As I write this it’s only 9 days until Christmas. Which I feel snuck up more quickly than usual this year!
Christmas and the holiday season can be a really difficult time for a lot of people. And even for those who love it, there can be pockets of stress and overwhelm.
It wasn’t a surprise for me to learn that in the US the time of year with most suicides is that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It can be a really lonely time for a lot of people – if you’re single, if you’re in an unhappy relationship, if you’re grieving, if you are estranged from family members.
One of the things I’ve learned from life, and from horribly fraught Christmases, is that it’s so important to look after yourself.
While it’s not always possible to avoid stressful times – at Christmas and at other times of the year, it is always possible to build in some tactics to make it easier for yourself.
I used to be in a constant state of overwhelm. I had a job that expected a ridiculous amount of output from the hours available. And rather than have a conversation with my boss, I tried to get through it all. It wasn’t pretty, and it took a serious toll on my health.
It’s so important we look after ourselves because if we don’t, we could end up with a serious illness.
6 tactics for dealing with overwhelm
1. Get help
If you are feeling overwhelmed ask yourself these questions:
- What are my real priorities?
- Do I really need to do everything I do?
- What am I doing that isn’t essential?
- What can I delegate to someone else at home or at work or with whatever I’m volunteering my time to do?
- What can I pay to outsource?
- What can I say no to?
If you’re worried about a big family Christmas, do you need to be involved? Can you have a quiet Christmas at home with people you love and trust? Or can you go but only stay for a short time? If you’re hosting Christmas, what can you delegate to others? Or do less of? I used to do a massive amount of Christmas baking – all I’m doing this year are the traditional sausage rolls and some shortbread. And I’ve already made them both and popped them in the freezer!
At other times of the year, think about what tasks you can get rid of. Focusing on your true priorities can really help with this. If your #1 priority is your health but you’re not making time to eat properly or exercise, work out how much time you need to do that and allocate time in your schedule.
If you’re overwhelmed at work, perhaps you need to sit down with your boss and find out what her/his priorities are and ask for help. Then work accordingly.
2. Have a digital detox
A digital detox is switching off all mobiles, smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers and TVs for a period of time.
Set aside time every day and every week when you don’t look at a screen or use technology. It might be the first hour of the day, an hour at lunch or an hour or two before you go to bed, a day on the weekend (OK, maybe half a day on the weekend…). Studies show that people who check their phones before going to bed don’t have as good quality sleep as those who don’t.
Have a holiday where there is no wifi – so you can truly disconnect and have a break.
Christmas is a great time to have a digital detox. Delete a few apps – such as your work email on the days you’re on holiday, pop your phone in flight mode so you can still take photos and video, and relax!
3. Step away
Quite often we associate feelings of overwhelm with certain places or people or time. Such as our office. Or certain relatives. Or holidays such as Christmas.
A good temporary fix is to just step away. Go for a walk, work from another location for an hour or two, if you’re not coping at the family Christmas dinner, leave the table and hide out in the bathroom – even five minutes away can help. Changing your physical location can change your perspective and give you clarity.
4. Relinquish control
Yes, I know this is hard for many people, but YOU NEED TO. For some things, not everything. It comes back to point 1 – where can you get help?
Can other people bring food on Christmas day if you’re the host?
During the year can your kids make their own lunches? Can they cook dinner every now and then? Do you have a team or an assistant at work who can share some of the load? Can you get someone in to clean your house? Can you outsource the ironing?
5. Set some boundaries
Make a few rules around how you want to live your life. You might want to include:
- When you answer the phone
- The hours you work – flexible work is great until you realise you’re working 12-14 hours a day, every day!
- When do you things you love and just for you? Such as going for a walk, going to bed early to read a novel, sitting on the deck with a cup of tea and staring into space for a while?
- When and how you spend time with others – especially important if you’re an introvert and need time alone to recharge your batteries!
Think about what’s important to you and how you can set boundaries around what’s less important.
6. Set some rituals
Start with setting a morning ritual and a bedtime ritual. Rituals are great as they help remove decisions, which can really help with reducing some overwhelm.
Every morning Steve Jobs asked himself “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”, while looking in the mirror. If he said no on too many consecutive days then he made some changes. This was one of his morning rituals that helped set his mindset for the day ahead.
Your morning ritual might include:
- a hearty breakfast (or just breakfast)
- writing a journal
- time with the kids.
Your night-time ritual might include:
- making the school lunches for the next day
- having a bath
- reading a real book
- watching your favourite show on TV
- spending time having a conversation with your partner
You might also have a ritual for the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes of your working day – plan your day, deal with all your email, return any phone calls, reflect on your achievements, or whatever works for you.
How do you cope when you are feeling overwhelmed? What steps are you going to put in place to help you cope when you are feeling overwhelmed?
Finally, if you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. There is also an anonymous online chat service available between 8pm and 4am AEST at Lifeline.org.au, or visit Beyond Blue’s website. For crisis assistance, call 000.
How do you deal with overwhelm?
What are your tactics for surviving Christmas?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #thisconnectedlife and tagging me @melkettle. I’m always happy to hear from listeners, and if you have a guest you would like to nominate or would like to nominate yourself, you can apply here.
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This is my last episode for a few weeks as I’ll be taking a break over Christmas. I’ll be back late January for season 2, and I have some great guests to introduce you to!
Merry Christmas, and I’ll see you in 2020!