Winter can be a time of feeling pressed from all sides. Suzy Reading considers how to find peace at Christmas...
As we approach Christmas and New Year, let’s take an honest look at the demands we encounter and how we can maximise contentment. The holiday period is full of seasonal delights: time with people precious to us, warming and indulgent rituals, perhaps a brief pause from the busy rhythm of everyday life. And in the midst of that, it can be hard to find peace at Christmas.
But as we know all too well, the season is not without its challenges. For anyone navigating financial concerns, wonky family dynamics, competing needs and conflicting ideals, or mourning the loss of a loved one, Christmas can feel particularly tough.
Even when life is smooth, it can be a pressure cooker of high expectation and trying to keep all the people happy all the time, not to mention the effects that the deep, dark winter has on our mood and energy. We need a simple strategy to guide us through – so here are my three Ps of peace at Christmas.
Purpose – set a roadmap for winter
Before you make plans, consider what you would like the holiday season to be about. What does it mean to you as an individual, as a couple, or as a family unit? Take stock of what’s unfolded for you this year and the energetic toll this may have taken, and check in with what you and your family need most right now.
Bearing both meaning and available resources in mind, consider what your intention for the holidays might be. Do you need light-hearted fun, opportunities to reconnect or a chance to rest? We need a sense of direction to choose mindfully how we spend our time. Alignment is the cornerstone of peace, so clarity on what feels important to us is our starting point.
As requests and invitations come in, feel how your intention makes decision-making simpler. If it honours your intentions, it’s an easy yes. If it’s in conflict, what kind of compromise can be struck?
Pace yourself with compassion
When you take stock, perhaps you notice fatigue, or pangs of grief. There has been a long string of sucker punches, from the pandemic to unspeakable suffering and trauma across the globe, coupled with financial insecurity on our doorstep. Observe your energy levels and know that it is not just okay, it is /necessary/ for us to pace ourselves and prioritise our health.
What kind of scaffolding do you need to support yourself, so you can pitch up as you aspire to? Think of the things that help you feel alive and prioritise them: rest, sleep, time in nature, sedentary periods punctuated by movement.
We might feel pulled in different directions on the social front. Try to guard white space in the diary between engagements, to allow the natural resetting you need. Catching up in January or February can be just as joyful as a Christmas meet-up. Be aware of what depletes you and, where possible, allow yourself to avoid or minimise those things. The world needs nourished and resourced people, and our values-led action is most effective when our own health and wellbeing needs have been met.
As we approach the dawn of a new year, the impulse for change and commitments to self might be present. But give yourself grace if you’re feeling anything but fresh and energised. Hibernation mode is real: just look at how the plant and animal worlds respond to winter’s natural cues. Why do we expect ourselves to be unaffected? Be gentle with yourself as you cast your sights to the year ahead and keep your self-expectations realistic.
P for permission
I give myself permission to… (find peace at Christmas!). This is where you fill in the blank…
Reflect on your personal purpose, and take into account your needs, your feelings and your health. What do you give yourself permission to do this holiday season? If you’re not sure where to start, here are suggestions:
I give myself permission to be just one human being
I give myself permission to say no
I give myself permission to say yes
I give myself permission to celebrate differently this year
I give myself permission to offer a shop-bought dish
I give myself permission to ask for help from my family
I give myself permission to divvy up responsibilities to guests
I give myself permission to feel as I do
I give myself permission to honour my energetic bank balance
I give myself permission to factor my needs into planning
I give myself permission to rest
I give myself permission to experience joy
I give myself permission to let other people own their stuff
I give myself permission to honour my boundaries
I give myself permission to protect my peace
When this feels difficult, come back to purpose. Revisit your personal ‘why’. This will galvanise you, help you dial down the noise and take action even in the presence of guilt. You get to decide what is right for you. You get to create your own peace at Christmas.
Tune in with your moral compass. Guilt doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong. Where there are conflicting values, it’s not always black and white. On balance, what feels the most aligned or the most sustainable? Let what’s important to you shape your choices. At what cost do we not? Without our health, what do we have? Our depletion, our inner turmoil serves no one – but our peace and replenishment serves everyone.
Suzy is a mother, an author, chartered psychologist and coach. suzyreading.co.uk For more guidance on nourishing practices in times of stress, loss and change, see her book Self-Care for Tough Times. To develop awareness of your needs and the toolkits to meet them, see Rest to Reset