SHESAID resident psychologist Kim Chartres answers your most awkward and confronting questions.
- The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
- A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Christmas is coming and with it, giddy highs and stressful lows, as we strive to make things absolutely perfect for our loved ones, including our precious children and other family members.
Is my eggnog good enough for hard-to-please Aunt Myrtle? Will everyone get along this Christmas, or fight over the turkey? What if my toddlers misbehave? Agh!
So, in order to combat such anxieties, relationship psychologists say it’s vitally important to be mindful and enjoy the present.
Mindfulness is a hot topic and buzzword at present, but it has long been recognised as an effective way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence and effectively handle painful thoughts and feelings.
So, how on earth do we practice mindfulness?
Some simple tips to live in the moment, as advocated by Buddhists, include consciously focussing on the present. Practice staying in the moment, focusing on the here-and-now and putting worries and concerns aside to be dealt with at a later time.
In addition, pre-planning and setting aside time to be organised can help us to relax on the big day, knowing that we’ve done our best to have things “just so” as we want them to be for Christmas lunch. And, as any psych will tell you, it’s important to be kind to yourself, be realistic and don’t expect perfection!
Unexpected problems and issues will always arise, but we have to try to be happy with having done our best.
Using relaxation techniques such as slow, deep breathing, not letting yourself worry about things that you could have done – instead, visualising a scene of peace happiness and tranquillity – can also help you to be mindful and relaxed during the festive season.
As well as combating anxiety, another great goal this Christmas is to develop a sense of gratitude, or appreciation for what you have, or towards a particular person who has done something good for you.
For having a strong sense of gratitude can act as a strong antidote to counter depression.
Writing a list of the good things in your life can a cool, fun place to start and experts say this is also a great habit to teach the kids.
Another idea is to write a gratitude letter – a letter to someone who has done something for you that has changed your life in a good way – especially if you’ve never told then how much you appreciate what they did. You don’t even have to actually send the letter!
Images via www.pixabay.com.
Family reunions at Christmas are supposed to be a joyful time, right? Unfortunately, not everyone’s family gets along well. More often than not, there’s the sibling that hasn’t outgrown childhood feuds, the aunt that never stops complaining or the uncle that always dishes out unwanted advice, confident that he’s the expert on how people should live their lives. Add the stress of too much to do and the pressure to get the perfect present for everyone, and you have an explosive mixture on your hands that usually doesn’t fail to blow up at some point. How can we make this year different and move through the family Christmas with joy and grace or at the very least escape unscarred?
Have realistic expectations
When we try pumping ourselves up with positive images and affirmation, saying to ourselves that everything will be different this time, our determination to have a great Christmas crumbles at the first glimpse of reality. The people you’ve known for years will not have changed. Instead of visualising the perfect holiday, know what to expect and accept that there will be challenging situations.
Pretend that everyone has good intentions
Your aunt is telling you how to raise your kids, because she genuinely loves you and she wants the best for you. Your brother always jokes about that event that you’d rather forget, because he has fond memories of you. When you believe (or at least pretend to believe) that people mean well, it’s much easier to just smile, say ‘thank you’ and not let things get to you.
Get busy with the kids
This is my favourite escape plan – when things get too hard, I can always remember that my kids need me and spend some time playing, chatting about Santa and looking at their presents. Even if you don’t have kids of your own, you can always borrow someone else’s. Kids never say ‘no’ to attention, so the plan works without fail every single time.
Focus on each moment as it comes, especially the positive
It’s easy to dismiss the whole family gathering as something horrible that you just have to get through, but don’t let the one argument or the tension you have with a family member ruin the whole event for you. In each family holiday there are also lots of great little moments and if we stop to appreciate them, they add up. Often there’re enough of these moments to outweigh the not-so-great interactions and create an overall fond memories of your family Christmas.
