Whatever your views on Christmas and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it is pretty unavoidable.
I actually love Christmas as a rule, but it can be a tricky time for wellbeing for a number of reasons.
There are the more obvious ones such as financial pressure, hectic schedules and hangovers. But here, I will focus on a process that can be particularly challenging at this time of year.
Now, at any time of year, drawing comparisons with others is not too helpful. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy we use the term ‘compare & despair’.
When we make comparisons, we are usually seeking to come out of it in a favourable light. Unfortunately, due to our brain’s tendency to focus on threat, we can often come up short.
If you are concerned about your weight, you may end up comparing yourself against others who weigh less or look slimmer.
If you are concerned about being liked, you may end up comparing yourself against more popular people.
If you are concerned about money, you may end up comparing yourself against that friend who goes on three holidays a year.
You end up feeling much worse.
For many people, Christmas represents a time of year ripe for comparison against others.
The common perception of everyone else being happy at Christmas can be particularly crushing if you don’t feel that way.
If you are single at Christmas (and don’t want to be), you will inevitably compare yourself against your loved-up friend at Christmas.
If you are away from family at Christmas, you will probably have ‘chocolate box’ images of happy laughing families in your mind’s eye when you think about your friends with their families or your own family without you.
Comparisons with yourself
And the comparisons don’t stop there…
Not only do people compare themselves against others, people will also compare against themselves at other times in their life.
- This time last year I was still with my boyfriend.
- This time last year all the family was together.
- This time last year I was so much happier.
This is clearly not going to help us to feel good at Christmas.
So what is the answer?
Step 1: Recognise what you are doing
Quite often, we are drawing these comparisons without even realising what we are doing.
If you can catch the comparison, you can do something about it.
Step 2: Calm your fight and flight response
Your fight and flight response wants you to focus entirely on threat so that you can keep yourself safe. When you are in this response, it is difficult to think any differently.
Taking a few slow, relaxed breaths so that your stomach moves more than your chest can help to calm this response and make it easier to think differently.
Step 3: Recognise that the comparison is just a thought and that your thought is not necessarily factual.
Some or all of the comparison you are making may be completely opinion-based or happening in your imagination.
If you are imagining all your friends cosying up with their families while you are away from yours, you are likely comparing against what you imagine their Christmas is like, rather than the reality.
Your friends may not be able to stand spending time with their family!
If you are making the comparison based on an image in your own head, then it is not factual.
If it is not factual, then there is an alternative (more helpful) way of looking at it.
But What if it is Factual?
Step 4: Add context
We often draw comparisons based on one factor and we neglect to take other things into consideration that put it into any context.
For example: I’m single now and I wasn’t last year.
What you may be neglecting to factor in is the huge row you had with your partner last year on Boxing Day or that you have actually been quite happy to be single throughout the whole of November!
Step 5: Recognise that social media only portrays an edited version of reality
Like step 4, this is partly about acknowledging that there are other things we are not taking into consideration.
If you find yourself comparing yourself to social media posts, remember that these are not an accurate and unedited version of reality.
The picture of the smiling child could have been followed by an almighty sugar-induced tantrum.
The smiling couple may just be staying together because neither one of them wants to break up with the other at Christmas.
The co-ordinated Christmas jumpers could be itchy as hell!
The idea here isn’t to replace unfavourable comparisons with favourable ones – it is just to recognise that most of the time, we don’t know.
There is an alterative opinion if we have formed an opinion that ‘everyone else is happy at Christmas’.
In my opinion some people are, and some people are not.
But, focusing entirely on either those who are happy, or those who are unhappy, is not ultimately going to help us to feel better about ourselves.
If you focus purely on the fact that others could be having a miserable time, it is difficult to gain any real joy or wellbeing from that.
Step 6: Making your own meaning
So, the most important step of all is to step away from comparison and to re-connect with meanings and values that are important to you.
If you are on your own at Christmas, can you think about what you would really enjoy doing just for yourself?
Can you think of a way you can meaningfully connect with someone if you want to?
If you are feeling unhappy at Christmas, can you re-connect with something you value that could help you to feel better?
And it doesn’t have to have anything to do with Christmas!
Ultimately, Christmas can mean whatever you want it to mean.
Wishing you all a meaningful Christmas and wellbeing in the New Year!
Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing is launching wellbeing workshops and guided relaxation sessions for the workplace in Jan 2019!
Image Credit: Pixabay