1. Take a memory, not a photograph.
Did you know that when we take photos, or experience an event through a camera lens, our brain doesn't store it in our long-term memory? You've probably noticed this, if in recent years (at any age!) you've observed your memory seems to resemble an old person's. Earlier this year, I read a study that showed that parents who knew they were being filmed while playing with their children, showed a higher increase in bonding hormone while they were being filmed/photographed, but experienced a crash when the camera was removed, AND if they felt that they didn't look attractive on film. In other words, rather than enjoying playing with their children, most adults bonded instead with the CAMERA. As well, their happiness and feelings of closeness or joy became entirely dependent on the presence of the camera, not of their children. In comparison, test subject adults who simply played with their children seemingly unobserved by a camera, reported a steady increase in oxytocin (bonding hormone), self-esteem and overall wellbeing - and most importantly, they more accurately retained the memory.
Now, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't snap a few shots of important events! But more and more, we are experiencing the world through our phones - and the result is that it's not causing happiness for anybody, AND it prevents those events from staying in our long-term memory and depriving us of the joy that happy memories give. Wondering why time is passing by too quickly? Because, according to your brain, your life is just a show you're watching through a camera screen.
A solution? Decide on a photo limit on special occasions and STICK TO IT. Go at least 4 hours of the day WITHOUT your phone or iPad. (Have you ever seen those kids birthday parties, where six different adults are filming while singing 'Happy Birthday'? Or Instagram Parents teaching their toddlers how to pose for selfies with filters for hours on end? While they provide an immediate hit of dopamine, they provide nearly NO long-term seretonin. I.e. they feel temporarily good from the narcissistic joy of camera interaction... but they don't provide any long-term memories for kids or adults nor any long-term increase in happiness.)
Ask yourself 'is this a memory that I want to remember?' and if it is, snap a quick shot (or better yet, ask someone with a little more distance) then BE THERE IN THE MOMENT. The joy you'll get from a REAL moment, both now and in the future, is provably much more than watching your family through endless photos or Snapchats and watching them back later.
2. Contribute to the mental wellbeing of others over Christmas.
Everybody loves those social media platitudes about 'the true meaning of Christmas' and reposting nice comments about thinking of those who are struggling or alone. The intention is great - but then we follow this with streams of footage of our loaded tables, our chosen loved ones, our child's pile of presents and our new possessions. This isn't to stay that you CAN'T openly be excited and share your joy - I'm a witch, not a Grinch! But ask yourself. 'Whose validation am I seeking?'
If YOU are feeling the pressure, stress, strain and chaos of Christmas... do you really want to contribute that to others? Is the two seconds of validation you'd get from people Liking a photo of your piled-up Christmas tree, worth it really, when another ten people are comparing and feeling less-than? Again, this isn't that you should feel ashamed of celebrating. But rather, share your joy in a CONSCIOUS way. If there's someone who you'd like to share your day with - send them a message directly or print a photo and post it! So much better than putting yourself out there for 400 social media followers who - let's be honest - genuinely couldn't give a shit and are only mindlessly scrolling and passing casual judgement. Speak personally, directly, to the important people to share important information instead of the passive consumption of your IG Stories or FB post - call that friend who gave you that recipe, and thank her! Facetime your Aunt in California! But if you don't want to be feeling 'less-than' during the holiday season, be mindful of participating in what could make others feel that way too. I always explain it to people like an energetic pool. What you put into the pool now, you'll have to swim in later.
If there are people in your circle who are unable to participate in Christmas for whatever reason (maybe a lack of family, physical/mental illness, work, age or poverty), reach out with a helpful, distracting gift. A personalised playlist on Spotify made by you for them, dropping off a few great magazines, spa products to use at home like bath bombs or face masks, your favourite book and a little box of chocolates - share your joy by allowing people to celebrate (or distract themselves from) the day in their own way, instead of inviting them to compare their lives with yours.
3. Stay hydrated!
I can't emphasise this enough. The activity, temperature control, salt consumption and prevalence of alcohol around Christmas are all huge dehydrators. Headaches, hangovers, forgotten items, increased blood pressure, mood swings and more all stem from dehydration, and keeping water on your person at all times is the BEST gift you can give yourself, especially if you consume it mindfully. Remind yourself that by hydrating, you're giving yourself the ability to cope and flow, like water, through anything life - or Christmas - has to throw at you.
