Though it’s claimed of the holiday season that ‘tis the season to be jolly’ it can in fact be quite the opposite for many. This time of year can be fraught with tension, anticipatory anxiety, and conflict and if that’s the common experience for you, these handy hints might help you navigate the days a little more easily. 

Know your triggers

Not putting yourself in harm’s way is important, so if you can identify what kinds of things trigger difficult feelings for you, it will be easier to prevent or avoid them when there’s a lot of people around. Think back to previous social gatherings and reflect on people, conversations, or behaviours that were problematic. Think about different ways you can manage interactions or respond in situations or ask someone to buddy up with you to act as a buffer and deflect any potential issues. Ask your host to seat you away from those you find difficult and know that the moment the boozy banter begins - it’s time to make a quiet exit. 

Define your own boundaries

Everyone ‘celebrates’ the season differently, but ‘everyone’ doesn’t have to be part of ‘everything’. If you feel pressured by expectations you know others have of you, talk it through with someone in the family or group who can help. Identifying which part of the celebrations are the most important will help you to be there just for the parts that matter and protect you from lengthy exposure to situations or people that may be challenging for you. You can also set other’s expectations in advance by letting them know what time you will arrive and leave ahead of the event. This eliminates that stressful zone where you want to leave but can’t work out how to execute it and end up lingering for longer than you wanted to. 

Make healthy choices    

There is some toxicity in the message that’s reinforced every year of “oh but it’s CHRISTMAS!”. It makes us eat things we shouldn’t, and drink more than we planned. It can also make us feel really bad the next day! If you have experienced significant health challenges of any kind, your brain chemistry can be extra sensitive to overstimulation and toxins. Sugar highs can make us act a little crazier than usual, as can too many drinks in the sun. Before you know it, something regretful is said, someone takes offense where none was meant, and people are cracking out popcorn to watch the annual family screaming match. Knowing your triggers where eating and drinking are concerned can be really helpful. Being clear on what foods or choices could create problems will help you enjoy the festivities and come through relatively unscathed on the other side. Remembering to drink plenty of water throughout is stellar advice for all of us. 

Arrive with love and generosity in your heart

This may seem a little esoteric but arriving with the right mindset can transform the experience you’ll have. We all have that cranky uncle who arrives in a mood, is combative all day, and ends up in a fight with his estranged sister 2 hours in, spoiling the day for everyone. Let’s not be either of those people! Take some time out before an event to rest a little, even meditate and focus your mind on the things you love about what you’re about to be a part of. Reflect on how far you’ve come in recent times, or on what you’ve achieved. Think about how lucky you are to have the support you’ve had from those around you and try to remember that everyone is going through things in their own way. If you can’t find any positives like these, or even a glimpse of a silver lining – you can just not go! Self-care is important and there will be other times to try again if this year just won’t work. Go to the movies , plan a day at the beach with a book, or find an opportunity to help others who don’t have the luxury of choice at this time of year.

If you are experiencing any of the feelings or symptoms mentioned in this article, support is available. The number for Lifeline is 13 11 14 and more information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue. If you are a veteran, know a veteran or are the family member of a veteran who is going through difficulties, you can contact the Australian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs for assistance or contact us at Carry on Victoria and we can point you in the right direction.