How To Survive Christmas
– when your head gets in the way!
- First words
- Be Proactive
- Getting Closer
- It’s beginning to look a lot like…
- Christmas Day/Eve
- Curtain Call
It is kind of inevitable. No way around it. Every single year it knocks on our doors and commands our attention.
To most people Christmas is a joyful season and some even opt for more Christmasses through out the year.
Some find it ridiculous and a waste of money, time and efforts.
And others, like myself are somewhere in between – we see the joy and to some extend experience some of it too – but to us, Christmas is not just jingle bells and excitement. On the contrary; we look for ways on how to survive Christmas.
Because: closely tied to Christmas and the holiday season are issues like anxiety, sensory overstimulation, labyrinths of anticipations, depression, chaos and unwanted increase of social events.
What I have found over the years, is that you don’t really say out loud, that you don’t like Christmas that much. It makes people frown and look at you like you are mentally unstable…well, I guess some of us are, but that’s not the point. The point is, if you are not comfortable with Christmas or don’t like it or enjoy it – you should be allowed to feel that way, without people looking oddly at you.
I have pretty much done it all; diving in full throttle and paying the price of overstimuli, taking part with more restraint and still feeling exhausted, taking part with modifications and agreements and finally – spending Christmas alone, making my self a good meal, but that was it.
My problems with Christmas is the extreme expectations, the ridiculousness of the 40 gifts for one child (and you wonder why children are overstimulated at Christmas? Jeez!), the capitalization of something that is supposed to be about love and family is disgusting, it’s the big gatherings, where I prefer the smaller, it’s the globally accepted lying to children (and yes, The Tooth Fairy is a lie too) – why does something have to be invented, made up or lied about to be magical??? Yes, I’m a bit of a Grinch! I play along, because it makes people more comfortable, but most of what takes place during Christmas is just human brains losing their fucking marbles. Sorry!
To me Christmas is family. It’s loved ones. It’s thinking about someone else and making the people around you happy. It doesn’t have to be big or pretentious – in fact, often the magic happens in the smaller and more humble settings. Well, in my opinion of course. I realise that there are plenty of people on the planet disagreeing. And that is okay.
But if you, like me, struggle with Christmas, due to mental exhaustion (diagnosed or not), autism, anxiety….or just plain out struggle…tag along and maybe you will get some ideas on how to survive Christmas.
Use your calendar
This might be a statement that will tempt some of you to give me a smack, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway:
Christmas should not be a surprice. You know it comes. You know when. So the sooner you start preparing and saving up energy for the times ahead, the more you can take off some of the edge of the season.
And don’t you worry – I will take you through some of the planning, so just stay with me and grab my hand and hold tight.
Let people know how you feel or tend to feel around Christmas. It doesn’t have to be December to start that conversation. Start with the persons that are the easiest to confide in and after that you should tell the ones that kinda need to know, like – for instance – your boss, if you hold a job that occasionally comes with extra projects. It is kind of crucial for your boss to know that maybe you shouldn’t be thrown a lot of extra projects in December, if you are already running on fumes. Of course, let your boss know simultaneously that you’ll be glad to take on new tasks and projects when you get your fumes back up.
(DISCLAIMER: this last part is written from a Danish perspective. If you live in a country where your job isn’t secure and safe and your boss can legally fire you for no good reason, then I will strongly advice against this and ask you to focus on the following instead)
If you know you are running on fumes in December then make sure at least your partner or family knows this. Equal to the job situation, they need to know that you might be needing a little help or space to breathe, so they can adjust their scedules and new appointments. Give them the chance to help you, rather than seeing you falling apart.
Make a budget
And when I say make a budget, I don’t mean a budget of what you want, but a budget based on what you can AFFORD. If you have snobs in your family that doesn’t respect that, you can give them my sincerest love and tell them to go fuck themselves!
Christmas is NOT supposed to ruin your economy and you should not have to safe up an entire year, to make it work.
Having said that, Christmas usually do come with extra expenses. Decide beforehand what you want to use on decorations, on the dinner, on extra sweets and most importantly: on gifts! In fact, I strongly suggest that you have a seperate budget for the gifts, because it can easily go crazy when you shop for gifts and you want to be a little extra nice to a person etc.
NO! Stick to your budget. The cool thing about the budget is that you can pretty much re-use it every year. Just remember to add new family members, skip the deco part if you have plenty as it is and so on – but you have the foundation, the basics.
And trust me, once you get it going it will take a load off your shoulders.
Also, you can estimate what to spend next year and spread out the savings, so you won’t really feel the strain on your bank account in December.
What’s not to like?
