Christmas can be a challenging time of year. Ebenezer Scrooge only had to contend with visions of Christmas past, present and future. Repeated bombardment by magazines, advertisements and social media give us a further dimension: a vision of Christmas as it should be. Who sets the criteria for this is unclear, but apparently the Christmas idyll involves multi-generational and multi-racial/cultural gatherings where everyone happily interacts without tension, texting or tantrums, a table groaning with food that meets a variety of dietary requirements and preferences, all home-made according to the dictates of the in-vogue celebratory chef, and expensive, tasteful, appropriate gifts, beautifully wrapped in environmentally friendly wrapping. We should all be playing interactive games such as charades with good humour and if we could just keep an eye on our unit and calorie consumption so that we start the New Year sober and slim, that would be an additional bonus. No pressure there then!
So how do we do it? How do we square all those complex and overlapping circles whilst retaining our sanity? We don’t. We replace the vision of Christmas as it should be with the reality of Christmas as it really is, and we make time for what is important to us, in our lives right now.
Writing for wellbeing is a great, gently therapeutic tool for exploring how we feel and expressing ourselves. There are few rules: only take your writing as far as you want to go. If it starts feeling too uncomfortable or unpleasant, stop. If it raises difficult issues then you might want to consider finding a professional, such as a counsellor or psychotherapist, to explore these with, but for the large part, it’s a safe and accessible technique. So find yourself a quiet spot, a piece of paper and a notepad and start with the word ‘Christmas’. Now set a timer and flow or free write for ten minutes without stopping. Keep your writing flowing. If you can’t think of anything to say just write ‘blah blah’ until the ideas start again. Don’t pay any attention to spelling, punctuation and grammar. The language doesn’t even have to be polite – just write. At the end of ten minutes, flex away your writer’s cramp and then read back through what you’ve written, Circle or underline any words or phrases that are interesting or surprising.
What are your hopes and fears for Christmas? What can you realistically do to realise the first and prevent the second? Remember, having a good Christmas isn’t your sole responsibility. Identify the other stakeholders and get them to do their bit, whatever that is.
And what about you? What do you really want for Christmas? Take up your pen and paper and write, starting with the phrase ‘For Christmas I would like….’ Give this as many different endings as necessary. What does this look like? How many of these are actionable and how might you do this? Identify a few things that are within the realms of the possible and make them happen. Listen to Carols from Kings, have a long soak in a bubble bath, paint your fingernails, put a Christmas jumper on the dog; whatever makes you feel good. Now try a different springboard: ‘Christmas makes me feel…’ Again, write as many endings as it takes. Don’t be surprised if the list is varied. Christmas brings with it reminisces of people, relationships and times in our lives that are past and gone. Sadness is the counterpoise of happiness so acknowledge those feelings and allow them validity, as much as the positive ones.
For Christmas day itself, take the day as it presents itself. Remember this is your Christmas, not anyone else’s concept of how it should be. Start the day by drawing the outline of a jam jar. Without over-thinking, fill the outline with words that express your hope and fears for the day. At the end, revisit it. Take a second jam jar outline and fill it with words that express all the positive things that happened during the day: minor triumphs, disasters averted, kind words, grateful recipients. Put this somewhere safe and revisit it when you need affirmation.
Between Christmas and New Year, take a moment to write two lists: one of all the things that have gone well in the last year and a second, of all the things that you wish had gone differently. They don’t have to be big things. Our lives are generally made up of small events, but these are important as they are the weft and the warp from which our everyday is woven. Now try thinking ahead to the year to come. Imagine that you are your best friend and instead of drawing up a list of stern resolutions, write a letter of kindly encouragement to yourself. Keep it and read it when you are feeling in need of some support.
And with New Year, employ a similar approach as Christmas. If partying to the small hours is what makes you feel good then do it. But if you actually prefer to be in your pyjamas by ten o’clock, that’s fine too. If you do stay up for the midnight chimes, you can always try a bit of flow writing as the old year turns over into the new. That should make interesting reading this time next year.
Helen Stockton is a writing for wellbeing practitioner of many years’ experience. She has delivered workshops and courses for the general public, for those suffering from long-term mental health conditions and for people towards the end of their life, in hospice settings. She has also provided training for counsellors in using writing for wellbeing in their professional practise. She is a member of Lapidus, the international words for wellbeing organisation, and is a co-ordinator for the Kent and Sussex Writing for Wellbeing Network.
If you’d like to find out more about writing for wellbeing, please check out her website here and join her mailing list.