Love it or hate it, the festive season is upon us and Christmas just around the corner!
For some it can be a time of joy and fun but for others a time of heightened stress.
The presents, decorations, parties, music, food and family traditions may have you wanting Christmas to be every day of the year.
Or additional pressures on finances, endless to do lists and managing the expectations of family and friends may have you feeling a little unjolly to say the least!
Whichever camp you are in, a bit of thought, preparation and a few strategies up your Christmas sleeve, will go a long way in taking some of the load off.
In this blog, I am going to explore a few of the key festive stressors and what you might practically do about them. Also, I will share a few thoughts and ideas on how you might enhance your resilience, and let go of a bit of stress along the way.
I hope you find it useful and it helps you to take a bit of the stress out of your festive season.
Key Festive Stressors and How to Tackle Them
Whilst what creates festive stress can be individual and exhaustive, here are a few of the most significant stressors, and some suggestions on how to tackle them.
1. The Never-Ending To-Do List
Tis the season to have far too much to do. So, if you haven’t done so already, I would highly recommend you create a plan.
Write lists for any cards you send, gifts you buy or people you want to personally connect with, along with the things you know you need to do. This can be high level or highly detailed – your call.
If you are hosting Christmas Day, work out a plan for the day itself. Don’t just think about the menu. Also think about what you will do, who will help and maybe even what you (and the kids if you have them) will wear. This will take the pressure off you on the day, on hosting and having to come up with spontaneous entertainment, leaving you space to enjoy the day.
Plan for the unexpected too. A few extra cards and generic presents (you can always use them for birthdays if you don’t need them) will help you out of any awkward situations where someone gives these to you unexpectedly.
Set aside a few minutes at the end of each week/day to plan the next. Top of the list should be the things you have to get done. Look for ways to group activities to knock a few things off the list at once, and delegate activities where possible.
I just use a word document for my personal plan as I’m not a big fan of keep writing down and updating to-do lists – a task in itself! It also means I can review/update it each year. You might like to use a diary or notebook. Whatever suits your personal preferences.
2. Containing Your Festive Calendar
Whilst the festive season is a great time to be social, it can also be a time to get sucked into going to lots of parties and events when you would rather decline the invitation.
One of the smallest words in the English language and one of the hardest to say is ‘NO’.
If you know you are not good at saying no, I recommend creating a list of excuses!
Practice them too so that you don’t get caught off guard and end up saying yes to something that you don’t have the time, energy or inclination to do.
Use your own words but here are some examples to help get you started:
Thanks for thinking of me but that week is already chockfull.
Darn! I’m not able to fit it in right now.
Sadly, I can’t make it, maybe another time.
I would have loved to but can’t commit to another thing right now.
It’s lovely to ask, or to be asked, but it’s perfectly okay to politely decline.
3. The Cost of Christmas
According to the Bank of England, the average household spends about £2000 a month but in December that figure increases by around £500. It’s worth noting that with black Friday and cyber Monday, along with the impressively organised out there, we also spend more in November.
Set a budget for how much you are willing and able to spend for items such as gifts, social activities and entertaining at home and do your absolute best to stick to it. It’s not just an overindulgence of food and alcohol that can leave you with a hangover in January.
One way of reducing how much you spend on gifts is to agree to do a family ‘secret santa’ where each of the adults in the family buys and receives one gift. Consider setting the amount that each person spends, so no one is tempted to overspend.
Alternatively, you might like to re-evaluate who you buy for. A few years ago, I reduced the number of people I buy gifts for, when the size of my family grew exponentially, in favour of sponsoring a child.
Unless it’s your thing to cram all your shopping in on Christmas Eve, try not to leave gift shopping to the last minute. Stress aside, this may result in buying and spending more.
Whilst I’m a big fan of shopping local, online shopping can be a great way of comparing prices, and taking advantage of offers, whilst avoiding the crowds. Just watch out for delivery costs which can stack up.
For the more creative amongst us, homemade items make cheap and thoughtful presents. There are plenty of ideas online such as baked goods, plants, calendars, scented candles, and framed photos. A friend once created a personal playlist for me and I still think this is one of the loveliest gifts I’ve ever received.
If you are hosting a festive gathering, or the big day itself, then work out a plan of what you will do in terms of drinks and food menus.
Rather than feeling like you have to do it alone ask others to help, to spread the cost and the workload. Someone brings the Christmas pudding and someone else the crackers etc.
You might also like to consider going out. Many venues provide a festive feast to suit every taste and budget.
