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Christmas Pressure

Written by Nikki Webster from Bridge the Gap

Nikki is co-director at Bridge the Gap Child Mental Health CIC. She is a specialist mental health nurse and ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) therapist. 

The pressure of Christmas has grown over the last few years. I remember when I was younger there were no chocolate advents; tinsel and baubles were definitely eclectically mixed and somewhat ‘tacky’. Christmas was very much about love and connection, warmth and wonder.


So why do we feel the urge to provide a ‘perfect’ Christmas in 2023?


I certainly sense that pressure: Christmas elves coming out to play, Nordic-style themed trees from Perfect Home magazines, Christmas bedding, Christmas Eve boxes, advent calendars full of not just chocolate but toys, perfumes, gin bottles and more.


And those changes are documented on socials a thousand times over. Comparison is something that needs shining a light on when it comes to our mental health at Christmas. How are we modelling this with our children? Do they hear us comment on next door’s Christmas tree decorations? Hear us moaning about the elf antics of those parents managing to create a magical elf midnight party?


Be mindful when it comes to what they see you modelling on social media. Be mindful of putting your phone down for a while and being more present in your own Christmas. Because being present is what matters, bringing back the warm family Christmas without all of the fuss. But sometimes pressure comes in this form too: “I must maintain my calm. It must be a mindful, family Christmas.”


Christmas is an incredibly emotionally draining time for everyone. When you strip it back it’s actually very chaotic:


-        We bring a tree inside and decorate it with plastic balls.

-        We spend a ridiculous amount of time and money cooking the ‘perfect’ meal and expecting our children to sit nicely at the table to eat it.

-        We spend an inordinate amount of time and money – going into debt even – shopping for the right presents for everyone (in shopping centres that are loud, stark and a sensory overload).

-        THE ELVES!!!!!

-        We expect our children to wear itchy, scratchy Christmas jumpers, without fuss.

-        We expect our children to be kind, inviting and friendly with family members they have potentially not seen since last Christmas (side note – never force a child to hug/kiss a family member if they do not feel comfortable; we should be teaching them about consent and comfort when it comes to physical contact).

-        We expect our children to ‘behave’, play family games and be quiet when needed, despite their new toys being all over the living room or their desire to play on their devices like they normally do.

I could go on! My point: the expectations we have on ourselves and our children at Christmas time are immense. It’s OK to have the Christmas that is right for your family. It’s OK if your child struggles with the ‘festive normalities’ of Christmas. It’s OK if your child prefers to spend time alone at Christmas, gosh, it’s OK to want to escape yourself too for a while. Strip it back, remind yourself that YOUR family Christmas is unique. It may be quiet, it may be chaotic, but it’s OK to do it your way.


Merry Christmas x

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