Kat Mills on dealing with expectation and pressure at Christmas.

Kat Mills
Kat Mills

For some people at this time of year the Christmas songs and carols will already be blasting. They'll be humming along to 'Tis the season' and 'The most wonderful time of the year' with a smile on their face and with giddy feelings of excitement about the approaching season. There will be a calendar counting down the days or even sleeps and a constant reminder on social media about how close it is getting.

I really hope not to sound like The Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge, but the song that seems to feel like my theme tune at this time of year is Queen and Bowie's 'Under Pressure'.

Now don't get me wrong, as a Christian, I value Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus. I enjoy Christmas movies, and may have already been watching them since October. I love singing the songs and carols, I enjoy giving and receiving and eating good food. Despite all this, I believe there is an undercurrent of high pressure and high expectations that are shoved upon us. We are constantly bombarded through advertising about what the 'perfect Christmas' looks like and how we can deliver it and our social calendars become so hectic.

Being diagnosed with autism, Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD earlier this year helps me understand why I find this time of year particularly challenging. I often must fight the urge to hibernate - curling up like a ball under my duvet and sleeping the season away! I regularly struggle on a day-to-day basis, and so I am trying to simplify my life so that things are more manageable. It seems that when I am finally getting to a workable state, Christmas creeps up on me and I must fight off an overwhelming feeling of dread and panic that threaten to engulf me.

There is so much to remember, so many traditions people want to uphold, so many expectations to meet and fulfil, so many different places to go and people to see.

Any one of these things can be that little bit more challenging when you already have extra conditions to contend with. Cramming everything into a short space of time can be too much!

One area I particularly struggle with at Christmas is gift giving. Now this is odd because I love giving gifts and it is one of the biggest ways that I express my love. By bringing joy to someone, showing them I care and trying to put a big smile on their face, by reminding them that they are loved and cherished, and that someone is thinking of them.

When it comes to Christmas, I can feel so burdened and this process feels stressful and overwhelming. I have to plan numerous gifts all at once, as well as balance the budget and remain organised! I struggle to figure out the social etiquettes of who is expecting gifts and who is not and how much to give. The main stress I have is that during decluttering I am suddenly surrounded by bags and boxes of ordered presents - I often feel exhausted and defeated.

I have been trying to manage this over recent years by giving in the way I like to receive best, which is through the gift of time. I like giving people gift experiences, meal vouchers, or coffee shop cards, unless there is something they are desperately wanting. I prefer to give gifts where people get to spend time with family or a loved one and experience something, or have some time out. The plus side for me is that these gifts often come in small envelopes which are so much more manageable for me.

However I am learning that the way I may give or wish to receive is not necessarily the same for someone else. For some people the importance of gift selection is that they have remembered someone. For some it is about shopping on a tight budget and it's the achievement of providing for everyone in the family. For others it is about the surprise and the effort behind the gift. For others, it's all about the gift value.

For some, vouchers and gift cards can feel rather impersonal and a bit of a cop out. I found these gifts great because it means that there is no extra clutter, and a gift card can mean I can go and choose something to do in my own time and on my terms. Knowing I have a balance on a coffee shop card means I can go and escape when I find time.

It's so hard isn't it? How do you get the balance, how do you navigate this minefield?

I have been learning about the importance of being honest and truthful with people. As I have been more open about the struggles I face and shown a willingness to want to overcome them, people have been able to help me.

When I hid my feelings; when I just cancelled on friends or pulled out of things, it could be easy for the wrong signals to be sent out and for people to think that I didn't care or wasn't interested in friendship, instead of the reality that the things I felt were expected of me were too big for me.

Hiding from the world means nothing will be able to change.

If, like me, you find Christmas overwhelming and challenging because of all the things to remember and expectations, then be honest with those around you and ask for help. Let's manage expectations and be willing to change things, and be willing to create new traditions.

None of my loved ones would want me to make myself ill and stressed over this, so I am finding ways to take the pressure off by asking people how they best receive love, what speaks to them most, and learning more to understand those around me.

Most importantly I am remembering why we celebrate Christmas, remembering about the ultimate gift of love from God of Jesus Christ. It reminds me of the ultimate motive behind giving - showing love.

This year I will try to remember that, and to revel in the amazing love and beauty of the best gift. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.