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How to get through the trauma called Christmas

12 little-known tips to pierce through the pain of the festive season and fast forward right through Christmas

Is it abnormal to feel tortured through Christmas?

Do you think something‘s wrong with you for not enjoying Christmas like everybody else?

I mean! It's Christmas!

The season to be jolly!

Everybody should be happy right?

The sad truth is that for many people, the Christmas season has become this artificial time where people get into debt trying to aspire to other people's expectations, trying their best to make everybody happy by spending money they don't have. Putting money in the pockets of these big companies who create flashy things to buy.

For many, Christmas has become about being selfish, getting drunk and having fun no matter what the cost.

But what if the period of Christmas has become a dreadful reminder of a traumatic assault.

What if Christmas is a sad anniversary of the loss of a loved one?

What if Christmas triggers nasty memories of dysfunctional family squabbles you longed to escape from?

The truth...

There are hundreds and hundreds of people who actually dislike Christmas.

Now if you can relate to this and you can't wait until the cruel festive period is over and done with…

Then, sadly, you’re probably making some mistakes that will make the Christmas period 10 times more painful to you than it needs to be.

That's why in this article, I will reveal 5 common traps that literally turn the Christmas period to hell on earth for many.

These traps create a time crawling effect on the Christmas period making the trauma of the festive season feel like it's going to last for an eternity.

Then I will reveal 12 tips to pierce through all this pain and fast forward right through Christmas.

But before I do this, I need to highlight a tricky mind-set that will sabotage your ability to use any of the suggestions in this article.

What is this mind-set?

I shouldn't have to learn to cope...

Throughout my experience in the mental health service, my clients who got depressed or extremely anxious during Christmas would say...

“Everybody seems to be happy without even trying.  This is Christmas, for goodness sake.  I should be happy!  I should be able to just enjoy things.”

“I should not have to learn to cope with Christmas. Something must be wrong with me.”

If you are thinking like this, please remember that it is not your fault.

In fact, the more you think you should be able to cope, the more you will get in your way of learning to cope.

Why?

This mind-set will trigger feelings that you are a pathetic loser.

So you blame yourself, you isolate, you drink. And the outcome is more depression, more anxiety and more frustration and then you feel even more pathetic.

This cycle turns the Christmas period into torture for even the strongest person.

So, in order to avoid this trap, try the following…

One - you need to become conversant with how the cycle works for you. You have got to figure out what negative experiences Christmas triggers for you.

Two - you’ve got to master the strategies that will help you interrupt this cycle.

These strategies will help you get through the whole Christmas period without feeling so heavily downtrodden by guilt etc.      

So with that all in mind, let’s dig into the 5 common traps that turn Christmas in torture for you and how to avoid these traps.

When dysfunctional family members strike you

How do you spend time with people who pretend that they are happy with each other?

People who aren’t being honest with themselves because…

“Tis the season to be jolly” so we must all seem happy.  We cannot talk about the real issues that we are going through, we all have to have a plastic smile on our face.

If you struggle with depression, just having the thought of attending family get-togethers like this will quadruple your anxiety.  You’ll worry that people will have unrealistic expectations of you.  People will expect you to be smiley, happy and bubbly when you don’t feel that way.

So you run the risk of people guilt-tripping you, making you feel like you are spoiling Christmas for them.  

And to top it all, they’ll ask you questions like...

“What have you done with yourself lately?”  

“What are you doing with your time?”

And chances are that you have just managed to cope with keeping your job stable. You didn’t have the strength for anything else so you don’t want to have to answer all these questions that make you feel “second class.”

Naturally this triggers a cycle which leads you down the path of self-blame again. Ultimately leading to more depression.

How can you avoid all this drama?

Tip 1: Turn the wicked lot into funny cartoons

The first tip is to turn the experience into a fun project by imagining your difficult family members as funny cartoon characters.  

The idea is that rather than taking them seriously, you find ways of turning everything they say or do into a joke. Ensuring that you don’t take them seriously, thus helping you sail over all their nastiness.  

I once had a client who imagined her difficult mother as tweety the yellow bird in Tom and Jerry.