Whilst you are likely to need to budget for social activities, not every event needs to be costly. Have a look out for what’s on in your area and schedule in some inexpensive activities. Libraries, Churches, Schools, Leisure Centres and local (on and offline) notice boards can all be great resources.
If you have family stock up on games, puzzles, crafts, movies and other at home activities. Perfect for the times when you want to be at home or to entertain the troops when you need to get things done. The internet can be a valuable resource for ideas.
If you have children, other parents and local family can be a great support. Other parents will want to entertain their kids too, so find ways to do things together. This will provide entertainment for the kids and adult conversation for you. Consider a reciprocal child share with other parents to give you time to knock a few things off the list, or have a break.
4. The Christmas Guest List
You only have to turn on the TV this time of year and you will see an array of adverts depicting happy families enjoying the festivities.
Your reality might look like this. Or it may paint a very different picture whilst you struggle to spend time with people, well let’s just say, you would rather not.
Christmas Day itself can come with huge expectations, where an eclectic mix of people are thrown together and expected to play happy families.
Families separated by divorce or distance can also mean multiple gatherings that may come with political and logistical challenges.
I am yet to meet anyone who has the perfect family – whatever that means.
I think it is worth consciously deciding how high you set your expectations of others and then aim lower than you think. People are unlikely to be different or behave differently just because it’s Christmas. If anything, the things we don’t like about someone, or they don’t like about us, are likely to be magnified. Lowering the bar on expectations may help in letting some undesirable traits or situations go over your head.
If there is a specific thing that annoys you about someone it may be something you can raise with them directly. Not in a throwing your toys out of the pram kind of way, but in an adult to adult conversation. We are not always aware of the impact we have on others and are able to modify behaviour. However, before you take this approach, ask yourself how would you receive this type of feedback. Sometimes it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.
Speaking of dogs, I have two and they can be a great excuse for not being out for too long or, if they are with us, having a break and some fresh air. Not that I’m suggesting getting a dog for Christmas. However, working out ways of building in breaks and balancing out time for yourself is more likely to see you be at your best, and possibly prevent a display of some of your own less than desirable traits!
One way of managing challenging relationships is to set boundaries and limit time together. Sometimes we feel obliged to spend long periods of time together when, in reality, it is better to be at our manageable best for shorter periods.
What if despite your best efforts to manage yourself and your activities you find your buttons being pushed?
The STOP principle is a nifty little technique that aims to put a pause between you and your reaction. First thing you do when triggered is to visualise and hit a big STOP Button.
STOP – visually hit the stop button
Take a Breath – take a full conscious inhale and exhale
Observe – what is happening and why is it causing you to react?
Proceed – choose your response
This is a great way of making your response a conscious one, and not one you may regret or need to apologise for later.
Whilst this is by no way my area of expertise, I didn’t want to leave loneliness out of this blog as, I appreciate it can be a leading cause of stress this time of year.
With all the challenges of the social silly season there are many who would do anything to have one more Christmas with those they love.
It goes without saying that for those who have lost someone close, this can be an extremely painful time of year. Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be such an individual experience and one that `I turn to Cruse Bereavement to provide support in how you might go about coping at Christmas.
A 2017 study by Age UKshows the heart-breaking reality that nearly a million older people feel lonelier at Christmas time, two-fifths of whom have been widowed. I suspect that statistic has risen since 2017. Anyone in this category experiencing feelings of loneliness, or is worried about an older relative or friend, can call ‘Age UK Advice’ free of charge on 0800 169 6565, visit www.ageuk.org.uk/no-one or contact their local Age UK to see what services are available locally.
The new or happily single can also find this time of year a challenge. Whilst you might be perfectly happy being single most of the year, you might now find yourself wishing you had that special someone to share the festivities with. A study by the leading dating site eharmonystates that 47% of singles dread Christmas more than valentine’s day. This may be you, and you may find the relating article supportive. Or maybe you see this time of year as an opportunity to party with friends or to meet someone new under the mistletoe.
This morningalso lists helplines and resources for those combatting loneliness and the stress of loneliness this Christmas.
A healthy Christmas doesn’t necessarily mean missing out on all the festive treats. It is however worth having a few strategies, to try and keep the fun foods and alcohol to a sensible amount, rather than compromise your wellbeing and to limit the post-holiday damage control.
