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In Australia we’ve just had the summer solstice, proof that in the physical world at least, long sunny days accompany our Christmas festivities. However for many people lightness and joy are hard to come by at this time of year, whatever the weather.

I was reminded of this last night as the sound of raised voices and the wail of an anguished child filled the air.

If you find Christmas difficult, this blog is for you.

Christmas contains a multitude of memories wrapped in an armoury of expectations.

More and more I think it is not just the recipe for the annual turkey roast or glazed ham that has to be re-learnt every year. It’s our willingness to create and sustain meaningful connections. Following someone on social media is so much easier than the messiness of face to face.

So, if you are wrapping presents tonight while remembering bygone years and conversations that judged, boasted or blamed, or actions that shut others out, how can you do things differently this year?

How can we change things up and stop the same old hurts happening?

We can’t control other people’s words and actions, of course but we can choose to accept the present moment in all its discomfort and to look for the good. Here are some strategies to try if joy is in short supply in your life at present.

Start with clarity. It is Christmas Eve. Before you go to sleep tonight, set an intention for tomorrow, for kindness, tolerance, good humour or whatever emotion you want to colour your day. In addition, allow yourself to really feel how things are for you at the moment so that tomorrow, you can wholeheartedly focus on the day. Even if family members avoid asking about your own life, it won’t sting as much because now you have your own back. You can be your own best friend.

Secondly, identify your triggers, be they people or topics of conversation and have a plan. Although control strategies are pointless, we can encourage positive outcomes. For example, if your daughter is bringing her girlfriend home and you know her grandmother disapproves, you could have a chat with your mother beforehand and make it clear you support your daughter’s choices and appeal for inclusiveness. You could even go as far as practicing some go-to sentences to lift and shift the focus of dinner table chat if needed. It might work, it might not but it’s a plan. Anticipate and brainstorm strategies to deflect animosity or tension.

Importantly, if you find Christmas festivities stressful then give yourself a few breathers along the way. Take time out to ring a couple of friends who know you well and share a laugh. Even something like stacking the dishwasher can be a mental time out, if you focus on the activity at hand. I am not suggesting a mindful Christmas of dishwashing! More that you consciously use the activities of the day to come back to the present moment. Wrapping and unwrapping presents, making salads, decorating the table, there are a myriad of different ways to bring more enjoyment to the day simply by being in the moment and just accepting it as it is.

Finally, actively look for the good. Doing this regularly is a personal act that over time circumvents the negativity bias hardwired into us all. When your ‘if only’ mind kicks in and wants to make the day disappointing because of something or other, recognise this as the negativity bias doing its usual thing and reframe.

Search out the good! In fact, ending Christmas Day and every day to come by writing down or talking about three things that went well is a proven strategy for resilience.

Thankyou to clients and friends of The Life Creative in 2018 and warm wishes to all for a mindful Christmas… and merriment to come. The old year is ending, let’s attend to its final activities and get ready for new beginnings. Merry Christmas!