Christmas advertisements show happy family-filled times, lots of food, presents and joy. But of course it's not like this for many families, not just because we may not have the wherewithal to buy presents or have lavish feasts, but because when a family comes together once a year, even when everyone has the best of intentions to be happy, it doesn't always turn out like that.
It's a time when we may experience exhaustion, expectations, isolation, disappointment, aloneness, inferiority, being overwhelmed and at times misunderstood.
At year end, we are often exhausted from the stresses of the year, of work and of surviving. We are surrounded with images of the perfect Christmas, happy families and feasts - which make us wish we had more money to achieve much of it.
Then there is the desire to have the best Christmas we can, while experiencing disappointment or shame that perhaps the Christmas we wanted for our children or to show our family, we can't give.
It's no wonder that more than half of us are likely to experience some form of stress-related depression at this time and this often forces us to look at ourselves and our partners. Just when we want everything to be perfect and for our respective families to see how well we are coping, stress, fatigue, relationships, hidden fears and worries often surface.
Here are six tips to make the holiday season as happy as you want.
1. Talk to your partner about what causes your Christmas stress. Is it money worries, tension between family members? See if together you can work out how to manage those issues.
2. Remember that your relationship is the most important thing. Make it your priority. Put it first, over the jobs that need doing at Christmas. None of it matters unless you and your partner can create the atmosphere you both want. Your children will take the cues from how happy you are with what you make of Christmas. Look to make simple fun. Playing board games together, for example. Let your children choose the game.
3. If last Christmas was a nightmare, talk to your partner about how you felt and why you don't want to feel like that again. Explain why you would like your holiday time to be a particular way. For many of us, being around our parents and siblings reminds us of all the things we didn't like growing up. For example, "Dad always manages to make me feel inadequate around my other brothers even though when I'm not around him I know I'm okay." When we explain this to our partner, it helps them understand us and our relationship grows.
4. Remember one of you will be the "talker" in your relationship and the other may avoid talking. Be there for each other. It is your relationship with each other which means more than any present/meal/and so on. Don't expect your partner to be able to mind-read or know what you need - tell them. Just knowing that your partner is willing to really listen and be there for you can help to ease the tension and increase a sense of connection between the two of you. And when you communicate better, your family is happier and everything feels better!
5. At Christmas there is so much to do, but don't forget to look after yourself. What do you need?
Try to find one enjoyable thing each day that connects you with your partner. It can be as simple as sharing the morning paper cartoon or going for a short walk together.
6. Try not to self-medicate! Remember that people under stress tend to "self-medicate" with alcohol, cigarettes, other drugs, or even food or exercise. This will only shut out those who love you and won't solve any problems. Try to talk about how you feel when you want to eat more or have a cigarette.
Finally, remember what is important. A young boy once said: "Love is what's in the room at Christmas, when you stop opening presents, and listen."
Let go of perfection ... go back to basics.