party at Coyle Park on Christmas Day; itâs for LGBTI people who have no other plans.
Make positive time for yourself, so that by meditating, or writing, or painting, or listening to your favourite music, you make better friends with yourself. It seems strange that a solution to feeling lonely is to be alone, but it seems to work, and when an opportunity arises for you to have company, you respond positively to the experience, rather than from your dark place.
Itâs a mystery how relationships survive Christmas. For many of us, it is when we have the most time with our partners. Our partners are the people we know best but time together is often extra time not to talk. After all, why ask a question when you know the answer?
As in everything with relationships, listening is the greatest skill. Second to listening, and often even more difficult, is the courage to be honest.
âDo you want âŚ?â your partner might ask (it can be anything). Sometimes itâs just because your partner wants to have something or do something, but often itâs a way of expressing something deeper. If youâre working hard in the garden and your partner keeps asking if you want a cold drink or a cup of tea, itâs like them saying âI know Iâm useless at gardening, but I want to acknowledge what youâre doing, and I want to helpâ. If you have had so many cups of tea youâre ready to burst, you might have to get creative, but just be aware those questions are often your partner saying âI love youâ, and if you answer negatively, itâs like saying âno you donâtâ.
If there is something about your partner, or their family, or their traditional summer season activities that really bugs you, think about how best to communicate that to your partner, communication is an important and valuable tool in any relationship.
OUTLine operates during our usual hours over the holiday period (weekdays 9am â 9pm, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 6pm â 9pm). If you are feeling down or out of sorts with things over Christmas, give us a call and have a chat. You donât need to feel really desperate to call us: weâre happy to have a little talk about whateverâs on your mind.