Image by blickpixel via pixabay.com
It’s almost Christmas and if you’re brave enough to head to a major department or grocery store – as opposed to shopping online – here’s what you will most likely encounter (or not encounter, to be precise): customers as far as the eye can see, but very few sales assistants.
“Excuse me,” you say to middle-aged Mavis (*not her real name), whom you catch sight of, gossiping with her colleagues in a stockroom at a major department store. “Can I please get some help over here?”
You just want to purchase an item, nothing too taxing, but poor, ol’ Mavis purses her lips in the manner of a cat’s bum, adopts the air of a seriously slighted victim and regards you with contempt: how very dare you interrupt her, you needy, horrible customer?
Being ignored in retail is an all-too familiar problem these days, but equally frustrating is the barely-legal sales assistant who makes a mockery of helping you, almost as if his or her job is beneath them.
Just recently, my best friend and I were shoe shopping at a major department store, and when I asked a young sales assistant for a particular size, she delivered the box, and then asked me to return all the wrong size shoes to the shelves. Say, what?!
Then, another friend recently recounted the tale of when she dared to ask a very young sales assistant for a price on an untagged designer dress, only to have said sales assistant roll her eyes and say her manager would have to get back to her sometime the following week. Frustrated by this appalling lack of customer service, but keen to purchase the dress in a hurry for an event that very night, my friend persevered, and gently suggested: could said sales girl take the time to phone head office to get a price?! Problem solved.
Big business seems aware of the problem – take Myer’s new “Find wonderful” ad campaign: the retail giant’s first brand re-launch for nearly a decade. Finding wonderful? Hell, sometimes, you’d just be happy to find an actual sales assistant in this great era of cost cutting and automated checkouts replacing actual human beings.
And so for many people, shopping online is the Holy Grail: no queues, no parking woes, no one slamming their trolley into your ankles, no sales assistant’s drought = far less stress.
But avid shoppers will surely agree – online shopping definitely has its place, but when it comes to shoe or dress shopping, for example, nothing can replace that actual traditional bricks-and-mortar sensory shopping experience of being able to see, touch and feel different textures and fit.
And, listen up retailers: when you actually do get some great customer service, I don’t know about you, but I’m often so pathetically grateful I feel more inclined – obliged even – to spend up big!
And when it comes to dining out, or staying in a hotel, customer service horror stories abound here too. The smarmy waiter who greets every woman with “Hello lovely lady” who seems more intent on picking up than serving the hordes of actual hungry customers and/or the five-star hotel staff who never even ask you if you enjoyed your stay.
So, is poor staff training and/or an extreme lack of etiquette to blame for the dying art of customer service?
What do you think? Do you have a recent customer service horror story?
Main image via clubtroppo.com.au; second image via setster.com; and final image via blog.zopim.com.
Picture this: It’s Christmas day; you’ve got 12 people staying with you – including your critical, difficult mother-in-law, your drunk, obnoxious uncle and four kids under three – and instead of enjoying the festivities in a calm, serene manner, you’re hiding in the pantry, swigging on a bottle of champagne (French, obvs) to calm your frayed nerves.
The festive season can bring great joy, but great stress – it ain’t easy dealing with a multitude of difficult personalities when your extended family unite under one roof for the holidays.
We can choose our friends, not our family, so the saying goes – but your urban tribe will probably be of no good use to you when battling your own private Vietnam on Christmas day, they’ll most likely be too busy trying to win their own battles! And, on a serious note, the festive holiday season proves so stressful, sad and lonely for some people each year that for Lifeline’s 24 hour crisis support telephone line, 13 11 14, the days leading up to Christmas and New Year are its busiest time of the year.
So, how do we keep Christmas stress on the down low? Here are some fast tips from relationship experts and Lifeline alike:
- Try not to expect too much – aiming for the “perfect” Christmas or New Year’s Eve and assuming that everyone will be on their best behaviour is unrealistic.
- Keep tidy – there’s a temptation to drink too much at Christmas, but alcohol can fuel arguments and cause conflict.
