How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health Over Christmas
This time of year can be incredibly joyful. However this time of year can also be very stressful. This is a time of year when our relationships with our family members are really put under the spotlight and to the test. A lot of people will spend extended periods of time at home with family members over the Christmas period and this can really put a strain on family dynamics. In therapy sessions at this time of year, the topics that clients are keen to explore often include their personal life and romantic relationships as well as relationships with family members.
Here are some steps that you can take to protect the state of your mental health over the Christmas period when your relationships with family members may be put to the test:
SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES
It is often hardest to set boundaries with our close family members. If there are any people around whom we are likely to say "yes" to when we really want to say "no", this is usually our family. However, it is especially important that we set strong boundaries with our family members so that we don't end up feeling resentful towards them. The outcome of not setting strong boundaries is ending up feeling angry and resentful so if we want to maintain good relationships with our loved ones, boundaries are key. At this time of year this may mean agreeing to have Christmas lunch with your extended family but staying at a hotel rather than at your family member's house, it may mean only agreeing to come to dinner for 4 hours and then leaving after this or it may mean establishing some house rules when you have people come over to visit.
LET GO OF THE "SHOULDS"
With family members we can also feel a lot of pressure to do certain things. For example we may feel that we "should" always be there for family members whenever they need us (even if doing so really puts us in an awkward position) or that we "should" spend as much time with family as possible (even though with some family members our relationship with them is better if we see them in small doses). This is a time of year where we should gently question some of those "shoulds" that come up in relation to our family members. Are these "shoulds" really helpful and serving us or are they actually harmful for how we feel?
PRIORITISE SELF-CARE AND YOUR NEEDS
When around family it can be all too easy to prioritise the needs of others above our own. However, again this can lead to resentment and built up anger over the long-term. For example, you may just go along with everyone else and find that nobody has planned any breakfast or lunch and therefore you don't get to eat anything until 3pm - but as a result you are left feeling really hungry and grumpy. Or perhaps you agree to let extended family members stay with you but they cause a lot of mess and disruption in your house, but again you are too nervous to say anything about it. Maybe doing things for others may also mean that you don't take time to take care of yourself - to get enough sleep, to eat regular meals or to do the simple things that allow you to feel at your best. Prioritising your needs and taking care of yourself over the Christmas period is very important. You will not be in a position to truly enjoy yourself and give your best self to others, if you are neglecting yourself and your needs.
COMMUNICATE YOUR FEELINGS AND NEEDS
Often we feel resentful because we end up doing things that we don't want to do. Perhaps you feel obliged to take care of your sister's kids once a week or to walk your brother's dog, even though it is a huge inconvenience for you to do so. As you haven't communicated to your family members how you really feel and are doing something that you don't really want to do, you can end up really building up a lot of anger towards these family members. However, they are not mind-readers and they may not necessarily know that you aren't happy doing the things that you have agreed to do. At this time of year and more generally it is so important to communicate clearly with your family members what you are and are not comfortable with. Don't assume that other people will know what is on your mind and how you are feeling. We are all different and all see things differently, so your family members may not know what you are thinking and how you are feeling. The best way to avoid disagreement, built up resentment and conflict is to just communicate clearly and yet kindly what you are and are not comfortable with.
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES IN THOSE AROUND YOU
There is always that one family member that you will find annoying. You may love them dearly but spending more time with them at this time of year can often have a negative impact on your mental health. When you are finding yourself annoyed or irritated by someone's quirks - it can help to keep reminding yourself of their positive qualities and traits. What do they do that you respect and appreciate? What are the positive sides of their personality? By aiming to focus on these things more - you should find that family member much easier to spend time with and you may even begin enjoying their company too.
REMIND YOURSELF WHY
If at times it all gets too much and you are wondering why you even agreed to spend time with family members - it can help to remind yourself WHY it is important to you to maintain a relationship with them. If you were told that you couldn't see these family members again for many years - how would you feel about this? Often we take people for granted because they are always there but when we realise how we would feel if they weren't there, suddenly we have a much deeper level of appreciation for them. Reminding ourselves of WHY we invest time into our relationships with family members can really strengthen and deepen the connection that we have with them.
"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others."- Brené Brown