When to do what
Even if it’s September or October you should start thinking about task deadlines. Where do you spend Christmas? When do you make arrangements? Deadlines for responses? Deadlines for wish lists? When would you like the gifts to be bought? Decorating? When? Sending out cards? When?
We will get back to “When to do what” several times, but this time is about the over all perspective. Don’t dive into the nitty gritties, but just get perspective settled and again: use your calendar!
This is about you finding some ease in the fact that the important things are sceduled and for a while you can rest your head.
– and by “getting closer”, I mean in the vicinity of November.
Lists are your friend
If you struggle with stress and exhaustion during the season, lists are definitly your friend to create some structure and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.
Make a preliminary list of all the things, that needs to be done.
Buying gifts, baking cookies, shopping for Christmas dinner, decorations, postcards – it depends on your traditions and how you spend the holidays, what goes on this list – but the list you make should also be a raw foundation that you can re-use next year with a minimum of changing.
Take a long hard look at that list!
And then, one more look!
It may be that it’s perfect, but I need you to make sure that ALL the tasks on that list is really necessary. If you suffer from fatigue due to mental issues, adding unnecessary weight to your shoulders should be avoided like the plague.
And if the certain tasks are necessary, then ask yourself to whom they are necessary. If the answer is “anyone else but you” this is a task, that you should delegate.
“I hate decorating for Christmas but the kids love it and I’m a single mom, so there’s no way around it”
Yes, there is, sweetie. Your children can help you and thereby making the task being done with quicker – and together, you might even have fun with it.
If they are old enough to request for decorations, they are old enough to help decorate – AND undecorate after Christmas.
Again, scedule decoration day and undecoration day in your calendar – and hold them to it!
If they are not willing to do it – then don’t have decorations!
Any task that is unnecessary to you, should either be dumped or you should get someone to help you do it. It should NOT be on your shoulders alone! Besides, if it’s THAT important to somebody else, they should be happy to help!
When to do what
We covered this in “Be Pro-Active” but it’s time to bring out that calendar again and scedule the next layer of tasks. This time you probably have the exact job scedules, the regular appointments settled, so it will be easier to plan when to go gift shopping and with whom and when to send those Christmas greetings (if you do that – I don’t, I just make a colletive greeting on Facebook. Hey! I told you I was a bit of a Grinch!), when to fetch the Christmas tree and all the other tasks on your list.
But let me tell right now, straight up:
If you have not yet figured out WHERE to spend Christmas, NOW is the time to make the arrangements! Not just to take the worry off your mind, but also to make sure your host knows in due time. Especially if that host is YOU! So….
Where are you going to spend your Christmas this year?
Come on, dear, calendar out and scedule those tasks, so you can get some structure into Christmas season!
Who does what?
Now that you are sceduling the tasks, you should also decide on delegation. This is linked to what I said about prioritizing and getting rid of tasks that weren’t important or necessary.
In a family it can be a good thing to delegate the tasks – maybe you are taking care of the gifts for your part of the family and your partner deals with the other side of the family? Who cooks on Christmas Day? Who wraps the presents? Who decorates? Who arranges a little Christmas event during December? Who does the grocery shopping? So on and so forth…
Make sure that the load is not entirely on you – not even remotely. You should accept nothing less than a 40/60 sharing – ideally 50/50.
And again – if no one helps…maybe the task or issue just isn’t important enough for them, and then…should it even be on the list?
Remember, if you are struggling with a mental illness or condition, your energy levels are probably going to be tested. If you are reading this so far, I dare say, you already know they will be tested.
So have your own back and stand up for yourself – the general Christmas magical experience should not be entirely on you – especially not if you don’t even like Christmas.
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It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like…
This is December 1st. The yearly Christmas hits are infesting the radio stations and store fronts are covered in decorations and the weather is just ridiculous (well, in the northern hemisphere at least). It time for some more lists…..
Christmas Shopping Lists
You are now so close, you should have secured family and friends’ wish lists and an idea of what else to buy for Christmas festivities.
Get it organized in a few shopping lists. Previously, in November, you set a date for gift shopping, maybe you even arranged to make a day of it with a good friend.
Now is the time, to make a list of what to buy – or at least what to look for. Personally I wouldn’t bring an entire wish list – if I was unsure what to get, I would pick out 2-4 options from the list, to make the shopping less stressfull. It limits the amount of stores you have to go to – and if you are smart, you plan the gifts you want to give accordingly. If you already know that you will buy a gift at, say, a fashion store – maybe you can buy more gifts in that same store?