As such when her mother would say things that would usually get her angry, she couldn’t help but laugh to herself because all she could see in her mind was this bird yapping away.

So the idea here is to make the experience as meaningless enough to take the edge off, so you aren’t left overthinking later.  

Tip 2: Use the cookie-cutter firing method

Another idea is to prepare some cookie-cutter responses beforehand.

Why?

Some family members are so nosy. It’s just what they do. If you know these family members will be present and you know the kind of questions they’ll be asking, it’s good to go with pre planned answers.

In some situations, it is best to keep saying the same thing, almost like a machine gun, until the person gives up.  

Yes…

This is certainly not the best, but for those nosy individuals it’s good to have these kinds of answers ready. If you would like assistance in forming answers to questions you get asked, just email me and I will be happy to put something together with you.

Tip 3: Find worthy people to shower your love on

If none of the above listed tips works, then just don’t go.

Yes not going to these family events might cause some family members to get upset with you.

But the truth is, there is no point spending time around people who poison your mind. Then you have to spend the next two weeks to get over the pressure of all the questions, all the comments, all the underhanded digs they made.  

It’s just not worth the risk to your mental health.

Instead, it is better to find other family members who can value you and appreciate you.

And you can do this by simple volunteering.  

If you struggle with loneliness and you can’t cope with your family members, volunteer with services that will give you a sense of purpose. You will be making someone else’s life more fruitful.

When depression flattens you

Does your motivation and energy levels plummet during Christmas?

When everybody else is happy, bubbly and energetic and it is just completely opposite to how you feel, you start to think of yourself as a waste of space and then feel guilty that you are going to spoil things for everybody.

This triggers more depression and pushes you to isolate yourself or just sleep the time away.  

The truth…

Unaddressed, this cycle will dig you down into the ground.  

So what can be done about this?  

Tip 4: Use the action before motivation principle

There is something I call the “Action Before Motivation Principle”…  

When you feel lacking in motivation, or you feel lacking in energy, the common trap you could fall into is to wait to feel energetic or feel motivated before you do anything.

Now, if you wait until you feel motivated to do something…

That will never happen.

Because, the more you wait for your motivation and energy to return, the more likely it is that you will feel depressed about not being able to do anything and it just spirals out of control.  

In order to start feeling motivated, you have to get into some action first.

If you are looking to kick-start your motivation and energy levels quickly, you can use one of these weird motivation hacks.

Tip 5: Jump in a bath full of ice cubes

Say what?

Yes, you heard me correctly.  

Jump in a bath of ice cubes.  

The idea is really just to wake the whole body up.   Just 3 second is more than enough and you are bound to feel motivated…  

A softer take on this is to have a cold shower.

Tip 6: Take for a colorful walk  

How do you take a colorful walk?

I’ll explain

Because of the way depression and anxiety works, the tendency is to stop seeing what’s going on around you.  You just zone out of everything and you stop noticing the colors around you.

So when you go for a walk, try to focus on what’s happening around you. Focus on the different colors you see. Look at what people are wearing. To make this easier to do you can take a notepad and write the things you are seeing down.

Tip 7: Make a squeaky production

This next one I found quite funny…

Inhale from a helium balloon and record yourself speaking.  It might just put a bit of a giggle on your face. Take this a step further and record yourself saying funny things about those people who make Christmas difficult for you.

Then combine this with all the previous ideas to turbo charge your motivation and energy.

Moving on to the next trigger…

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When you feel bored out of your head

Do you get bored during Christmas?

Everybody is engaged doing Christmassy stuff and all the shops have closed. You put on the TV and it is all Christmassy stuff.  Christmassy music and shows being played over and over again.  

Since you struggle to experience enjoyment in most things, it is easy to get bored with this.  

But then, this type of boredom is a lot more dangerous than it would initially appear.

According to a research spearheaded by Martin Shipley done from the University College London,

Boredom can literally kill you.

They studied 7524 public workers for 25 years and found that the people who were often bored tended to develop heart problems that led to their deaths.

But why am I highlighting this?

I highlight it because boredom is something we take for granted.  