- Avoid the expectation of disapproval, because this leads to misunderstandings – everything your family says then sounds like a criticism which may not have been intended.
- In-laws should avoid giving unsolicited advice and criticism.
- If you are the recipient of unsolicited advice and feel criticised, don’t be over-sensitive. State calmly that, yes you can see their point but you and your partner prefer to do things differently.
- Try your best to treat in-laws (this goes both ways of course) as you would your friends: be tactful, thoughtful and kind.
- Set firm boundaries with your in-laws in a calm way about things you feel strongly about, for example: children’s bedtimes and eating sweets, so that in-laws don’t inadvertently break the rules.
- Look for mutual topics of interest that are not contentious, avoid topics that are likely to lead to conflict. Remember, most grandparents love and are very interested in their grandchildren and want what is best for them. This is a good place to enhance the relationship – stick to talk of them.
- If you have a house full of relatives, keep calm by reminding yourself that they are most likely very pleased to be there and grateful for the time they can spend with their grandchildren. Try to focus on the positives and not expect disapproval or criticism.
- Know your limits and listen to your emotions. If you need to calm down, take a walk or find a quiet place (pantries can come in handy).
- If times are tough financially, don’t be a hero and try to shoulder all the costs alone. Make a plan as a family for a Christmas that is reasonable, or ask people to chip in and/or bring a plate.
If you are feeling in crisis, tell a trusted friend or family member, or talk to your GP/counsellor, or phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au.
Main image via gawker.com; cartoon via lifewithasideofsarcasm.wordpress.com and final image via www.womansday.com
Beyond the wonderful traditions of ham and family time, Christmas can also be an incredibly stressful period; over-spending, visiting relatives you haven’t seen all year and sheer panic can be as common as Christmas pudding. So rather than giving yourself a beautifully wrapped freak-out this year, here are some essential tips to help you keep your cool over the silly season.
Get a list
Come Christmas, I often end up with lists of lists, and although pedantic it’s certainly helpful. Keeping a checklist of everything that needs to be done can immensely help to calm a mind chaotic with things to do. Taking note of anything along the lines of gifts, cooking, and commitments can help keep you calm and on-track.
Getting on top of what needs to be done, even before the silly season starts, helps to avoid playing catch-up later. Getting Christmas cleaning, cards and the odd gift early means there’s less of the last-minute panic that results in your sister getting gifts from a petrol station. Covering things like Secret Santa presents or stocking up on wrapping paper and sticky tape can save you from a last-minute panic. I find it easiest to have a spot designated to ribbon, wrapping paper and cards as well as a few handy boxes of chocolates so even if you’re caught short, there’s something on hand to save on stress.
Share the load
With Nigella and the Great British Bakeoff making it look so simple, it’s easy to think we can all hand-weave baskets for our freshly-baked shortbread. In reality, between work, Christmas parties and having a life it’s super unlikely that this will happen. So rather than stressing yourself out trying to be the organic version of Delia Smith, maybe just crack on with what needs to be done without the frantic ‘flourishes’ that can so often turn Christmas into a crafty nightmare.
Even better, rope in friends and family to help out. Having people pitch in with the cooking or gift buying can remove a whole lot of angst. So share the load; after all, part of Christmas is bringing people together, and if that means handballing this year’s pudding purchases – so be it.
Accept that nothing is perfect
Yes, Aunt Dora might sit in silent fury over the way Aunt Nora eats her peas or your mother-in-law might get roaring drunk and fall asleep in the gravy, but there are always things that cannot be controlled. Rather than getting wound up, recognising that things will not always run smoothly (and sometimes go completely off the rails) is part and parcel of the holiday experience. The more you let go of the anxiety to make things perfect, the more likely they’ll go smoothly. So relax, enjoy the few days off to spend with people you care about, and eat something delicious. It’s Christmas after all.
Kate H Jones is a lifestyle and pop culture writer at Clavicle Capitalism.