There is likely to be plenty of temptation and opportunity to overindulge. If that isn’t challenging enough, excessive stress is likely to see you turning to the wrong foods to give you a perceived energy boost. The trouble is these are generally stimulating and are likely to fuel your stress further. So, key should be to try and manage your stress, and if you are reading this, it’s what this blog is all about right?
Where possible, skipping the odd course has a huge impact on intake. As does portion control. If you are someone that is not good at leaving anything on your plate then ask for a smaller portion.
Have a meal, or day, away from festive proportions where possible. Stock up the freezer and cupboards with some easy and healthier options, to help in making better choices for meals and snacks.
Keep up the hydration and drink plenty of water to support your body in dealing with the extra load.
Aim to keep up your exercise too. If you can’t get to a class aim for activities you can do with friends or as a family, that you can build into your schedule. Even if it is simply getting out for a walk, this can really help to maintain the body and clear the mind. Or you can always hit the dance floor!
7. High Expectations
Whilst you are likely to want things to go well, chasing an Instagram worthy Christmas is likely to increase stress.
The trouble is that, if you have perfectionistic tendencies, the festive season is likely to amplify these.
If this is you then it is again worth evaluating your expectations - if you genuinely want to minimise your stress.
Can you aim for a ‘good enough Christmas’ and not set the bar high on everything you do?
If you would like to enjoy yourself then worrying about preparing the perfect spuds is likely to get in the way of this. If you want to get out and enjoy some long winter walks then stressing over a spotlessly clean house is likely to keep you at home.
Set a timeframe for when you will cease preparations, relax and enjoy. Even if your target is Christmas Eve, try to stick to this goal, down tools and have fun.
And finally try not to beat yourself up if things or days don’t go to plan.
Channelling the 12 days of Christmas - below are 12 ideas that may be supportive in letting go of a bit of stress. I’ve chosen these in particular as they don’t take much time or budget to do:
Mood Lifters - have a few up your sleeve for if you feel like you are about to have a sense of humour failure. Comedy shows, movies, books or why not put together an uplifting play list that you can turn to if you need a mood lift.
Breathe – breathing in certain ways can help to calm the nervous system. A simple but effective way to do this is to inhale and exhale fully and slowly from your belly. Don’t force the breath rather allow it to expand slowly with each breath cycle. Do this 5 – 10 times. And relax!
A Minute of Mindfulness – whilst a longer practice is advantageous, a one-minute mediation can be an effective way of interrupting your business, calming and clearing your mind. If you are new to mindfulness, or would like to have a guided mediation, Headspace have one on YouTubethat targets letting go of stress.
Get a good night’s sleep - if you are sleep deprived your body and mind will not have had the chance to restore and recharge overnight. You will be less likely to be able to manage the demands of the day and maintain a positive disposition. Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep opportunity every day.
Relax in a bath - that contains a handful of Epsom Salts, a few drops of Lavender Essential Oil and half a cup of Baking Soda. This combo is believed to help draw out toxins, lowers stress related hormones and balances your PH. It is also a great way to give your circulation a boost.
Essential Oils - help to restore balance and reduce stress levels. Burning or vaporising essential oils is a great way to harness their power. Try Rose, Lavender, Bergamot or Chamomile which are believed to all be great stress busters.
Gratitude - under pressure we can often be consumed and focussed on what is not working. When you shift your focus to what you are thankful for it helps to bring about perspective. Wayne Dyer once said that if you focus on what you are grateful for before you go to be then that is what you will marinate in overnight. I love that thought.
Yell and Scream- If you feel your stress levels peaking, without an outlet, try letting it out in a controlled manor by yelling or screaming into your pillow. One to do at home!
Change your Password – think of a word that represents how you would like to feel during the festive season or how you would like to approach it. Change your laptop/computer password to this word as a regular reminder. Don’t forget to include numbers and capitals to make sure it is secure.
Look through some photos – take a break and enjoy the feeling of happy memories of friends, family or perhaps a holiday.
Set up your day - Try getting up 10 minutes earlier (I know – doesn’t need to be every day!) to avoid the need to rush. Have a stretch, plan your day or simply sit and enjoy a cuppa.
Give Back - It’s easy amongst all the business and the hype to forget what Christmas is all about. Giving back (time or money) can be a wonderful way of cultivating the true spirt of Christmas and maintaining perspective.
Love it or loath it, the festive season is in full swing and Christmas just around the corner. With all its challenges it can be a wonderful time of year, and I hope this blog helps to alleviate some of the stress and leave you more time for the joy. Happy Christmas.
This blog was written for Cytoplan and is also available on their website: