The Lockdown Christmas Survival Guide We All Need

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Photograph of a glowing log fire burning in a fire place

Ahh 2020! We’d like to say it’s been fun but, let’s be honest… it wasn’t. Because, unless you’re one of the lucky few who’ve kept busy in lockdown by building toilet paper forts (presumably that’s why people needed so many), you’ve probably spent nine months fighting back the panic.

Now we’re heading into the festive season, the restrictions we’ve come to live with feel all the more… well, restrictive. Phased and tiered lockdowns, limited public transport and lack of funds have resulted in a 100% rise this year in the number of people expecting to spend the holidays alone.

So if the thought of a very lockdown Christmas has got you feeling more ‘boo hoo hoo’ than ‘ho ho ho’, we’re here to help.1

In this short guide, we’ll cover 10 strategies you can use when life – and Christmas – get a bit too much.

Table of Contents

1. Take time to reflect

In difficult times, we tend to focus on the things we’re not doing and forget what we’ve achieved. But focusing on negative thoughts can throw us into a downward spiral and leaves us somewhere we don’t want to be.

So, your first mission – should you choose to accept it – is to take time to reflect on the little wins you’ve experienced throughout the year.

Think back over the last 9 months. I’ll bet my biggest Christmas present that you’ve:
 
  • Uncovered one or more hidden strengths
  • Learnt a new skill you wouldn’t otherwise have explored
  • Built resilience to challenging situations

Perhaps you persevered with homeschooling, home working or what feels like 50,000 video calls. Or suffered a bereavement and managed to hold down your job. Or perhaps you decided to learn mindfulness techniques, book a session with a therapist or put some healthy habits in place – that’s amazing!

Give yourself the praise you deserve. Because when you shift your lens to focus on the things you’ve achieved rather than the things you haven’t, you’ll feel more positive, energised and engaged.

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2. Walk in nature

It might sound counterintuitive to say ‘get outside’ in a ‘lockdown’ survival guide but being in nature can dramatically improve your sense of wellbeing.

Research shows that spending time in nature helps us feel more connected to our surroundings and community, boosts our serotonin levels and more besides. In a recent study, walking in nature – compared to carrying on as normal and walking in urban environments – was shown to give people:2

  • Elevating experiences
  • A general sense of connectedness (to other people, to nature and to life as a whole)
  • Prosocial orientation (or the motivation to engage socially with others)

But you don’t need to add a load of hiking gear to your Christmas wish list to feel the benefits. Even spending 5 minutes in your local park each day will make a big difference. So, don your cosiest coat and squeeze in a short stroll between mince pies.

3. Implement Zoom time management

Many of us are struggling with video-call fatigue. And not just those of us who work from home. Just keeping in touch with loved ones when you can’t meet face to face can be exhausting.

With the new restrictions in place, you may feel tempted to spend all day recreating Xmas online. And whilst it’s important to stay connected with others, don’t feel pressure or guilt if the thought of another social event over video conference exhausts you. 

According to science, we find online communication so taxing because it’s much more one-dimensional than what we’re used to. Humans evolved to pick up on and understand a range of conversational cues like body language, facial expressions, hand gestures and – of course – language.

However, during video calls, we only have access to one or two of these cues. This overreliance on words and facial gestures leaves our brains working much harder to make sense of conversations. Ultimately leading to levels of fatigue that few of us experience when speaking to others face to face.3

The holidays should be a time for us to rest and recharge. So if you’re feeling all zoomed-out this Christmas, try these tips:

  • Limit the time you spend on zoom drinks. Whether it’s Virtual staff parties, Friendmas or something else. Online Christmas events can quickly escalate so avoid getting caught up in anything you’re not comfortable with by setting clear boundaries at the start. If you need to log off 30 minutes in to get some me-time, that’s no bad thing.
  • Manage the alcohol you drink and try not to give in to peer pressure. The good thing about online parties is that nobody can follow you to the bar. So you can experiment with mocktails and agua con gas completely free from peer pressure.
  • Schedule self-care activities in advance so you always have things to do that aren’t zoom-related.

4. Try compassion meditation

Those of us who live in large households will of course be feeling grateful not to be alone on Christmas day. But at the same time, the way your family members loudly slurp their tea (looking at you, dad) or sit quietly glued to their phone can easily drive you up the wall.

