There is only one week left until I break up for the Christmas holidays! I’m looking forward to having some time off work so that I can recharge, but at the same time, I’m dubious. The lack of structure and change to routine added to the social commitments can be extremely stressful, which has led me to consider what I can do to make the Christmas period as stressless as possible (as much for others as myself).
- Surprise presents: there is nothing people like more than to see another person’s eyes light up when they open their Christmas gift. However, if it’s me on the receiving end, they inevitably always end up disappointed with my response. You see, I find receiving gifts incredibly stressful! For years, I tried to persuade my Mum to only buy gifts I had personally chosen but she has always struggled with that concept. Some people just cannot understand (through no fault of their own) the stress it can cause to be given a surprise. Personally, it’s due to a number of factors. Firstly, there is the lack of control which I think is quite self-explanatory when it comes to a person with autism. Another aspect is the guilt one feels when they open a gift they don’t actually like. This is a huge issue for me and I have all sorts of thoughts go through my mind. I worry before I open the gift in case I don’t like it, I worry about how to respond if I don’t like something (my facial expression doesn’t alter much even when I do like something) and I don’t like to feel that someone has wasted their money if I won’t use the gift they’ve bought me. These all sound like trivial things and to many people, they would be; however, to me the emotions they cause are consuming. I have accepted that I can’t always control what presents people buy so I am going to try to let them know beforehand that I might not react the way they’d expect, but that this does not mean I’m not grateful for their gift.
- Social gatherings: I often feel comfortable in my own company. I can read, listen to music, have a bath or watch a film without having to consider anybody else or become socially exhausted from having to deeply process every aspect of conversation I’m having with someone. Over the past year, I’ve learned to be a bit more selfish and not feel like I always have to attend family gatherings in order to focus on my own wellbeing (Sometimes, they are just too much to handle). At Christmas, this isn’t really an option but it means there is more chance of social overload. I have decided to put a few thing in place this year, in order to think about what strategies might make things a bit easier for me. I am going to my brother’s house for Christmas dinner and am going to explain to them beforehand what things I might need to do when I attend. That way, if I need to leave suddenly, it won’t seem rude. If things become too much, I will take myself out of the situation for a short time. I am also going to take an activity that I can focus on whilst I’m there (I’ve recently bought a camera so I might try to get some shots so that I can focus on a task rather than the social aspect if needed). I have also decided to drive myself there, rather than get a lift with my parents. That way, I will be in control of how long I spend there and if I start to become overloaded, I can always leave before having a shutdown.
- Making time for me: Christmas is a busy time so it’s important to remember that I need to look after my mental health. I’ve suffered with anxiety and bouts of depression for most of my life and I’m just beginning to realise that I need to look after me. I am going to make sure I spend some time each day doing an activity on my own that I enjoy, so that I can recover from any social overload, general anxiety the Christmas period brings.
- Change of structure: because there is going to be a drastic change to my routines, I am going to list things that I will be doing or need to do each day. I don’t like timetables but find making lists can be useful (I wrote a separate post on this topic recently). That way, I can see exactly what will be happening but also, if I find myself with some free time, I will have some options of how to spend it. Hopefully, this will help with any in-the-moment decision-making I might need to do.
These are the main issues that I have thought about that I know affect me personally during Christmas. Considering some of these strategies before-hand should, hopefully, make some aspects of Christmas slightly easier so that it can be enjoyed by me and the people I am spending it with too!