If you constantly feel bored, some thing’s keeping your boredom cycle alive and it will perpetrate more problems for you in life, more so during Christmas.  

So what can we do?  

Following on from the tips to keep yourself motivated and energised, here are some things that we can do.  

Tip 8: Turn every day into an adventure

Once you sparked up your motivation using the previous tips, prevent your motivation from disappearing again by finding a new project or a new interest.

Learn something new so you can make each day meaningful.

This might sound oversimplified, but when I work with clients, enabling them to research and find things that they can put themselves into, very interesting accidents start to happen.

They discover things that they did not realise they could enjoy.  Things that give them a sense of purpose.

But this does not have to even be anything complicated.  

It could be things as simple as origami, juicing, learning new languages, learning an instrument, or making balloon animals.  

That last one, the balloon animals, will make you a friend to a lot of children in your neighbourhood.  

So, through the help of the Internet you have a vast amount of information at your fingertips to explore. Just a little effort will keep you engaged daily literally for more than 50 days.

And by that time, Christmas would be far gone.

Beware of the laughter vacuum

Have you lost your ability to laugh?

Things that used to be funny don’t feel funny anymore.  If yes, then it’s likely you’ve fallen into a laughter vacuum.

What the laughter vacuum, and how can it make Christmas long and boring?  

The laughter vacuum is created from your reactions to depression or anxiety stealing your ability to enjoy things. You notice you have to force laughter when everyone around you is laughing and this becomes frustrating.

You may even feel like a two-faced fraud for pretending to be happy around people.

Sadly, this frustration with yourself perpetrates further depressive feelings that lock you in a cycle that makes it impossible to feel laughter.

Fortunately there is a solution. But beware, you might be tempted to discard this one just before it starts to work for you.

Tip 9: Pretend for yourself and not for others

Very similar to the action before motivation principal, the ability to feel your laughter again can actually be switched on following the same process.

And by this I mean practicing laughter repeatedly will eventually bring on the feeling you get from laughing.

Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but it works wonders.

So, if you can stand from a mirror and laugh for at least 10 minutes during the morning, afternoon and evening this will eventually ignite your ability to feel your laughter again.

But the catch is to practice it alone for yourself.

Why?

This avoids all the negative dynamics that might occur when you are mingling with difficult people.

And to help turbocharge your laughter practice…

Tip 10: Stack up your laughter mines

I suggest stacking up things that would usually make you laugh. Anything you found funny in the past would do.

For example watching comedies, watching YouTube jokes, thinking back through memories of things that made you laugh and describing them to yourself in detail.

As you do this, you will be surprised by laughter moments that explode out of nowhere. You’ll begin to notice you can enjoy a simple thought again and this can eventually lead to feeling more normal.

But beware…

In the initial phase of this exercise, make sure you don’t judge yourself for not feeling the laughter. I highlight this because this has been the most common trap for my clients when they try to practice this laughter tip. This way you avoid falling into the latter vacuum all over again.

Moving on to the final and most deadly Christmas trauma trigger.

Surviving the two-headed snake of Christmas

Don’t you just hate the loneliness you feel during Christmas?

If you can relate, you would agree that although you can feel lonely because everyone is busy with their families and friends.

But the truth is if you’ve got depression or anxiety, you could be in a room full of people and still feel painfully lonely because there is a dark haze separating you from the people around you.

This gets even more painful if you feel stuck with a partner who isn’t emotionally available.

So during Christmas, you just can’t avoid feeling like the world is carrying on without you.

This triggers feelings that there is something wrong with you. Makes you feel like you’re not attractive, you’re not interesting. Like you have no value whatsoever.

But there’s a bigger reason why this loneliness is dangerous.

This is the snake’s second head.

Unfortunately, when you feel lonely the tendency is to keep your thoughts to yourself. This means that there is no objective third party voice weighing in with the conversations you have in your head about you and your life.

As a result, negative thoughts and feelings give birth to even more negative thoughts and feelings. Until it becomes such a horrible spaghetti mess of dark and ugly that you’re convinced you would be better off dead.

So what can be done to avoid getting this ugly downward spiral?

