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7 Secrets to a Successful Season


Tis not the season to be jolly in the counsellor’s office. Christmas is by far the busiest time of the year in my practice – when most clients are at their worst.

Please enjoy the list I have compiled to help lessen the holiday blues.


Remember why you are celebrating

What does Christmas mean? For some, it is a time to celebrate the love of family and friends and to reflect on the happy moments that have been shared. For others, it is paid time off work. For devoted Christian believers, it is a religious feast at the heart of their faith. For Muslims, Christmas can be about friends and family. Identify for yourself what it means and why you are celebrating. This way, you will be less likely to be sidetracked by events or customs that don’t fit your beliefs or value system.


Spend wisely

For many people, the holiday season can be fraught with spending demands: parents are under pressure to buy gifts and toys for their children and grandchildren; the amount spent on everything that comes with Christmas such as food, drinks and decorations can really add up; and of course the consumerism culture that blinks at us from every corner, commercial and stroll through a shopping mall.

The end result often is that many people borrow money to cope with the financial burden that Christmas brings. I can relate to the January blues that arrive with my credit card statement!  What all of this does not bring is the joy we should feel that involves goodwill, forgiveness, thanks, charity and gratitude — the essences of what the season really can be. So think twice before you make that purchase. Gifts can come in many forms, not only the type that requires large financial outlays.


Drink responsibly

Back in August of 2014 I wrote a blog post on alcohol. It is worth revisiting as the Christmas season is notably about Christmas cheer: drinking. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (says Seinfeld) — enjoying a drink with friends can be a lovely part of an evening. However, everyone has to be conscientious about drinking and driving, and also aware of the negative side effects.

Waking up with a hangover on Christmas morning when the kids have woken you up at a God-forsaken hour is no fun. Acting like a fool at your company Christmas party can really be embarrassing when you have to return to work and face your colleagues. Also, alcohol is a CNS (central nervous system) depressant. What this means is that while you are drinking, your CNS is being depressed, so the troubles of the world go away, as does your social anxiety, and fun can be had.  However, the next day your body is now robbed of Seratonin, and if you are prone to depression or anxiety already, you will drop even lower without enough of this valuable brain chemical. This is why we all can feel a bit low the next day.  Moderate your amount and frequency, and it shouldn’t be a problem.


Get outside!

Getting fresh air and some exercise is a mantra that all humans should embrace every day. The research on the value that being outside has on mental health and wellness is overwhelming. Typically, especially during the winter, we do not get enough outside time. And we need to. The fresh air, vitamin D, and the beauty nature has to offer (did you see that squirrel running by, or those new buds on that bush?) are all good for the soul. So get outside and enjoy the freshness that is readily available, and no excuses if it is raining or blustery.  Remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear!


Limit time with family foes

Christmas can be a time where we “have to” spend time with family members that we really would rather not. For many reasons in people’s family history, there are typically some individuals that we don’t get along with or simply don’t enjoy spending time with. However, to be respectful or to not alienate ourselves from our families, we do.  My suggestion is to be very intentional about how much time you choose to spend in those situations. If it is really bad, can you arrive a little late and leave a little early? Can you give your partner a signal that it’s time to leave when you have had enough? Or just prepare yourself ahead of time with a good night’s sleep and a conscious happy disposition that won’t be shaken by anyone else’s presence or behaviour.


Deliberately acknowledge lost ones.

Christmas can be an especially difficult time if you have lost someone close to you in that year, but also generally if a special loved one is no longer with us.  Often if this is the first Christmas without that special someone, we can dread the season without them. What I encourage my clients to do is not to white-knuckle it and hope it doesn’t hurt, but rather expect that it will be sad and plan for it.

Can you set a place at the table for them, and have everyone say something that they remember fondly? Or perhaps an intentional visit to the cemetery to deliver a gift or have a chat would feel good? Whatever you do, don’t deny yourself the opportunity to acknowledge that indeed it does hurt and it is sad, but that your life was fuller for having had that person in it. We will all expire, so let’s hope that our life meant something and that people who loved us will remember that.


Protect your time

We are fortunate that our country acknowledges this season with holidays (aka: built in time off). Time off is a gift – so use it wisely. It is far too easy to be super busy running from party invitation to gatherings with relatives and other numerous activities that keep us on the go. If you don’t heed this advice, you can end up back at work or at school after the holidays exhausted and needing a rest.

One suggestion is to plan a pajama day. A day during the holidays where you actually don’t get dressed. Think about what that inherently will do: you can’t leave the house; you can’t drive anywhere (I guess you can, but it could be embarrassing if you are in an accident!); you simply can’t be busy. What you can do in your pajamas is relax, watch movies, prepare and eat food together, be intimate, play cards . . . you get the point.


Have a wonderful Christmas season and start the New Year refreshed!

Dr. Jennifer Hammersmark


Jennifer Hammersmark, Ph.D., R.C.C., of The Counselling Group has been working in the mental health field since 1984. She has a Doctorate Degree in Psychology and is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with the B.C. Association of Clinical Counsellors.  Jennifer enjoys working with individuals, couples and families and considers it an honor to walk with people through their pain and on their healing journeys.


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