4. Set aside diet culture.
Foods are not BAD. Foods keep us alive, bring us joy, keep us together. Every year media promotes both panic about 'looking your best' and 'fitting into those party frocks' as well as the abundance that any decent host HAS to have at their Christmas table. I've written about this before - but can you see how you're being set up to fail, in this system? Surround yourself with baked, fried, sugared, spiced, oiled foods -- but don't consume it? Could it just all be an outworn feedback loop that pushes you into January guilt and gym memberships and debt? Like I always say, your relationship with your body is a long-term one. There are times of year that you may be heavier, bloated, maxed-out, and times of the year that you aren't. This is normal. What's not normal is the day-by-day relationship that most of us are told to have with our bodies, where each meal provides a new challenge, framed as a MORAL choice. What you eat or don't eat at Christmas now, has no bearing on your body in a year's time or ten year's time, and NEVER reflects your morality, self-discipline or worthiness as a person. If you're going to provide abundance, eat abundance. If you're 44 years old and would rather drink Sprite than wine, great! Stop self- flagellating. ANOTHER THING: Don't comment on the bodies of others. I don't care if you haven't seen your Cousin Fiona in six months and she's dropped weight or is the size of a bus or if your teenage nephew is sprouting facial hair. Leave it out. Do NOT comment on bodies, sexuality or physical appearances. Be a leader! Ask Cousin Fiona about her holiday to Fiji. Talk to your nephew about what he's watching on Netflix. Christmas is not a time for body shaming, body judging, or body ANYTHING other than functioning.
5. Wear a talisman.
A talisman doesn't have to be a sacred shell or an ancient cursed Roman coin (although if you've got one, wear that), but anything at all that reminds you of who you are inside. Whenever I'm going into a particularly stressful meeting, I tend to wear pink - it stops me from getting too caught up in the judgements or ego-competition of people who don't know me, it reminds me of the vibrancy and beautiful things in my life that have TRUE value. During the holiday season, when we're invited to compare our lives, wealth, bodies and relationships with everybody we've ever met, wearing a talisman is a super-protective old witchy trick. Like armour, a talisman is something that has the power to ground you and bring you back to centre. Going to visit your very conservative, career-obsessed relatives? Carry in your pocket that old ticket from that Comic-con you attended with your friends who actually get you. Going to Mass but you're not keen? Pop a crystal in your bra. (It has the added bonus of making you look like you have an additional, aggressive nipple which deters most of the clergy from small talk.)
6. Ask for - or be - a support source.
While being respectful of boundaries and not expecting free emotional labour from others, linking up with a support person even briefly can provide space and sanity to vent and distract. Pre-organise it! For example, pre-arrange a five-minute call with your friend after lunch to decompress, take a walk around the block with just your partner after the in-laws arrive, or pre-book in a check-in with your AA mentor or therapist. Having a proper outlet is FAR better than going it alone, or breaching someone's boundaries when you explode with details about drama or stress. Commonly, my friends will send a quick message like "Hey, I'm visiting my family today and there may be an argument about X. Do you have the capacity to listen if I need a short vent later on?" A normal response might be "Hi! I'm away for the weekend so it may take me a few days to respond properly - but I am listening, please do text me after if you need to vent, I care and I support you!"
7. Imagine your conversations ahead of time.
One of the most effective techniques to coping with stress (or a fight-or-flight response) is to picture yourself re-telling a friend about the situation, like it's a story. The idea of this isn't to craft the perfect snarky retort, by the way! It helps to shift your perspective from 'powerless' or 'pressured' to a 'observational' and able to distance yourself enough to stay sane. Instead of dreading the inevitable interrogation from weird old Uncle Martin, imagine yourself telling a totally understanding friend all about him. Once you're in the situation, see how many details you can observe for your story. Yes, he's ranting again and criticising your choices - but are his veins popping out and making him look like one of those purple cabbages? What about that fucking god-awful shirt he wears every year?
8. Treat your senses.
The fastest way to carve out new neural pathways (i.e. to change old patterns of behaviour, thought or stress, to escape entirely from anything unpleasant during Christmas, and most importantly to spike your mood!) is through sensory activities. Splashing cold water on your face and hands, using essential oils, smudging stick or aura spray, listening to gorgeous cinematic music from your favorite movie - all are FAST ways to decompress and go back to feeling like you, but better! Some things can not be improved, healed or created by intellectual processing (i.e. thinking) alone.
9. Close the season with a ritual.
Many people experience a literal, physical/emotional and financial hangover after the Christmas season, regardless of whether or not they 'celebrated' or 'holidayed'. Especially if your emotional health is sensitive, or if you're empathic or fatigued, this can start the new year feeling like you're a dried-out turnip. In many pagan festivals or indigenous celebrations (including medicine ceremonies), there is always a closing ritual. The point of it is so that you don't feel decrepit and drained, but excited to be returned to yourself after a period spent interacting with others. A bath, a hot yoga class, a smudging or energy cleansing, a session with your singing bowls, prayer, meditation, a little craft project, hair braiding, massage/self-massage; even backing up your phone can be a ritual if done with intention! The idea is to re-focus your energy into unconditional love (or loving kindness state) and repair anything that feels out of sorts, overstimulated or janky after a month or more of chaos and the end of year. (Now is the time too, to make note of anything you need to change for the higher good for next holiday season.)
However you experience this time of year, it is possible to be both
celebratory and conscious,
concerned with others and content within yourself.
The self-comparison and the not-good-enoughness is so 2019. I hope that this holiday season allows you to find ways to find closure, clarity and consciousness.