Alternative Advent Calendar Part 1.

On the 1st December I started to write an Alternative Advent Calendar. I have been posting these ‘gifts’ daily on Facebook and Instagram.

Christmas is busy, and expectations are high. It can become stressful and overwhelming very quickly. My Advent Calendar is an antidote to this. Each day I have been writing short thoughts about ways to manage this season, ideas about how to stay sane, maintain mental health and hopefully enjoy the festive period.

I am writing to remind myself. To talk truth to myself.

And to remind you. To talk truth to you.

Here are the first seven days

Dec 1st
The Gift of Being Unashamed.

In the morning I wake up and eat breakfast and brush my teeth and do all the everyday stuff. Then I take my anti depressant. It’s just part of my morning routine.

Taking anti depressants isn’t necessary for everyone who has struggled to maintain mental health, but for now for me it is.
I’m posting this because for a while I felt ashamed that I was in this position. I felt weak and like a failure.
But I am not weak or a failure. I am really proud of myself for having the bravery to be honest with myself about my needs and for accessing the right help.

And, for me, the drugs have helped. They have stabilised me and been part of the solution to my uncontrollable anxiety. This past year has been the most calm and adventurous and enjoyable in a long time.
If you, like me, start the day by swallowing a pill, don’t also swallow the lie that you are less, or worse, or weak. You are brilliant and brave. Have a great day.

December 2nd
The Gift of Cancelling.

Christmas is a lot. It’s full on activity. It is expectation and more expectation. And a great deal of it is fabulous. I love Christmas. 
But some years I have got to the end of the holidays and been completely exhausted. Often I’m completely exhausted before I even get to the big day.
So last week in a very uncharacteristic move, I spent ten minutes with my diary. I made some priorities. I decided how many nights out were possible. I saw that the next month is already busy. And I cancelled a couple of things. Nice things, fun things (and a few things I felt I ought to do). I don’t want to be too tired or wired to enjoy this time with the people who I love most (including myself!). So I took a red pen and drew a line through a couple of events. It felt liberating.

If you are always on the go you could easily not find time to make sure the next few weeks are doable – and fun. Be decisive. Look at the diary today. What are you going to cancel? Stop thinking about everyone else for a moment and consider your capacity. You won’t regret it! Give yourself permission. Give yourself the gift of cancelling.

December 3rd
The Gift of JOMO not FOMO
On a day where you have cancelled attendance at an event or party, or on an evening when you have decided not to go to that Christmas drinks party, don’t sit at home with a bad attack of the FOMOs. (Fear of missing out). 

If you have decided to have a night off- do just that. Have time off. You may want to think of it as a time out from real life.

Pyjama wearing is not compulsory, but is advisable. At the very least comfortable clothing, preferably something with an elasticated waist, should be worn. You will not all have a friend as awesome as mine who will make you a sweatshirt for this purpose (kudos Laura Pilgrim), but you will find something appropriate.
This is not an evening to be wasted by hurrying around getting jobs done, this time is a gift to be enjoyed. Watch some television and have a glass of wine or hot chocolate. Eat some snacks. Have a bath. Get an early night. Feel smug about it. Relish the inactivity.
This, my friends, is JOMO (the Joy of Missing Out). Embrace it. It will change your life.

December 4th
The Gift of Fresh Air.

This term has been good but a bit too busy. And then we arrive at December and there is even more to do. The washing piles up and I get the decorations out of the loft. The sun sets at mid afternoon and it is difficult to find time to get outside.

Aside from the school run I can go for a day or two without being in the fresh air. It is easy to turn up the heating and draw the curtains, to think that by shutting out the world I might be able to wrestle everything in my house and head into control.
As it gets busier I find myself struggling in the morning, riding the waves of not-quite-but-almost- anxiety. Adrenaline is on the rise.

So I put into practice the things that I know will help. I go outside.

This is the best way I know to combat the early morning whirring of to-do lists and things to remember.
It is good. It grounds me. It connects me again to good rhythms: morning and evening, day and night, action and rest, moving and stopping.

Give yourself the gift of fresh air. Even if it is only walking round the block. Even if it is in the rain. Even if it is in the evening after the kids are in bed and it’s dark outside.

