– Carmen Bryce
I felt a cold bead of sweat dripping down my neck underneath my novelty jumper.
Underneath her mask, I imagined she was chewing a toothpick like Clint Eastwood – if Clint Eastwood wore Christmas tree earrings.
I tried to summon a Bruce Willis à la Die Hard glare from underneath my mask but the lights were too bright and Mariah Carey was telling me repeatedly what she wanted for Christmas over the store’s surround sound stereo.
I gripped, she gripped tighter. Her eyes said, give up, it’s over. Mariah was now hitting those high notes.
I had to let go. It just wasn’t my day. Christmas was ruined, and my nemesis turned on her heel with a victory walk to the till clutching the last pair of brussels sprouts print socks that would have been the perfect gift for my uncle (or brother or Pat from next door).
You would think a global pandemic would have been one of maybe five airtight excuses not to put myself under the same pressure I do every year to spend money I don’t have, be the best gift-buyer, the perfect friend, auntie, sister, human. To be everything, to everybody. But, no.
The sprout socks stand-off was my own shoulder shake of a reminder to be gentler on myself, to say no occasionally to the voice that tells me if I’m failing if my Christmas pudding doesn’t have its own Instagram page.
A tendency for perfectionism can be all the more harmful at Christmas, and trying to juggle the expectations I place on myself means I’m usually drained, grumpy, a little resentful and frankly, oblivious to the small moments of wonder happening around me.
So, I’ve decided – no more. I’m making a list of how to avoid these festive self-pectations and I’m checking it twice. Here’s what I think might help…
- Set a budget and stick to it.
This will be helpful for those of us who struggle to set boundaries around the gift buying. It’s all too easy to break the bank when we’re bombarded with sales and promos at every turn. Setting a realistic budget will help us think twice about buying that personalised 1,000 piece cat jigsaw that costs more to ship than a small country. People are really not expecting expensive gifts, and in fact, loved ones would be horrified with the thought of us splurging and running ourselves ragged. We’re not the Kardashians, and that’s more than ok. Being prepared with a solid shopping list early on can help rein in the overspending and red faced panic dash around the shops on Christmas Eve. Shop online as much as you can… in your pyjamas while eating chocolates.
- Be kind but firm with yourself
Replace the judgmental voice that really isn’t very nice with a kinder voice that tells you you’re wonderfully pretty but also, stop now please! When we have the tendency to heap pressure on ourselves, sometimes we need to take ourselves gently by the shoulders and conjure up that one teacher who only needed to look up from behind her glasses to silence the classroom. If you find yourself slipping back into unhelpful habits that don’t do you any good, conjure that kind but firm voice that always has your best intentions at heart.
- Say no
Have you ever cursed the day you agreed to something when the time comes? I’m the Mayor of Regretville when it comes to overpromising to others and outsourcing my wellbeing in a bid not to let anyone down. The secret is to not commit wholeheartedly at the outset. Be honest and say you’ll try to make it, but as it’s a hectic time of year, you’ll have to see how it goes. Don’t be afraid to say No. People will get over it, and if they don’t, who needs them! Allow yourself a free pass (or several) so you aren’t swept away in a sea of overpromises and obligations. Putting boundaries in place can be difficult, especially when people are persistent. Give yourself permission to say no, and don’t be afraid to use repetitive language here. A simple ‘I’m not available for that’ – whether it’s a social occasion or an emotional expectation – can really protect your personal space.
- Put yourself first
Make yourself a priority. You’re number one, and try not to forget it. You deserve calm and peace and rest this Christmas, as much as anyone else. Try to check in with yourself at least once a day amid the noise and chaos, to see how you’re feeling and what your body and mind are telling you. If they’re telling you to rest, you rest! If they’re telling you to put your phone on flight mode for the afternoon, do it! You obviously need it.
- Connect with your version of Christmas
Take a minute to reflect on what Christmas means to you. You might find that it’s not about rushing around and trying to keep other’s happy at all, but about the smaller moments, looking back on the year, being with loved ones, resting up, looking ahead. Set aside some time to centre yourself on what it all means and enjoy your version of Christmas.