Christmas. New Year. Winter solstice. Dark. Shortest day.

What does it mean to you?

For me, increasingly as the years pass, the Christmas period means (ideally) a retreat, a hint of hibernation, a chance to re-connect with friends and family, sleep (a few lie-ins – by which I mean staying in bed beyond 6.30am – which have been in severely short supply of late), good food and nurturing. Although I haven’t been ill, it is almost like a state of convalescence – of gentle recovery and re-grouping after busy times. With some twinkly lights and sparkles thrown in.

We need fallow times I think. That seems to me to be what mid-winter is about. However, Christmas comes with bucket-loads of expectations and can be a fraught time for many. I can’t say my ideal as described above has always been met – though I feel as if I know more about how to increase the chances of at least having some of the elements in place.

It seems to boil down to knowing where you sit in terms of extraversion and introversion (well, now. I AM a psychologist. I WOULD say something like that. Bear with me and let’s continue…). I’m not suggesting we all need personality tests before we head into the festivities. But the most useful thing about these concepts for me is an understanding of what energises us, and what drains our energy. Extraverts are energised by other people, lots of activity and goings-on and will revel in the Christmas party season. Introverts, on the other hand, re-charge their psychological batteries by time alone, pottering around or reflecting. Both can do and enjoy both sides of the coin. But what feels more draining to you? Party time, or time alone?

For those, like me, who are somewhere close to the middle of this continuum, they probably need a mix. Over time, I need a good combination of time with other people and time on my own. I have gradually learnt to balance the two as best I can. I love a good party – but equally, I love a quiet evening too. Too many of one or the other and I start to feel a bit out of sorts.

Christmas is challenging in this respect because we are often thrown together with people we might not choose to spend time with otherwise, or conversely feel excluded from company if we are on our own. We may differ from our families in our extraversion/introversion preferences. You might be longing for a silent night whilst they are living it up into the small hours. Or you might be all dressed up with nowhere to go whilst your family cheerfully inhabit their respective hermitages.

I have slowly come to realise that a successful Christmas break usually involves understanding some of this. It’s not about expecting perfection (which is madness), but it is about understanding and communicating what we would like – and the more we do that, the chances are the more tolerant we will be of the aspects that aren’t our favourite bits.

Anyway, I hope you get enough of whatever does restore your energy if you feel the same mid-winter need for a bit of light dormancy. How’s that for a made-up psychological concept?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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