12 days of Christmas: Quick Tips to Manage the Stress and Set Yourself up for Success
Christmas is not always the most wonderful time of the year. Often we are dealing with extra stress, spending more money, more pressure, less sleep. And that doesn’t even include the stepfamily layers of competition between houses, missing kids because of custody disputes and threats, last minute schedule changes, and bad behaviour that doesn’t belong only to little kids. So heading into the last 12 days of Christmas what are some good ways to handle the chaos and the crazy? I’m composing some of my old post, blogs and articles to help you “sleigh” your way through to Christmas day. You can implement 1 tip or idea every day. Common themes around Christmas include: managing anxiety, fighting depression, contending with unmet expectations and coping with grief. I have highlighted them for you below to lighten your heavy mind, heart and soul.
Anxiety creeping up on you? My favourite book and resource is a book by Edmund Bourne called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (this isn’t an affiliate link but here for your ease: It prescribes many treatment modalities that give you control over your own anxiety. I am never opposed to medication where it’s deemed necessary. However, I have done lots of research and I like to recommend to my clients natural options in addition to the medication route. Good thing that these suggestions are Fresh air, sunshine, light exercise (like stretching in the morning when you wake up), and listen to music that invigorates you. It doesn’t have to be Christmas carols. Grounding or getting in tune with yourself is always beneficial. I have been making meditations and affirmations a big part of my self care diet. Here’s one I do on a regular basis. Feel your heart center. Slow down and breathe, deeply. in through the nose and a deep sigh out. Focus on the breath as it fills your chest. Then focus on the sigh out like a “haaaaa”. Focus on the tension leaving your shoulders, your jaw, your eye brows, your upper or lower back, shake your hips side to side , feel your feet planted on the ground, all your toes and your heels as they come into contact with the floor or ground or wiggle them in your shoes. Shake out your shoulders and hands. Smile into your heart. That was a 2 minute way to ground. Take it slower by focussing on more of your muscle groups and you can stretch it out to 5 minutes.
Another tip I read about and use is focussing on your 5 senses as a way to calm anxiety- and it works for me. For each of the senses below think..what brings you joy?
Smell- Get your diffuser going with lemon essential oils which uplifts your energy, coffee is my miracle drug and the smell brewing in the morning brings me hope and optimism and strength.
Touch- flannel is comforting and brings warm memories for me. Or cozy, fuzzy socks
Taste- coffee, red wine, tea, or pepermints
Sight- something that calms you- a painting, a flower, a fish tank
Hear- music, drumming or playing music that is uplifting
And always laughter is wonderful for
pressing the reset button
Depression is more common as days get darker sooner, the days are colder, and the nights are long. Seasonal affective disorder is real- I know. I have it. And it is a constant battle from late October to late February. I have to keep ahead of my mental well being by managing stress, getting enough sleep, taking my vitamins and exercising. Depression can get trickier if you are adding grief to your struggle. Loss can be greatly magnified by the pressure to be happy. In addition to the social pressure to spend time with others. That can create guilt which adds to your emotional baggage you already have packed in your U-Haul. Withdrawing further can be dangerous. That being said depression and anxiety can be best friends who like to hang out with each other. If that is the case then you would be well advised if you saw a mental health professional. A lot of the suggested steps in anxiety can also work for depression. Fresh air, exercise, plenty of sun. Stay away from alcohol. Especially if you have leaned on alcohol as a coping method. Alcohol is a depressant and can make things worse.
Unmet expectations: These are tricky. Sometimes we don’t even know we have them unless we run into them and discover they aren’t met. Ask yourself, are they realistic? Achievable with minimum effort or without multiple people involved? If the answer to that is “yes” then the next steps are to manage them, by lowering them, then lower them again. They are not worth having if it causes you or anyone else stress or feeling hopeless and helpless. And have a frank discussion with yourself about where the expectations are coming from: you? Your partner? Your family? Friends? I have had this conversation more than once recently: Nobody knows what it’s like to be a stepparent, except another stepparent. That includes your partner if he or she isn’t a stepparent. Journalling can help you. Writing them out for you to see them can help you assess them. And then re- write them. Truly, you are the only one who can determine or influence your own happiness and well being. You control your reaction or response. You choose your behaviour.
For stepfamilies, the unrealistic expectations usually come from basing our reality on what first time families are and what they do. Stop comparing yourself now.
Christmas isn’t the day…it’s a feeling, it’s the coming together of friends and family to celebrate the SEASON. As my family has gotten bigger, we rarely all get together on the 25th. For many many years it’s been the day that works best for most of us. We have other family obligations as our children partner up and have families of their own. When you have the kids with you, whatever day that is, focus on the memories you create, taking out the sled and hitting the hill, baking, movies. Simple. Fun.
Grief and loss: Often times unmet expectations lead into grief and loss. Because sometimes the loss is a progressive one, not the “all of a sudden” it’s not there or the person isn’t there anymore kind of loss. For many stepmoms, it’s the loss of the dream, of their vision of what stepfamily life was going to be like. It’s adjusting to the new reality after you accept that you cannot change it. It’s accepting you have no control in that loss. For me it was not having the “one big happy family”. For many, it’s knowing that he or she had children with someone else, that they had a family before your family. It’s real, and no, it’s not something you can talk yourself out of feeling or something you can easily get over because someone tells you to. Give yourself the space and grace to grieve in a way that will support you. I have suggested to many folks who struggle that helping or volunteering to help others in greater need always reminds you of your goodness, your grace and your compassion. It’s a powerful shift towards the positive. There is never a short supply of need this time of year. It restores my faith in the goodness of people, and it truly is the reason for the season. May you find and keep peace in your mind, heart and soul this season.