The “silly season” fast approaches with many of us feeling the pressure of work combined with a very busy calendar filling with end of school commitments and festive celebrations, all against the backdrop of the summer holidays. It is a time of year that can bring out the best in us, and it can bring out the worst. How will you cope with the demands on your time, money and cheer? What experiences have you had of silly seasons past? What did you enjoy and what do you hope never to experience again?
We associate the holiday season with stereotyped images of happy families tucking into turkey with all the trimmings, or revelling in a backyard barbecue around the pool, as everyone receives gifts they want. It is a time of year many see as almost magical and look forward to celebrating. While some families head for a quiet place down by the beach or in the bush, others have big extended family gatherings. And, of course, for many there is an overlay of religious celebration.
Despite these joyful imperatives, the silly season is also a time that many of us dread—and more feel this way than you might think. It can become a round of demanding social events accompanied by alcohol, lots of unhealthy food, disrupted routines and often low-level family dysfunction. It can be challenging, emotional, lonely and overwhelming, to say nothing of expensive through festive gift-giving cheer.
The challenge for us all is to balance high expectations with the pressures and realities. Some of us are put under intense pressure by our families, and often by ourselves, to create an awe-inspiring festive season for all—shopping, cooking, decorating, gifts. Others fade into the background overwhelmed by the festive frenzy. The sadness of family breakdown hits home as divorced or separated parents negotiate contact with children, while some parents face the grief of no contact with estranged children. We may be swept up in large extended family events or be alone due to a lack of social networks or family relationships.
Eight reflections on how to be a silly season survivor
Family celebrations are not always happy events. Everyone has such different expectations and feelings can run high—hurt, disappointment, anger. Are there well-worn patterns of conflict in your family that can be disrupted this year? How do you reduce your own reactivity, not take things personally and avoid potential conflict? If you struggle to contain “negative” emotions, retreat to some enjoyable options until you get perspective and calm down. Avoid blaming others and make “let it go” be your motto
Christmas Grinch or Scrooge?
It is fair enough if you don’t enjoy the silly season—your experiences of silly seasons past may not have been good—but it is best to let others have their fun. We don’t serve ourselves (or others) well when we assume a Grinch or Scrooge personality. Muster up kindness and be as patient as you can. It will soon be over.
Reach out and be kind
Let the festive spirit bring out the best in you. Why not challenge the gendered expectations about caring and giving this year? Who in your family carries the greater load for making the festive season special? How can you lighten their load and make sure everyone has a well-deserved break? Special events provide opportunities to tell others how important they are to you, especially family and friends who would love to hear from you. Make an effort to connect with others through a card, email or phone call.
Self-care – hangovers, drunken behaviour and weight gain
Just because it is the festive season doesn’t mean you should throw your health under a bus. There is no better way to survive this demanding time than exercise, healthy food, good sleep and managing alcohol intake and hydration. Whether your excess is alcohol or sweet treats, falling off the wagon is no excuse to give up. Look after your self-esteem and start again. How can you prevent distressing weight gain, the horrors of hangovers and the humiliation of drunken bad behaviour.
Gift giving – make someone happy!
Let’s face the truth. Many of us give and receive unwanted gifts during the holiday season—toiletry sets, socks and celebrity cookbooks. There is nothing better than giving someone a gift they really want. If you have no idea what to get, forfeit the pleasure of surprise and ask them exactly what they want. If the pandemic has created financial pressure tell others you want to exchange simple gifts this year—baked goods, a meal, a potted plant, a homemade card.
Reflect and reset priorities
The end of the year is always a good time to reflect on changes you might want to bring into 2021. The pandemic has invited us to reflect on what we truly value—nature, spending positive time with children, awareness of mental health and the value of self-care, cooking, gardening, music and other endless discoveries.
If you will be alone during the holiday season be prepared with good food and activities to keep you busy—books, exercise, rest, online movies and TV shows, or attend to neglected tasks. Try not to feel sorry for yourself. Remember many others are alone too and “normal” life will resume within a few days.
Impact of the pandemic
While international travel is out of the question, who knows what pandemic restrictions will be in place for the 2020 festive season? The pandemic “is what it is” and we cope best when we can accept and adapt to the situation. If you can’t be with loved ones, explore creative alternatives to celebrate without being together.
If you find your mental health is not good during these times, you may need support outside of your network. We need connection with others for our emotional and physical survival, so always reach out for help. Relationships Australia NSW is here to assist. Contact them on 1300 364277 or visit www.relationshipsnsw.org.au