Feeling the pressure to be at every party and event? Often the festive season can be stressful and difficult to cope with, it can easily turn into the season of obligation says Sophie White
Christmas started earlier this year. It's an undeniable fact.
Very rudely, Christmas didn't even quite wait for Halloween to hit the road before the lights were up on Grafton Street and the festive invites started pouring into the inbox. We're straight into Christmas-ifying the house and making magic memories for our kids. The jittery from too much leftover Aldi treats was immediately replaced by jinglyness from the sudden appearance of a Christmas ad haranguing you for your feels and Black Friday hysteria. Gah. Is it just me, or is it all just a bit much this year?
Disclaimer, before anyone starts @ing me about being a begrudger of festive frolics know this, I am completely Cray Cray for Christmas, I love the damn thing. However, as we get older Christmas invariably becomes a site for stress. It's very hard for those without family and occasionally even harder for those with a family.
This Christmas season I am paring back the "out-out" to just the bare essentials.
Much has been made this year of Meghan Markle's estrangement from some of her family members. The laser-focus on this issue was revealing about how our culture feels about people who make the decision to opt out of their family. "People struggle to imagine something so at odds with nature and common experience, they invariably settle for judgement and decide you must simply be not very nice," as Sali Hughes put it in The Pool.
I'm Team Markle on this, I think one of the greatest lessons we can learn in this life is how much is tolerable when it comes to time spent with our nearest and dearest. I call it controlled contact. I basically think very carefully about my emotional state before I expose myself to family members who I love very much but find spending time with difficult. I don't much go in for the scented candle and sheet mask side of self-care but curating my contact with other people has become a must which is why this festive season I am extending my controlled contact beyond blood relatives to society at large. I'll be practicing selective socialising™, it's going to be all the rage.
I don't drink but I find I suffer from hangovers after big nights out socialising. It's a social hangover. I'm drained and talked out and need to replenish after these things. That is why, this Christmas season I am paring back the "out-out" to just the bare essentials.
Best Life Syndrome
If we're not out living our best lives what do we do about grist for the 'gram?
There is often such huge pressure to be at everything. It's evolved from the old FOMO to something even more meta with the rise of, what I call, the Best Life Syndrome.
Now, we are not only concerned with fear of missing out but fear of being seen to be missing out. It's a very subtle kind of status signalling, attending events and posting about your attendance on social media. If we're not out living our best lives what do we do about grist for the 'gram? From this perspective, it could be argued (if you were feeling cynical) that the rise of hygge was a brilliant response to those times when there was a dearth of glam for the gram. Here was a way to stay in and still look like you're living your best life, just cosy up with some pumpkin spice beverage, a Fair Isle jumper and cashmere socks, whack a Reyes filter on it and #BestHyggeLife.
Our lives have a natural rhythm that follows time with the seasons. That's why we clean in Spring and suddenly love salads in Summer only to return with glorious gluttony to carbs carbs and more carbs in Autumn. In Winter, we face an unfortunate contradiction, our bodies respond to the darker days with a physiological reaction (a study in 2015 showed that DNA reacts to the seasons) innately we want to hibernate, which is sadly at odds with our packed calendars of dinners, drinks and 'dos'.
Small talk is like high-intensity cardio
Younger generations seem to be innately cooler than us and less like to kowtow to the pressure to party.
Usually the end of the Christmas season finds me a dehydrated husk of a person having been booze bullied and party pestered into every shindig and hooley thrown my way since November 1st. By New Year's Eve, I've invariably been felled by a yuletide urinary tract infection, probably sporting a stye and feeling the whisper of gout brought on by little sustenance other than mince pies and posh crisps.
In part, I suspect that this may be a generational thing. Younger generations seem to be innately cooler than us and less like to kowtow to the pressure to party. In recent years, more and more people partake in Sober October and don't appear to treat it as some kind of ritualistic full body cleanse before complete self-annihilation through mainlining mulled wine. Studies this year have shown that Millennials are drinking less than their elders, with the number of teens and 20-somethings who don't drink almost doubling in a decade.
However, even beyond the boozing, the party season is tough going. Small talk is like high-intensity cardio for the brain and I for one am allergic. I can genuinely feel minutes of my life ticking away while casting about for answers to the standard small talk interrogation.
"Are you crazy busy? How's the kids? All set for Christmas? Getting away to the sun this year? The weather is gone mental, hasn't it?"
In these moments, it takes monumental effort not to scream "You don't give a f*ck how my kids are. Why would you? Death is coming!!! Let's talk about something real." Although, that would probably solve the packed Christmas party itinerary pretty efficiently as word spread about my outburst and the invites dry up. In fact, even just writing this festive rant will probably ward people off inviting me anywhere.
I'm not going full Scrooge, I'm still going to get spruced up and gorge on mince pies while simultaneously being attacked by my dress (sequin dresses are like glitzy hair shirts end of), I'm just going to still my jingly head by ditching the Elf on the Shelf, shelving my ambitious home decor plans, editing my social calendar down to the joy-filled essentials and indulging in some self-care by not caring about attending every little thing.