Go outside. Stop. Breathe deeply.
Give yourself the gift of fresh air.img_9652
December 5th
The Gift of Waiting.
I forget to wait. I forget how important it is.
I forget what it teaches me: that I do not run the world and control all of it’s activities, that I do not have to hold everything together even though it can feel that way.
I am learning to wait. To sit in the quiet and listen to the stillness. To sit in the noise and not contribute.
To wait. To listen. To expect an offering,
:for my eye to be drawn to a detail I have not before noticed, for a new thought to fall from the sky rather than being rushed by my impatience, for quiet contentment to settle.
To be reminded the world is a gift to be enjoyed not a task to be completed.
You only understand this when you learn to wait. When you practise the art of stopping. When you rehearse inactivity and delayed gratification. When you allow yourself to stand and be receptive to the possibilities you cannot foresee.
Waiting is a subversive act. It does not force or prompt. It does not try to control or manipulate.
To wait is to be willing and open. To hold my hands palms up not fist clenched. To trust and receive what I am given, knowing it will be enough for today.
Today, give yourself the gift of waiting. Don’t rush. Find a moment or two in the hurly burly busyness of this season to be still, to breathe deeply, to wait.

December 6th
The Gift of Kindness (pt 1).

Kindness wins. Always. 
If in doubt – kindness. 

Give yourself the gift of kindness today. Treat yourself well.

This is not about indulgence, this is about self love, self care. Show yourself love. This is essential. Treat yourself as you would treat your favourite pet or best friend.
Often we are the at the bottom of our own to-do list, which can mean we give ourselves little attention, if any. We forget, or run out of time or energy to be kind to ourselves. This is not a good thing. But we can get stuck in a rut of this behaviour, never thinking highly enough of ourselves to go out of our way to please ourselves.
It matters, because you matter.
If you are reading this and have already heard the internal narrative telling you you don’t have the time or luxury to do this- that this doesn’t apply to you. STOP. You are exactly the person this applies to. I am talking to you!
It matters because you matter.
I cannot tell you how to be kind to yourself today, because kindness is personal, bespoke.
But, just incase this is a completely alien idea, here are some suggestions:
Stop the chores and have a coffee or cup of tea. Sit down for ten minutes. Watch a little tele in the daytime. Cook something you like for tea (even if it isn’t anyone else’s favourite). Light a couple of candles, just this simple act in itself can feel like a treat- like you value yourself enough to create a nice atmosphere just for you. Have a bath and read a chapter of your book, or buy yourself a magazine. Go for a walk- not a run, not for exercise – just to breathe the fresh air and look at the trees/ houses/ river. Phone a friend for a chat (remember when we used to do that?). Put the kids to bed early. Have a glass of wine.

Give yourself the gift of kindness today. Even if it is something small, prioritise yourself. Put your name at the top of the to-do list.
You won’t regret it.
Kindness wins.img_9659

December 7th
The Gift of Acceptance

I used to judge my emotions. I didn’t know that was what I was doing, but I was doing it nonetheless. If I felt up-beat and positive, I would give myself a shiny star, I would pat myself on the back for my approach to the day. If, however, I woke feeling overwhelmed and anxious, or if I woke feeling a bit defeated and flat (as I did today), I would inwardly reprimand myself. I would berate myself for my negativity, for my inability to see the positive.
The fear of self pity was so great I became nervous of any emotions from that (sad) side of the spectrum. 

This is not good for you.

These days I am attempting to be aware of my emotions and accept them in a non-judgemental way. To observe them, to see if they have any wisdom to offer me (which is hard to do when you are beating yourself up for their existence).

Today I felt flat and a bit low. It took me an hour or so to stop being annoyed at myself (I’m still learning) and to accept my mood. I thought about it a bit. I asked why and tried to see if there was any wisdom to be had. (fyi. I’m tired and feel the kids have been taking me for granted – nothing major).
I recognised my emotions then I got on with my day. I went to the gym. Now I’m going to the supermarket.

This simple act of acknowledgement has already made me feel better, calmer, more in control. And once I had recognised my emotional responses I could treat myself accordingly.
For example if I feel low because I haven’t slept well for a few nights, cramming my day over-full with chores and jobs is not going to help, maybe I need to take it slower today.

To accept who you are and how you feel is the first step towards loving yourself. You are not treating yourself in a loving way if you are angry with yourself for every negative emotion.

Give yourself the gift of non-judgemental acceptance today. Acknowledge how you are feeling – this has to be the first thing.


So, we’re one week in to December. How are you doing?

Which of these gifts do you need to give yourself?

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