I haven’t met one person in any context that is not looking at Christmas with some form of dread…. ok, maybe I am exaggerating, I HAVE actually met ONE person (she is 15) who IS waiting for Christmas with anticipation. All the rest are seriously dreading it. And their ‘dread’ takes different forms…. From having to be with family they don’t necessarily get on well, having to put up with jokes they don’t really find funny, with insults and unnecessary reminders of how they haven’t achieved this, or how Mrs X’s son is doing so well and has also married the girl next door… Others dread it because it’s a reminder of a loss…while others have just broken up or divorced from long-term relationships, which will create all sorts of awkward practicalities not only for them but also for their families and friends. For others it’s a huge financial burden that even though they are trying to get out of it with creative options like, let’s stick to chocolate only, or each one of us buys one gift, or we have a limit of 20 quid, they don’t seem to be able to escape from it because there will always be one person within the family that will not stick to that and he or she will spread the guilt to the rest fine sugar in a Christmas pudding!

Everything has to be ‘perfect’. The Christmas tree, the presents, the wrapping, the clothing, the nails, the hair… capture the moment, oh and I forgot the Turkey or whatever one chooses to eat on that day. If you think about it, what we do, is that we have ‘decided’ on one defining moment in time that we will get a tree, a plastic one or a dead one – both choices are equally ridiculous – hang colourful stuff on it and the kitschier the better and because the bling is not enough, let’s also throw some lights on it! Yeay! We will listen to “Last Christmas” for the 1000nt time… For the ideal setting, get a dead bird and shove some dried fruit and sauce up its bum because that is real Christmas then! You may think I am cynical or that I am writing this because I “must have had terrible Christmases’’ during my childhood! Not at all! I have been really lucky and we always had a lovely Christmas, albeit not white, because we were in Nigeria, but it was always nice, warm and picturesque! What I don’t like as I am getting older is what it has become. The commerciality of everything, that one HAS TO DO this on a certain date…. One HAS to remember the puppies, the elderly, the lonely and the charities on THAT DATE. That one HAS to be happy on a specific day and spend it in a particular way… So, it’s the FORCED HAPPINESS that bothers me… Once, during my recent adult life, I remember lying to everybody and saying to them I can’t be with them because I will be with somebody else, because all I wanted to do was to REST and be on my own with my own thoughts… I didn’t want to get dressed, be with people with which one may not want to interact with (a few of them)… It was brilliant! That same year, I remember taking down the Christmas decoration on the 1stof January in the morning… just wanted to open the window and throw everything out… (I didn’t, but that’s how I felt).

So, all these people that tell me how they dread the coming days… yet they / we are all still doing it! Why? Who are we doing it for? Because the others don’t want to do this either! That’s how absurd we are as a human race. And because we can’t keep the hypocrisy to ourselves we also dress our pets in the ‘Christmas spirit’! (I plead guilty on this one, only because I think red really suits them!)

A huge source of stress is EXPECTATIONS. Yes, I keep referring to those because they are the ‘mother’ of all evil in any relationship (personal or professional). And what’s worse, we have them  AND we fail to articulate them or we THINK we have articulated them. So, then they are not met and guess what… disappointment kicks in… And it doesn’t stop there… another thing we do as an “intelligent” (??) species is our tendency to expect THE BEST! Defined by whom, I am going to ask… This is what we call the Optimism Bias, which apparently is inherent in our brains. Add to that another trap called the Planning Fallacy, or our tendency to underestimate how much time and effort it takes to complete something despite evidence based on our previous experience…eh well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise why many Christmases end up in a mess, chaos and stress. Plus all this “high” inevitably leads to a “low” and feeling of emptiness in the month of January. So, we really aren’t that smart after all, are we?!

Let’s look at Family Affairs… you may not live close to your family, so you may be visiting them for the festivities and staying with them. Several things magically take place here. First, your brain without you realising reverts to your childhood and you re-live and enter into the old schemas that were in place when you were a child and still lived with your parents. So, you may be in your 40s or 50s and have your own family, and the minute you step your foot in that house you become 14 again, so your mum and dad will try to feed you and treat you as if you are still 14… So, internally the adult in you is in conflict with the subservient child… and you are competing, trying to keep the balance (whatever that may be) and conflict may arise. Also, in a full house, there isn’t much space / time for intimacy, so you can’t really disappear for a while, and this can be another source of stress. Not to mention if you start conversations on politics or other hot topics like the aunt incident from 1963, …(get me outta here!!!).

So, you will resort to food because ‘tis the season’ (and I have a great excuse to eat more chocolate), because this type of food also reduces stress (short-term). And you will drink, because that will also help (short-term again).

So, what are YOU doing this Christmas then?

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