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Santa’s Helper – tips for managing Christmas.

December 20th, 2005

Dr Petra

This time of year you can’t move for media stories about office parties and the obligatory coverage of perfect Christmases or Christmas crises – coping with the in-laws, diets, and stresses over presents.

Not surprising that people get a little fed up with it. Either that or they feel their lives aren’t being covered, or if they’re not in a relationship there’s something wrong with them.

There are five main problems that always seem to crop up at Christmas time that I’m asked to answer. Hope you find them helpful.

How to pull a cracker

This is the top of my Christmas problem list. People want to know where to go to meet people, what to say if you spot someone you like, and what to do after you’ve said ‘hello’. There’s no one quick answer, but there’s some general things to try. First of all make sure you go to places where you can meet people. It sounds daft but if you’re at home with your TV dinner in front of a re-run of ‘Friends’ you’re not giving yourself any chances. Work Christmas parties, or parties organised in clubs, pubs or community centres can all be winners. Some places offer seasonal activities – walks, sporting events, dances or other activities to join. And if you’re shy you can take a friend with you. Don’t pin your hopes on one event or one person; instead try a number of events and chat to different people. Decide if there’s anyone you like and if there isn’t just enjoy being with other people and having fun.

If there’s someone you like, walk up and ask them if they’d like a drink, would like to dance, are having fun, or what they make of the Christmas décor or music (if you’re at a festive party). After that you can follow up with what they’re doing for Christmas and wish them a really good time. If they seem willing to have a conversation you can broaden out into what they do for a living, what their hobbies are, and expand on those (whilst adding a little about yourself). If they don’t seem interested then return to your friends or move on to talk to someone else after wishing them a happy Christmas.

It’s easy to get hung up on being single or not finding someone you like (or finding the person you do like isn’t into you). You might find it more helpful to focus on enjoying yourself, practicing meeting people and widening your circle of friends – because even if you don’t find them attractive they may have a friend who you do like.

Pick the perfect present

Another problem area comes around Christmas gifts. Partly this is due to us being told presents should be a surprise and often should be expensive. You can manage Christmas on a budget, and some gifts (see later) can be free. You may not want to go down the traditional route of chocolate, perfume, or underwear. Why not ask your partner what things they’d like? Get them to write a letter to Santa if you like (of course you’ll get to read it!) and make a selection from that. Alternatively go window-shopping before Christmas and see what things your partner appreciates. Or you can get them to write down their favourite colours, fabrics, textures, smells; the books they write, the music they enjoy. That gives you some ideas of presents to pick. Although it may not be the same as spoiling them with a surprise, a planned present can avoid an unwanted present problem, and also feel more personal.

Hangin’ round the mistletoe
Okay, so you’re at the party, you’re feeling good, and you spot your Mr or Ms Right just about to step under the mistletoe. You rush over and move in for a smooch. But how can you be sure you’ve done the right thing?

If they carry on smiling and laughing, move their body towards you or move to touch you – particularly if they offer you a kiss, then you can be pretty sure they like you. Particularly if they offer to return the favour or move for a more intimate kiss.

If they don’t move but offer a cheek, particularly if they keep their arms by their sides or across their body then perhaps they’re either shy or just being polite.

If they move their body away, particularly if they move their hands up in front of their body or turn their back toward you then it’s pretty obvious they’re not keen.

The problem is people can tell the final reaction (as upsetting as it may feel). It’s the middle response that causes us problems. For straight guys in particular it’s difficult since women are raised to be polite and also fear negative responses to their behaviour, so they may well endure a kiss for fear of upsetting you. Unfortunately if you really like them you can easily misinterpret this unconsciously or deliberately as a sign of shyness or someone who’s playing hard to get.

If they didn’t seem too keen when you kissed them and afterwards they move away, then just be polite and let them go. If they’re shy you may have a couple of other chances for some light-hearted chat later, which should build their confidence and yours. And if they’re not bothered it’s your signal to focus on someone else you like. Don’t try for more kisses, cuddles or accuse them of playing hard to get. Accept on this occasion they’re not into you and find someone who is.

If Christmas is a difficult time

If you’re single and unhappy about it (not everyone is), in a relationship that’s unhappy, or recently divorced, separated or bereaved, then Christmas can be a painful time. You may find that being with friends or family can take your mind off things or help you feel supported – particularly if you forewarn them you could be upset at some point. Or you may want to be on your own. Let loved ones know what you need from them and how you may react so they’re not surprised or upset. If you’ve a friend or family member who finds this time of year stressful or distressing discuss with them in advance what they’d find helpful.

If you are distressed before Christmas your GP may be able to help. Alternatively The Samaritans provide 24-hour free and confidential support. Call on 08457 90 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org. Saneline can help if you’re experiencing mental distress, call on 0845 767 8000. Some people find comfort from religious or spiritual support at this time.

Remember, the media coverage of happy couples, families and cute kiddies is just an image. So just because you don’t fit into that mould doesn’t mean you’re at fault or there’s something missing in your life. We’re often encouraged to feel this so we can consume at Christmas.

Sharing in the giving
It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of spending at Christmas. But you can take small steps to help others and make yourself feel good. You can add another gift to your Christmas shopping and donate it to your local community centre, older people’s home or hospice. Or if you’ve any unwanted new or nearly new household items to donate many charities for the homeless, children, or those living in refuges accept gifts that are pleasurable (e.g. soap, perfume, clothing or toys), or practical (food, drinks, blankets or household goods).

You can volunteer your time to help with shopping for an older neighbour, or someone else who might need your help, like a busy young mum or person who’s ill. You can offer practical support like helping with housework, shopping or DIY, or just being a friend to someone who is lonely or housebound. Timebank has a list of charities or organisations seeking volunteer help over the Christmas period. They even have a number of activities you can sign up for that take from 5 minutes to an hour to do.

Many voluntary agencies such Crisis, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Age Concern or religious groups organise support for those in need at Christmas time and you can sign up to help them. The Guardian has produced information on homeless charities for Christmas, including those who help homeless people and their pets.

Many charity shops organise collections or events over the festive season, and they can let you know what help or support you could offer.

Charities are also still collecting for those in need following the Asia earthquake, Niger appeal, and to help Tsunami survivors rebuild their lives. The charity Muslim Hands is collecting for both the Asia earthquake and Tsunami survivors.

Or you could make a promise to volunteer throughout the next year, beginning at Christmas and continuing to 2006.

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