Published: 8 December 2020. Written by: Lizzie Simmonds
It’s probably safe to say that 2020 hasn’t quite been the year most of us had hoped for. With the Coronavirus pandemic causing nationwide restrictions on travel, work and socialising, most of us have seen far more of our home office (or dining room table) than we’d ever imagined possible!
As the seasons have changed, the days become shorter, and the virus has peaked for a second time, it feels like there has been just one question on our minds: “Will Christmas be cancelled this year?”
Whilst there was a collective sigh of relief when the government announced that Christmas would definitely be going ahead, the ‘three household’ limit means that lots of families will be experiencing the festive period slightly differently this year. And although I’m sure many of us will miss the usual rotations of relatives catching up over board games and long frosty walks, this year does present a unique opportunity to perhaps get a little less caught up in the details, and to be grateful and really appreciate the time we do have together.
Christmas as an athlete
As an ex-elite athlete, I’m familiar with Christmas being a little bit odd. During my teenage years, it was the norm to train on both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, and the training sessions usually contained a festive challenge (which sounds exciting but in reality meant 10km swimming sessions rather than the usual 7km!)
Later in my career, I was given the luxury of a few days off over Christmas, but it’s still a bit of a strange time for an athlete. We were always delighted to have a break from the brutal winter training season, and the warm embrace of family and friends was undoubtedly positive for our mental health. However, there was often the nagging pressure of leaving behind the high-performance training centre and trying to readjust to being back in ‘normal’ life.
Some athletes worried about losing strength or fitness during their downtime; others worried about the impact of over-indulgence on carefully honed body compositions. My biggest fear was always seeing family and friends who might be harbouring those dreaded winter coughs and colds—nobody wanted to be that person who starts the New Year by bringing flu back into the training group!
In some ways, it feels like we all might need to adopt a bit of an athlete mentality to ensure we can be grateful over the next few weeks, taking care of ourselves and being sensible when it comes to socialising and family time.
In November’s blog I also talked about the athlete mindset and choosing to see opportunities rather than obstacles when faced with challenges. That mentality seems applicable here too. We can choose to be frustrated by the rules in place, or to be grateful for the opportunity to have at least something that resembles a normal Christmas!
So, how can we make sure the upcoming festive period is one to remember and be grateful for, for all the right reasons?
Accept that this year is going to be different!
There is plenty of hope with a vaccine just around the corner, but we’re not out of the woods yet, and this year’s festive period is going to be different for many of us. Continually reminiscing on what you’d normally be doing over Christmas probably isn’t going to help, so accepting that this year is going to be unique is a great first step!
For some, it will be important to try and retain family traditions over the festive period, but others might want to use this as an opportunity to embrace a change of routine. Who says you can’t spend Christmas morning in the garden and have sausage sarnies cooked on the BBQ?!
Santa’s little helpers will be more important than ever
Christmas can sometimes be stressful for those expected to host perfect parties and cook huge quantities of delicious food, no matter how grateful to them we are. And whilst there may be fewer at the table this year, it feels just as important to have everyone lending a hand and helping out in the kitchen and around the house.
Having a chat with the family early on to set expectations and bringing fun challenges to the jobs at hand can be a great way to get little ones engaged.
Set a competition for who can clear up the wrapping paper quickest, or create a Christmas chore chart for the fridge complete with gold stars and edible treats when jobs get done.
Cooking together is another great opportunity for bonding, and can spark the beginning of lovely traditions where a family member takes ownership of making ‘the best cranberry sauce in the world’ each year!
Presence over presents
Another stressor at Christmas time is the expectation of presents—buying the latest high-tech gadgets for the kids and the perfect bottle of wine for the spouse. This year, however, it’s likely that many families will be heading towards Christmas on a tighter budget, so it might be time to get creative with gifts.
Running a ‘Secret Santa’ amongst family members can alleviate some of the pressure on stretched finances, and having a homemade or second-hand theme can bring a bit of fun and creativity to the otherwise mundane box sets and bath bombs, which people will certainly be grateful for…
After the challenges of this year, the presence of a grateful, happy family will beat anything you might find under the Christmas tree.
Walking in a (virtual) winter wonderland…
Virtual has been the theme of 2020, for good reason. Zoom calls have allowed us to stay connected with friends and family that we haven’t seen for months, to dial in to fitness classes from our living rooms, and to connect with work colleagues and clients from our home offices.
Virtual connection is still going to be a feature for many of us this Christmas and may be a nice way of retaining the ‘family feel’ despite the restrictions on numbers. Why not have a virtual dinner table where everyone has lunch together, or have someone create a festive quiz for the whole family to enjoy?
Taking granny and grandpa on a virtual walk with the family or sending your homemade gifts in advance for a Zoom ‘opening’ session on Christmas morning are another couple of options!
There are always those who don’t have families to go home to at Christmas time, but this year there may be more people isolated than ever. Those who would usually visit relatives abroad, stuck in the UK because of restrictions on travel; those who must continue to isolate because they have underlying health conditions; those who have lost partners and family through the pandemic.
It can feel overwhelming to think of all those who need care and help at the moment, but earlier in the year we saw how people rallied together to support those in need, and that can happen again. If you know someone who is going to be alone this Christmas, make them part of your plan, even if just for a virtual check in and chat.
Of course there are also many people who will be working across Christmas, so spare a thought, a kind message of support, or a surprise gift to those in your community who might not have time off from hectic jobs.
A little bit of Christmas spirit is going to go a long way this year.
Look after yourself
Finally, Christmas can be a hectic time of the year, with different family members coming and going, spare rooms and beds needing to be made up, and mountains of potatoes that require peeling and roasting. It’s easy to put everyone else first amidst the chaos, but ensuring everyone else has a good time shouldn’t come at the expense of your own health and wellbeing.
Take the pressure off everything being perfect this Christmas, and remember to take some time for yourself each day. A wander in the village, a jog to pick up the forgotten Brussels sprouts, or ten minutes of headspace before the day’s activity begins—focusing on your mental and physical wellbeing will go a long way towards making this a positive, grateful festive period.
I’ve always thought mince pies taste much better after a long walk anyway…
For more of Lizzie’s expertise and opinion, read her blog How To Motivate Yourself Like An Elite Athlete.
Lizzie enjoyed a long career as an international swimmer, securing medals at Commonwealth, European and World Championship level. She also competed for Team GB at two Olympic Games, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, where she finished sixth and fourth respectively. She retired from professional competition in 2018, but still holds influence within the sporting sphere, supporting fellow elite athletes throughout and beyond their sporting careers.
Lizzie is also passionate about health and wellbeing and is one of Vitality’s Performance Champions, delivering motivational talks and workshops, and inspiring people across the nation to get active and healthy.
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