FEELING stressed at Christmas? Under pressure from every direction and not sure how to cope — let alone enjoy yourself? Luckily, help is at hand. Not in the form of an elf, but a therapy that really comes into its own at this time of year.
Rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) says it’s not the events in life that disturb you but what you tell yourself about them — and there are fewer bigger events than Christmas. The push for it begins at the end of August and the pressure to make each and every one the best festive celebration yet increases throughout the autumn and all the way up to what is, essentially, just one single day. So, it’s easy to see why tensions mount and tempers fray.
REBT says there are four unhealthy beliefs at the heart of any type of over-the-top emotional reaction to an event and there are four healthy beliefs that can help you remain cool, calm and collected in the same situation. But what are these unhealthy beliefs, and how do they cause a kerfuffle at Christmas?
It must be perfect
In REBT, we don’t like words such as must, mustn’t, should and shouldn’t. Collectively they are known as dogmatic demands. These are the rigid expressions of a desire for something, as in ‘Christmas must go off without a hitch’ or ‘I must find the perfect gift for so-and-so’. Except, perfection is not attainable, things go awry and bad gift choices get made. The ‘must’ does not allow for this, making for a very tense and terse Christmas version of you indeed. Last year there was a lovely advert featuring two sisters growing up across the years, only to exchange Christmas gifts as adults. ‘How did you know?’ says one, as she gazes lovingly into her sibling’s eyes, unwrapping a pair of curling tongs bought cheap in a two-for-one deal. Perfection is usually unrealistic, so it is much better for your mind and soul to believe that things do not have to go well and you do not have to hit the right gift-giving note.
That’s it, Christmas is ruined
This is known as doing a drama. Here you are catastrophising and making things worse than they actually are. Which is a bit extreme when you think about it. And yet, come the day, up and down the country, many people will be crying out this phrase in anguish, just because they burned the parsnips, or forgot to put the turkey in on time, or because Uncle Jack imbibed a little too much festive sauce and knocked the Christmas tree over. Again. None of these things is awful and none is the end of the world. Dinner can be delayed, trees can be put up again and Uncle Jack will soon fall asleep. Such incidents are trivial. Bad, yes, but not the worst thing that can happen. And when you hold on to that thought you also hold on to your sanity by keeping a sense of perspective.
I can’t take much more of this
The in-laws, Uncle Jack, Grandma being awkward again and Little Billy’s computer game. These things are trying. As is the responsibility for Christmas falling on your shoulders once again. But they are not unbearably difficult. Telling yourself that you can’t stand the people, the tension, the pressure or the noise simply isn’t true. Just tell yourself that you will get through this, just as you got through the pressures of all the Christmases past. By all means go for a breath of fresh air if you need to, but don’t hit the sherry as a coping mechanism, or you may well be the one to knock the tree down.
I’m a failure because Christmas didn’t go right
One failing does not a failure make. Mistakes will get made, because we are all fallible. Believing yourself a mess just because you messed something up will soon have you sobbing alone in the cupboard under the stairs. The odd cooking-related disaster and poor present choice aside, you pulled off another festive family get-together. How awesome is that? Accept your mistakes, focus on your successes but, above all, enjoy the day for what it is. By-the-by, other people are worthwhile and fallible too. Including Uncle Jack and the in-laws.
So drop the demands in favour of your preferences, keep a sense of perspective, remember that you can get through it all (as it’s just one day, after all) and accept yourself and your nearest and dearest just as they are, and all your Christmases will be all right.
■ The Four Thoughts That F*** You Up… And How To Fix Them, by Daniel Fryer (Vermillion), is out now