Even though we love Christmas because it’s about family, it can often be a hot spot for conflict in our lives. And when we inevitably snap at our nearest and dearest, we end up feeling bad for both them and ourselves. But you can take control of Christmas conflict by doing a little preparation in advance.

Spend a few minutes each day practicing loving kindness meditation (LKM). Studies show that LMK can help us steer away from and mediate interpersonal conflicts.4 According to the research, young people who practiced LMK are less likely to be bothered by the actions of others and get stressed by or cause conflicts with their parents and family members.5

I’ve been doing this for years and I have to say it really does work! Now, Uncle Alan can slurp away to his heart’s content and it no longer makes me angry or stressed.

5. Let go of expectations

Those of us who have been hit hard by the new Xmas restrictions are no doubt feeling sadness and anger that something we had been looking forward to has been taken away. This is completely natural and we should give ourselves permission to feel this way. The last thing we should do is put pressure on others – or ourselves – to act in a certain way over Christmas.

Placing too much emphasis on getting things ‘right’ creates unrealistic expectations. These expectations lead to heightened pressure, which can be a source of stress and conflict when reality doesn’t measure up.6

On the flipside, you might find yourself setting your expectations too low under the assumption that Christmas will be just as bad as the rest of the year. The trouble with too-low expectations is that we can subconsciously block ourselves from enjoying anything at the time.

Whatever your expectations, try to let go of them. You can do this by practicing acceptance and consciously challenging thoughts of how things ‘should’ be. When we practice this mindset it becomes easier to navigate uncertainty. Meaning we find ourselves less disappointed and more capable of being present in the moment.

And finally, sometimes at Xmas time we can feel a pang of guilt if we’re not ‘enjoying it properly.’ So, try your best to let go of this and try your best to accept the day for what it is – whatever it may look like! 

6. Craft your way through a digital detox

After months of online classes, binge-watching, film marathons, video meetings and social media, a digital detox could be just the thing you need.

When we spend time away from our screens, we feel more connected to the people around us – and this feeling of social connectedness is a potent tonic for lockdown blues.7

But when you’re in the same environment for long periods of time, it’s hard not to reach for a device. One thing that may help is crafting.

Crafting is a multi-sensory experience and plays to our biological reward system by providing us with regular wins that trigger the release of serotonin.8 In a survey of 3,500 knitters from over 30 countries, 81% said they felt happier after knitting and fewer than 1% said they remained sad.9

Research suggests that, as well as boosting chemicals that make us feel good, crafting allows us to get into a “flow” state, where we stop noticing time passing and stop thinking about other things.

So, instead of scrolling Facebook when you feel overwhelmed, grab a beginner’s craft kit, put on some music, crack open the mince pies and hand make some Christmas decorations, cards or gifts. You’ll save a bit of money, learn a new skill and spice up your home-alone time all in one go.

7. Learn to let go

Christmas is the last hurrah before the end of the year. So it’s a great time to let go of the little issues and bad feelings that have built up over the months. But you don’t have to call on the UN for this resolution because you can learn to let go just by picking up your pen.

Research shows that when we write down the things that are troubling us, we’re less likely to psychologically hold onto them.10

While you’re writing, try and visualise yourself letting go of the things that annoy you. For example, you could imagine yourself placing the thought in a mental shredder and enjoy watching it get destroyed.

Alternatively, go full-on Hollywood rom-com and burn your notes in a fire (if you have one… we’re not suggesting you build a make-shift a fire on your coffee table).

8. Take time to nurture yourself

For lots of us, 2020 has been a tough year, and you’re well within your rights to rest, indulge and treat yourself. It’s perfectly ok to let go, exist in the moment and just enjoy the pleasure of doing… frankly, not a lot.

Try not to feel guilty about indulging, but rather give yourself permission to enjoy the moment. You’re probably going to eat all the chocolate anyway, so why not do it with a full heart?

Research shows that, when we give ourselves permission to indulge we’re less likely to do it to excess because we’re not doing it to numb negative emotions like guilt.11

9. Engage in random acts of kindness

At Christmas, kind acts can become a chore. We can feel pressure to give thoughtful gifts and throw ourselves into the ‘season of good will’. And while this can be fun, there is a better way to Christmas giving – practice random acts of kindness.

Random acts of kindness are those where the ‘giver’ does something altruistic for someone else without the expectation of getting something in return. When we ‘give’ in this way, we experience all kinds of benefits from chemical boosts to ‘helpers high’.

