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19 December 2020
Effectively facing the challenges of the season, and beyond
Words Lyn Beasy
Every year, Christmas seems to come around sooner than the year before. By the time December arrives, we are already feeling rushed, unprepared and juggling too many commitments – cramming in end-of-year parties, school graduations, family gatherings, Christmas shopping, carol services and house guests.
Our resilience has been tested in many ways during 2020, and even the lead-up to Christmas this year is feeling a little different, with many of the usual traditions either missing or restructured.
The Christmas season also brings expectations, whether they be the expectations imposed by other people and situations, or expectations that we place upon ourselves. In a society that reflects a consumerist worldview, we can get caught up in the commercialisation of Christmas. This is expressed in our gift purchases, decorating, and even our Christmas table.
Managing extra demands at this time of year requires a level of resilience to not only survive the festivities, but also to have reserves to really enjoy all that it brings.
Being resilient is having the ability to overcome or bounce back from difficult circumstances. It requires a level of mental toughness and stress tolerance. It doesn’t mean we can avoid stress or difficulty, as we can’t always plan or predict when we will experience stress, but it does help us minimise the effects of the situation, recover and get back to feeling our best self.
Everyone has a different level of stress tolerance. What is overwhelming for one person may not seem that difficult for another. The good news is that resilience can be developed at any time to help you increase your tolerance for stress and the ability to bounce back. However, if you wait until you are overwhelmed with stress before you implement some strategies to do this, it is much harder to see any real effect.
Resilient people generally tend to have similar characteristics that help them overcome adversity. Being optimistic helps us recognise that while things might be hard right now, they will improve.
Resilient people are flexible and adaptable, so they can adjust to change and move things around if something isn’t working. Additionally, they tend to have good problem-solving skills and self-belief that they can rise above their circumstances. This year has tested our ability to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances that are often out of our control.
Finally, and often most importantly, resilient people tend to have good social skills and seek out support from others in times of difficulty. Relationships where there is mutual support, care and encouragement help boost a person’s resilience.
In the lead-up to Christmas, consider giving yourself a gift by adopting some resilience-building strategies. Learning ways to become more resilient and less prone to stress will help us throughout the year, not just over the summer holiday season. Keep an open mind and commit to practising these strategies to develop better resilience.
One way to build resilience is by getting a better perspective. When we are stressed, we often lose focus on what’s important and get caught up in the minor details. At Christmas time, these details can be in trivial things such as coordinating our wrapping paper and ribbons! If something doesn’t match perfectly, who cares? How importantwill it really be in one, five or 20 years? Will people really remember the year you forgot the pudding?
In other words, put things in their right perspective and let small things go. If you tend to be someone for whom perfectionism is a struggle, put effort into decreasing your effort and self-imposed demands, and watch if anyone notices a difference.
Additionally, we need to lighten up and see the funny side of situations. A sense of humour in difficult times is really helpful.
ASK FOR HELP
Recognise the signs of overload and implement some self-care techniques. These could include setting aside a few minutes each day for relaxation, stretching or getting outdoors and doing something enjoyable.
Don’t neglect your own needs. Ask for help, and if others are putting unrealistic expectations on you, be prepared to find your voice and express your needs. Offer an alternate solution. Maintain an optimistic outlook. The holiday season only lasts a few weeks, and once the busyness of December passes, look forward to doing some relaxing and fun things in January. Find ways to include family and time for you to unwind and recharge.
Sometimes our biggest stresses come from people closest to us, such as those who upset everyone around them, or when rifts between family members occur. When misunderstandings happen, try to reframe the meaning of what has happened. Consider a few different ways of looking at the situation. Instead of imagining the worst, think of a more palatable explanation that can help defuse hot feelings.
AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
At the same time, it’s important to maintain those social and family connections that provide support. Recognise those people that add to your life and include them in this time. A wonderful gift you can give each other is to affirm friends and family for who they are, what they mean to you and how they add value to you. It’s a simple yet priceless gift in which you can both reap the rewards.
In our family, we have adopted a practice of setting aside a night to come together where each person shares the highlights of their year, things they are thankful for and a prayer request. It has become a special time of bonding and gratitude – another aspect of developing resilience.
Gratitude helps shift our perspective and prevents us becoming bitter, resentful, or losing focus on what’s important. Adopting an attitude of gratitude and making it a daily practice keeps our eyes fixed on the positive.
While becoming a more resilient person will help you manage your own stress levels, it may also help those closest to you. When they see you managing your stress levels and developing resilience, they are more likely to feel secure and confident.
If you have young children, try to see the awe and wonder that is Christmas through their eyes.
Take time to share with them the Christmas story – the gift of Jesus to the world – and reignite the child within as you share with them the fun parts of the season. Listen to them and validate their feelings. Develop their strengths by engaging their help in the preparations and build their confidence by encouraging their efforts. Accept them for who they are, avoid constant fault-finding and see mistakes as an opportunity to learn.
Learning resilience is an ongoing process, but one worth investing in. It will equip you to navigate the difficult times and to recover to fully embrace all you have been created to be.
Lyn Beasy is a psychologist in NSW.