Friday, December 8, 2023

Running On Empty: How To Survive Until Christmas

We know, we know. It’s Christmas… again??? And instead of a tropical holiday, you’ve got a growing to-do list. Here are four tips on how to survive until Christmas.

The Queen song Thank God It’s Christmas is one of my favourite tunes, but I’ll be honest that I don’t really embrace that vibe until, oh, about December 20. From November onwards, my brain works like this:

‘Holy Shit, It’s November’ >> ‘Where Has The Time Gone?’ >> ‘Will I Ever Be Young Again?’ >> ***Full Existential Crisis*** >> ‘No Time To Have A Crisis, There’s Too Much To Do.’

If you are also in full denial at what time of year it is, then hi! Here are four strategies I will be using to get through (and even enjoy!) the next – checks calendar – six weeks (!)

Identify What Is Within Your Control

Here is what you can control: eating regularly, drinking enough water, getting enough movement when you can, writing a realistic to-do list of what is required of you, hugging the people around you, finding a cause that means something for you either at home or abroad and giving whatever time or money you have available.

Here is what you cannot control: everything else. Specifically, how other people view and plan for Christmas, what your family might say at the dinner table, what’s on that dinner table, peace in the Middle East, what the weather might be like, how well you sleep, how well everyone in your house sleeps, what happens with climate change, how the next work deadline goes, sickness, money troubles, your mortgage rate, whether or not Trump gets elected again.

When everything in the world feels too big, fast and scary, that’s when you try and keep your side of the street clean. If a situation is causing you pain, ask yourself: can I do anything about this tomorrow? If you can, amazing! If you can’t, then you are spinning the wheel of anxiety for nothing.

Look After Your Health (Yawn)

The reason those basic health rules come up time and time again, particularly at this time of year – get enough sleep, drink enough water, eat enough vegetables – is because they work. But, they’re also so boring! Especially during festive season, where it becomes far too easy and fun to replace dinner with canapes and champagne and stay up past your bedtime for three nights in a row. Look at you, you feel so young again! Until day three, when you have to crawl out of bed. Schedule in enough do-nothing nights as a buffer to any social plans so that you make it to Christmas without catching a cold or hitting an exhaustion wall by mid-December.

Reframe The Stress

This is an old trick from Dr Libby but it is an easy way to change your frame of mind: instead of saying, ‘I HAVE to do this, this and this,’ tell yourself, ‘I GET to do this, this and this.’ Most of the things that clog up our calendars, brains and inboxes in November and December are actually good things – events, presents to buy, festive meals to plan, people you like or even love that want to see you.

As a personal example, my husband, me and our seven-month-old infant are moving house the week before Christmas and that is a sentence that can overwhelm me at the best of times! But it is a sentence I would have killllllled to say not too many years ago when I was heartbroken for quite a few miserable Christmases, and that is what I keep reminding myself. Past me would have LOVED to have had this problem.

Our bodies react to stress the same way they did back in the caveman times, so if you view your festive calendar with nothing but overwhelm, then your brain is like ‘holy shit, this tiger will not stop chasing me and I will never be safe.’ But if you can take some of that stress and turn it into excitement, then suddenly it’s a festive tiger, at least.

What Is Your 15 Minute Time-Out Secret Weapon

Self-care is such a trite phrase at this time because even though it was invented by a bad-ass activist, these days it’s used to sell, I don’t know, body wash.

But cliché aside, it is a tool to help you feel like you are a human, rather than walking to-do list. The way to make it work for you is to make it personal, because one person’s self-care suggestion – a bubble bath! – is another person’s private hell – too sweaty! Too hot!

What small, achievable action can you do in the next day to feel like a person again? You may only have 15 minutes in a day or a weekend to achieve it, but we can work with that!

For me, it’s reading a book for the length of time it takes me to drink an entire cup of tea (15 minutes). If I can squeeze one entire cup of tea into a day, or weekend, and read something nice, versus doom scroll on my phone or reply to emails, then I can literally feel the difference in my body.

What is your time out secret weapon? Could you do a 15-minute guided meditation? Could you ring a pal? Paint your fingernails? Sit still long enough that the cat falls asleep on you? Take a sunset stroll round the block with your dog? Find what feels personal to you and make it happen – 15 minutes at a time.

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