Random acts of kindness flood the body with serotonin, a chemical that makes us feel happy. And research shows that conducting just one random act of kindness per day reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Serotonin has even been shown to reduce our perception of pain and help us live longer. It’s potent stuff!12

Plus, you can boost the effect of your acts by counting the number you ‘do’ in a given week. Studies show that counting random acts of kindness can increase the giver’s subjective happiness.13

Not sure where to start? Try:

  • Spotting someone the change they’re missing for their coffee or the bus
  • Offering to go to the shops for a vulnerable neighbour
  • Signing up to take calls from people who feel lonely
  • Joining an online game of secret Santa with strangers
  • Sending Christmas cards to people you know in your local area

10. Spend time with you

Yes, Christmas is about giving and spending time with others but we can’t pour from an empty cup. Try to spend a bit of time each day doing something just for you.

This could be 5 minutes of mindful breathing just after you wake up, having a sneaky cup of coffee or a chocolate before cooking dinner or spending a few extra minutes in the shower.

Some of us could be spending a lot more of Xmas alone this year, and whilst we may be worrying about loneliness, the flip side is that you can take time to indulge in some much-needed self-care. So do your best to welcome in this alone time and use it as an opportunity to reconnect with yourself.  You might like to try:

  • Diving into a good book
  • Taking up a craft (see above)
  • Learning a new recipe
  • Starting a diary

Hobbies like this offer plenty of opportunities to experience small wins which, according to the Progress Principle, helps keep us motivated and engaged.14

Did we miss anything?

If you’ve developed an effective strategy for dealing with stress, let us know in the comments below. You might just make someone’s Christmas.

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Jodie Manners

Jodie Manners

Content Writer

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References

  1. Savage M. Poll reveals scale of ‘home alone’ Christmas in the UK this year [Internet]. The Guardian. 2020 [cited 2020 Dec 16]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/dec/05/poll-reveals-scale-of-home-alone-christmas-in-the-uk-this-year
  2. Passmore HA, Holder MD. Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2017 Nov 2;12(6):537-46. Available from: https://people.ok.ubc.ca/hapassmo/pdfs/014_Noticing-Nature_Passmore-Holder_JPP.pdf
  3. Sklar J. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain. Here’s why that happens. [Internet]. National Geographic. 2020 [cited 2020 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-zoom-fatigue-is-taxing-the-brain-here-is-why-that-happens/
  4. Yarnell LM, Neff KD. Self-compassion, interpersonal conflict resolutions, and well-being. Self and Identity. 2013 Mar 1;12(2):146-59.
  5. Kirby JN, Laczko D. A randomized micro-trial of a loving-kindness meditation for young adults living at home with their parents. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2017 Jul 1;26(7):1888-99.
  6. Sherman JE. The Secret to Happiness and Compassion: Low Expectations [Internet]. Psychology Today. 2014 [cited 2020 Dec 16]. Available from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ambigamy/201408/the-secret-happiness-and-compassion-low-expectations
  7. James C, Davis K, Charmaraman L, Konrath S, Slovak P, Weinstein E, Yarosh L. Digital life and youth well-being, social connectedness, empathy, and narcissism. Pediatrics. 2017 Nov 1;140(Supplement 2):S71-5.
  8. Handmade Creativity Makes You Healthier & Happier [Internet]. Scrapbook.com. [cited 2020 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.scrapbook.com/articles/crafting-makes-you-healthier-and-happier
  9. Bateman J. This hobby could make you happier and ease anxiety [Internet]. Prima. 2016 [cited 2020 Dec 16]. Available from: http://http://www.prima.co.uk/diet-and-health/healthy-living/a35739/craft-boost-happiness-ease-anxiety/
  10. Briñol P, Gascó M, Petty RE, Horcajo J. Treating thoughts as material objects can increase or decrease their impact on evaluation. Psychological science. 2013 Jan;24(1):41-7.
  11. Young K. The Importance of Pleasure - Psyched in San Francisco [Internet]. Psyched In San Francisco. [cited 2020 Dec 16]. Available from: http://www.psychedinsanfrancisco.com/the-importance-of-pleasure/
  12. Make Kindness The Norm [Internet]. Random Acts of Kindness. [cited 2020 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-science-of-kindness
  13. Otake K, Shimai S, Tanaka-Matsumi J, Otsui K, Fredrickson BL. Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. Journal of happiness studies. 2006 Sep 1;7(3):361-75.
  14. Amabile T, Kramer S. The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Harvard Business Press; 2011.

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