Katie Byrne: Christmas should be a time of celebration, not obligation. Practice saying no, even if it’s only in front of the mirror

I have to’ is one of those phrases that we hear a lot of during the festive season. ‘I have to get a present for my sister-in-law.’ ‘I have to take the kids ice-skating.’ ‘I have to do a Christmas lunch with my colleagues.’

We get ourselves into a tizzy trying to be all things to all people at this time of year. And while we all have an idea of what we want to do, it doesn’t take long for it to get overshadowed by what we have to do.

If your festive season is driven by a feeling of obligation, it might be worth taking some time out to reaffirm your intentions and reassert your boundaries.

Here’s a few ideas…

Talk about the type of Christmas you want to have

I’ll always remember the moment when my mother, after 30-odd-years of making cranberry sauce for the Christmas Day spread, decided to ask if anyone actually cared for it. A quick straw poll revealed that, no, the homemade sauce she painstakingly prepared each year wasn’t anyone’s favourite trimming. In fact, she was the only person who enjoyed it.

And even then, she wasn’t all that pushed.

I mention this because a lot of the obligations that we feel burdened by at Christmastime aren’t based on the presumptions of those around us. They are based on our concept of the perfect Christmas.

The moral of the story? Talk to your nearest and dearest about the type of Christmas that they want to have. After all, the expectations that we’re trying to meet may not be expected of us at all.

Revisit your to-do list

It’s equally important to take an honest look at the often unrealistic obligations and expectations that are weighing you down this festive season. Who said you have to meet all your old school friends and colleagues before December 25th? Who said you have to buy enough food to survive a nuclear fallout? Who said you have to buy a new sparkly dress and a pair of swishy shoes that you can barely walk in? Before you get caught up in the hype of Christmas, take a moment to look at the items on your to-list and ask if they are truly necessary. You’ll be surprised by the amount of tasks that you can simply strike out.

The tyranny of tradition

We all know the importance of tradition – at Christmastime especially. Family rituals build bonds and give a sense of meaning to the festive season.

However, sometimes traditions can become unwieldy, unsustainable and even oppressive as lifestyles change and people get older.

If you feel duty-bound to partake in certain festive traditions – whether it’s a Christmas Eve pub crawl or a St Stephen’s Day hike – why not suggest a slightly different format? After all, the most enduring traditions are the ones that evolve over time.

Notice feelings of guilt

The misplaced sense of obligation that many of us feel at Christmas is largely a self-imposed pressure. Still, it’s worth pinpointing the people who you are mostly trying to please. Is there a relative who guilt-trips you into meeting them? Is there a colleague who gives you the cold shoulder when you cancel lunch? Is there a friend who puts you on the naughty list when you opt out of her parties?

When we identify the guilt-trippers and emotional manipulators in our lives, we can start to prepare strategies for standing up to them. Which brings us to…

Practice makes perfect

Two types of people emerge at Christmastime. Those who respect their limits and assert their boundaries, and those who say yes to every invite that lands on their doormat. If you’re in the latter group, you could probably do with some practice around saying ‘no’ – even if it’s only in front of the mirror.

Brené Brown says she often rehearses boundary-setting statements like ‘I can’t take that on’ or ‘My plate is full’ to no one in particular. “Like many worthwhile endeavours,” she says, “boundary setting is a practice.”

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