I know, it sounds like you don’t want to put in the effort, but here’s the thing:
You are already putting in efforts above your actual limits. That’s why you are reading this, remember?! And no one has ever made a rule about planning gift giving like that. Hell, the extend of our Christmas gift giving wasn’t even in the original Christmas celebrations. And the season was never meant to be stressful. So you are fully entitled to do what you gotta do in order to reduce your stress levels. If any one takes offense, then I already told you what to do:
“If you have snobs in your family that doesn’t respect that, you can give them my sincerest love and tell them to go fuck themselves!”
And I’ll throw in a peck on the cheek and a wink too for good measure!
So, make those lists in any way you like, as long as it reduces your stress levels!
Who does what?
You have already touched this subject, but take a look again: do you need to make any last minute changes? Has someone unexpected offered help? Make sure that everybody is aware and reminded of their particular tasks and responsibilities. Maybe, if you were smart and had the options, this part is delegated to someone else, so this is actually not you reading.
Oh goodie, new person! – Hi there, my name is Linda, and I’m an autistic lifestyle blogger that is helping your partner/friend/child/sibling/coworker/(fill in the correct title) getting though Christmas. Or, I’m trying to…time will tell, if I have succeeded.
Nah, joke aside, it’s December and if you struggle with the holidays then it’s really important that you know which tasks are yours, so you can be strategic about your energy usage from now on. It is also important that you know who does the tasks that are NOT yours – because if you have a head like mine, you will worry about it, unless you know.
When to do what
Like the previous paragraph, you need to be on top of when to do the different things that you are supposed to do.
Also, now is a very good time to prepare for a day to sit down and think about how the Christmas Day/Eve itself is going to play out. This might, for practical reasons, require a conversation or a cozy meet up with your host, if you are going somewhere else. And I strongly suggest, while planning, that you look at the “Christmas Day/Eve” section of this post.
Also, the plans you made in November might need to be validated or resceduled. Get on top of it fast and if you are anything like me, you make a plan B, so a last minute cancellation doesn’t throw your wellbeing to the rats.
Say you sceduled gift shopping in November to Dec 14th. Well, check up: is it still a “date”? And in your own calendar scedule a back up date such as Dec 18th, where you can get YOUR bit done. December is not a time for surprices. Not until the unwrapping of gifts at Christmas Day/Eve (depending on where you live).
So follow up on your calendar, add in new appointments – and remember to scedule a last minute shopping on Christmas day itself – there are usually that one odd ingredient or two, that you just forgot about. Make sure it doesn’t take you by surprice.
Besides – if you do remember everything – that sceduled shopping will be a welcome chance to lean back for an hour, kick off your shoes, close your eyes and breathe…
Hey, scedule a kicking-off-shoes-and-breathing-session while you’re at it. Then you’re sure you get time to do that.
I told you, there is always that odd thing or two…
Last minute Christmas Shopping List
This is self-explanatory. You missed or forgot a few things, write them down, double check – no triple check – if there’s anything else missing. Have you got nylons to go with the dress? Hair pins? Does the car need gas? Did you remember to buy a gift for your host?
This is now that you get the final things purchased.
Plan the day
You already did this before, but that was the outline of the day. Now I want you to find at least – AT LEAST – three times during the day/evening, where you can step aside and take a deep breath.
Socializing isn’t really the greatest strength when struggling with mental issues and small talking can take its toll. It doesn’t mean you don’t like your family or friends – it just means, you have to take a little extra care of yourself.
So, before sitting down for the dinner, after the main course, after dessert, before gifts…it all depends on which part of the world you spend Christmas, because we have different traditions – and within one nation, there can be numerous traditions and variations as well. So you will know best, when you can take 5 minutes and go outside for a breath of fresh air.
Get it planned. Knowing the next time for a small time-out can sometimes help the stress levels.
Clear job tasks and responsibilities
If you are a guest, then maybe this is done with quickly. If you are the host, then this is important. Like I have said many times before: if you KNOW who does what and that they are aware of their responsibility, it helps you relax a little, because you won’t have to worry constantly about it.
If anyone suddenly skips their responsibilities, kick their asses.
I mean it – at least metaphorically – that’s just a dick move!
Especially if said person knows how you struggle.
But again, maybe you have delegated this particular part and this is no concern of yours.
Good for you!
Strategies and solutions
In the previous “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like…” I told you to plan the Christmas Day/Eve itself to some extend.
Strategies and solutions are issues you should have thought about at this point.
But those are only the expected challenges. Anyone with a mental illness or condition will know that many things rely on how you actually feel in the situation on that specific day. Mental issues can only to some extend be planned.
So go over your strategies and solutions. What those are, depends highly on your condition.
Social Anxiety? Get someone to shield you from most of the small talk. Maybe preparing something in the kitchen will be better or setting the table etc.
Greeting people? Shake hands? Hugs? Get someone to go first and copy them or let some know that you can’t read people in this area and you need a little guidance.
