December 15, 2021
By Dr Cassie Rhodes
It might seem strange to be contemplating winding down when we all feel rather ‘het-up’. In the UK at least, where once we may have hoped for a de-escalation in rates of disease, new challenges are afoot and we continue to battle the Covid-19 virus.
As individuals, you may feel that you are battling general anxiety that comes with a great deal of uncertainty and not so many guarantees. As parents, we have the added responsibility of trying to allay children’s worries, reduce teen angst, and hope that our holiday season is as fun-filled and relaxing as possible.
We don’t know what January has in store for us, so I suggest that, over the holiday period, we reignite some of the coping mechanisms we employed during lockdowns; a focus on mindful living, contemplation of the things that we can control or influence and a renewed effort to inject as much humour and joy into our everyday interactions as possible.
By slowing down, we may gain a modicum of control. By reflecting rather than rushing, we can remove the ‘hectic’ unpleasantness from the holiday period and remind ourselves we have everything that we need. By modelling an appreciation of the simplest things and an attitude of gratitude, we actively invest in our children’s resilience.
If we can’t have a white Christmas, let’s aim for a green one. On Sunday, I joined a friend for a wintry evening stroll around our little village. We were greeted with a picturesque scene of houses surrounded (or, in some cases, encased) by twinkling lights of every hue, sparkling trees and front gardens filled with prancing reindeer, giant nutcrackers and glowing snowmen.
My walk caused me to reflect further on a wonderful podcast that I just enjoyed with Jen Gale from Sustainable(ish). Jen and her family spent a whole year of their lives doing the complete antithesis of what many of us are doing at the moment – buying absolutely nothing new. She charted the experience in a blog and has since written two books packed full of simple and thought-provoking tips for more sustainable living.
It’s clear that we all need our lives brightening up a little at the moment, but I think we need to work to resist the rampant consumerism that we can easily become caught up in. Given last year’s damp squib, there seems to be a collective desire to make Christmas 2021 even more special than normal and many families are opting for more; more magical lights in the garden, more brightly wrapped gifts, more indulgent food and more elaborate advent calendars, something that is confirmed in festive spending predictions.
But there’s an uneasy tension between our insatiable need for Christmas cheer and desire to fill our homes with new stuff, and the catastrophic environmental crisis facing our planet. I was shocked to read in Jen’s book that 500 tonnes of fairy lights are thrown away each year and that, in the UK, we generate the weight of 3.3 million emperor penguins in plastic waste every Christmas.
This year, the climate crisis has rarely been off our screens. As well as causing planetary chaos, it is beginning to be a further factor impacting on mental health. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has declared a mental health emergency caused by ecological emergencies and the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health is devoting a whole issue of its journal to this subject shortly. Several recent studies have found climate distress to be very common in young people, many of whom feel worried about the future and helpless in terms of changing it.
However, research is showing that many people (including children) find climate action to be empowering and that it reduces feelings of anxiety about the ecological crisis. This doesn’t mean that we all need to turn into Greta Thunberg. But, we can focus on small, achievable actions, and aim for progress, not perfection.
So, if you are looking to make your Christmas that little bit more sustainable, thanks to Jen Gale, we’ve got a few simple suggestions up our sleeves. Instead of trinkets that will likely be quickly consigned to the ‘stuff drawer’, consider filling stockings with edible treats and charity shop finds. Why not invest in reusable Christmas crackers, or try this eco-friendly option, where each contains a £2 donation to charity? Opt for recyclable wrapping paper and paper or washi tape and, it might sound a bit ‘Blue Peter’, but turning old Christmas cards into gift tags is another easy win. There are lots of eco-conscious gifts on the market (check out this great advice). Just be careful to avoid ‘greenwashing’ (where companies make misleading claims about their green credentials) and buy from reputable suppliers.
Gifting an experience, rather than an object, is another great solution, as is regifting, gifting vintage finds, or gifting your time.
I’ve written about this a few times now, but altruism and kindness are also crucial to our mental health, and giving something back is another great way to make Christmas that little bit less focused on the acquisition of new things.
There are so many charities to support that it is hard to decide on which one to go for. With a focus on families, I would suggest buying from hospital wishlists via Child’s Play Charity, who support hospitals worldwide or from Choose Love, a charity which sends emergency supplies to displaced families. We also love The Flying Seagull Project, which sends entertainers to refugee camps and provides much needed joy in difficulty.
Why not be a Secret Santa for a vulnerable child, with options such as bundles of warm clothes, food for a day, or a Christmas gift? To support children in your own area with a Christmas gift, check out Give Hope from the Children’s Society or Cash For Kids.
Should your own child be lucky enough to receive a new games console, and perhaps have an old one that they no longer need, think about donating it to a hospital playroom, through the Get Well Gamers scheme. Or, if someone in your life needs some new socks, check out Stand 4 Socks, where for each pair bought, the company sends a second pair to a homeless person.
Busy parents might be tempted to shop online at Amazon (haven’t we all!). We aren’t going to pretend that it’s a sustainable choice… but, if you feel you have to use it, consider setting up a smile.amazon.com account. The price you pay for goods is the same, but Amazon makes a tiny donation to a charity of your choice each time that you buy an eligible item. Your local hospice or school may appreciate it!
Finally, as a criminologist, I don’t want to finish without recommending the charity Fine Cell Work. This charity trains prisoners in high-quality and creative needlework to foster a sense of hope and self-esteem and equip them with usable post-prison skills; a critical part of rehabilitative efforts. The products that are available to buy are truly stunning and make great gifts.
This is my last Wednesday Wisdom of 2021. I would like to thank all WW readers for your enthusiasm and kind feedback. I am sending you my warmest regards for the holiday period and look forward very much to supporting you in 2022.
Are you a Tooled Up member?
With Christmas just around the corner, Tooled Up parents might like to take a look at our seasonal resources, designed to help make the holidays progress smoothly. 50 Ways to Bond with Your Child Over Christmas is full of easily actionable tips and our Christmas screen time article and short podcast will help you with strategies to help make screens enjoyable for the whole family, rather than a site of conflict. If your children divide their time between two homes, we also have some great tips about managing the festive season from Dr Reenee Singh.
Our library of resources has doubled in size in the last 12 months and we now have almost 350 evidence-based resources for you to enjoy. As the end of the year rapidly approaches, we’ve been looking back at which of our resources have been your favourites in 2021. Lots of you enjoyed our 100 Ideas to Try if You Feel Bored, and it’s one that might come in handy again soon, if the Christmas holidays start to drag! Boosting children’s self-esteem has also been high on your agenda, as have our resources about cultivating kindness. Make sure you keep browsing over the festive period. New resources are added all the time!