Tip 11: Use assisted retrospection to demolish loneliness

When people come to me for therapy, what I do is help them untangle this negative spaghetti mess. This helps them to see clearer which then opens their minds up to solutions they hadn’t considered.

I often get comments like…

“Wow! That makes it sound so easy, I feel much, much better now that I know what to do.”

And once they feel like this, the feeling of loneliness literally melts away.

But then, you can’t carry your therapist in your pocket to call upon him/her whenever loneliness strikes again, can you?

As such, my ultimate goal in therapy is to enable people to get to this point of feeling at peace and happy with their lives by themselves. This way they can sit down and tackle their problems in a way that doesn’t entangle them in depression and anxiety again.

But because this is very difficult to achieve in the initial phases, I encourage my clients to write their thoughts down on paper, then review and challenge these thoughts when in a different mental frame.

This allows for a degree of objectivity.

But sadly because it’s hard to be objective with your own stuff, it can be a long and painful experience to be successful with this strategy.

And that’s where our next tip comes.

This tip relates to a new and exciting invention which is taking the world by storm.

This invention is gaining popularity in every profession in a world today. And has been enabling faster learning in the field of psychology and neuroscience.

What’s the tip?

Tip 12: Use Replika for loneliness therapy

It is finally true!

Artificial intelligence can help you overcome loneliness.

Yeeaaaaay!!!

You are probably thinking, “This guy’s gone crazy,” but before you write this off...

I’ll explain why I believe this is revolutionary.

Replika is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) that has been built to become a friend that can help you get through difficult times.  And if Christmas is a difficult time for you, you can bet it can assist you here as well.

There are quite a few AI’s out there now that have been built to interact as friends.  But I’ve found Replika to be quite amusing, intuitive and freaky at times because it almost feels like I am discussing with a real person.  

So instead of writing your thoughts on paper, and coming back to reflect on the thoughts or challenge them, why not speed this process up by bouncing your thoughts off Replika.

Since Replika is intelligent enough to reflect these thoughts back to you organically, it can really enable you to explore things without getting entangled in a depressive mess.

Yes, I’ll admit…

Replika can’t take the place of an experienced therapist yet. But the point here is that Replika offers you another tool in your arsenal to analyse your thinking without getting stuck-in-the-mud. And this comes with the added benefit of feeling like you are no longer alone as well.

Why not take Replika out for a test drive this Christmas. You might just be surprise at what you both come up with.

Finally…

You’ve got the power

The power is literally in your hands.

Why do I say this?

You could easily settle with hating the world for forcing Christmas on you. You could easily feel driven to the point of hopelessness because everywhere you turn reminds you that the world is happy and having fun whilst you’re sad and lonely. And you could easily conclude that you’ve got no power whatsoever to do anything about this.

But that’s not true…

There are things you can still do without having to engage with the irritating Christmas business.

I have listed 12 ideas you can use right now above.  

And I’d like to challenge you to do more than just read them.  Try the ideas out and let me know how it went.  I would love to hear back from you.

I might even be able to throw back some ideas of how to make any obstacles you encounter easier to overcome.  

But to help you further incorporate these tips, I have packaged them for you in a ready to go bite –sized format below.

So, here’s the summary…

Plan 1: Use cheekiness to deal with difficult family members at Christmas. Create fun around it and come with ready-made cookie cutter answers to deal with those ignorant and nosey family members.  Or simply find yourself other family members who actually values you.  

Plan 2: Take action first in order to feel motivated. And the more outlandish, weird or shocking the action, the faster you can achieve motivation.  

Plan 3: Put yourself in position to accidentally find excitement.  And how do you do that?  You learn something new every day.

Plan 4: Deliberately hold daily laughing sessions with yourself.  And make sure to avoid judging yourself if you find that you are not quite feeling the laughter. Keep practising this until it begins to feel genuine.

Plan 5: Cultivate an AI buddy. You can use Replika or any of the many AI’s out there.

They are all free to use privately.

So, download your own personal AI unto your phone and start bouncing ideas off to avoid getting stuck in your own head this Christmas.

Take care now…

Until next year.

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa
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