The gift unwrapping? If you are in a new place, find out what their tradition is. Do you say “thank you” after each unwrapping, do you say “thank you” when all the unwrapping is done? The more you know, the more relaxed you can face it.
These are just some examples of issues, I face – find out what you struggle with and work out a strategy that can take the edge off or solutions that might mean you don’t have to deal with it at all.
Adjust what needs to be adjusted and memorize what works.
You’ve got this!
Watch Buddy (Make sure you get help)
You know the term “designated driver”, right? It’s a person that prior to the fact has agreed to drive home, and therefore committing to stay alcohol- and drugfree.
In this case I’d like to use the term “designated Watch Buddy”. Find someone you trust, that is willing to keep an eye on you throughout the festivities.
Well, usually people like us have a rather big need to please, to fit in and not stand out. So sometimes, we might ignore our own alarm system, because we don’t want to disappoint people (even though, if you’ve prepared properly, they KNOW and ACCEPT that this is a tough time for you). Christmas is filled with expectations – and most of them are our own expectations. Usually, we are our own worst enemies.
So, a Watch Buddy should keep a kind eye on you and if your eyes drop, tear up, your hands start shaking etc. – your Watch Buddy will put an arm around you and guide you to those 5 minutes of fresh air or a quiet place.
On a more general level, especially if you’re the host, just make sure that you get help. If someone offers to – I don’t know – watch the gravy while you peel the potatoes, then let them do so.
There is absolutely no shame in getting help. And FYI, most people, even without diagnoses and mental issues, secretly think Christmas is hard work and stressful.
Why not be the role model and make it acceptable to make Christmas a TEAM EFFORT!
And given the fact that it’s a holiday for love, family and doing good – then why the hell would Christmas be anything BUT a team effort?
Quiet space for time-outs
Suffering from a mental illness or having a mental condition – or a physical for that matter – you know and I know, that sometimes shit hits the fan.
Sometimes 5 minutes of fresh air isn’t going to cut it.
There are two things you need to prepare, that are essential:
- Make sure you have a quiet space, a room where you can shut the door, crawl under a blanket and rest your sences. You may not need it, but it’s important that you have the option, if you DO need it. Which is why if you are visiting, this is a good thing to clear with your host prior to the occation.
- If you have any obligations or responsibilities, it’s important that there is someone who can stand in for you, while you recollect yourself. The better option is keeping your Christmas day as responsible free as possible, but that is not always do-able. A good person to choose for your stand in, could be your Watch Buddy.
This is also why telling people about your difficulties is a good idea. It will ensure that if shit does hit the fan, they will be more likely to help, stand in and most of all – not judge or assume things like e.g. you’re lazy or don’t like them or you’re rude.
If they know, say, that you have social anxiety and get highly exhausted in social settings – they’d know why you would sometimes go outside for a breather – and more importantly, they would know not to keep you company, because of a well intentioned idea of “uh, a chance for one on one small talk!” – you and I both know, that the last thing you need, when you step outside for solitude, is talking to your concerned aunt about the latest developments in your treatment and medication!
Be open. Be transparent. Be honest.
It seems like a lot!
But guess what – this will only be a lot the first year, you use this guide. Because if you write your lists right and make a good budget, most of this is actually re-usable.
After Christmas, you just put it in a drawer or file cabinet and set your phone to remind you next September to pull it out again. Or – >wink< – you can subscribe your mail to my blog and I will remind you ever so kindly when we reach September 2019 and I’m sending out the September ’19 newsletter.
If this is a particular hard year, then start with Christmas Day/Eve and get that prepared as best you can. There are no right and wrongs here, in fact – all of this is pretty much just a suggestion. It’s how I deal with Christmas, learned from many mistakes and successes over the years – but it may need some adjusting to fit you perfectly. If that is the case, by all means, adjust away.
The most important thing about all of this is that you make the most out of Christmas. Experience as much of the cheer and joy as your health allows you.
A few times in this post, I’ve mentioned that maybe that particular task in the paragraph was delegated and while it may seem like me joking around, I’m actually pretty serious:
If you’re in a relationship and your partner or a close family member is loving planning and delegation, why not print this and get them to steer through the labyrinths of Christmas. Some people actually love this and would be grateful to do it.
So let them. Hell, for all you know, it might be what makes their Christmas jingle!
I hope this has at least given you some ideas on how to make Christmas easier for you. I would hate it, if I had forced you through this rather long post, and you hadn’t gained something from it.
All my best wishes to you – even if it may be hard, I hope you get the best Christmas your health allows you.
Merry Christmas, sweetie.
You are stronger than you think.
Take good care…