Ah, December. Deck the halls and let it snow – it’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Or is it? For lots of people, Christmas is a stress-fest from start to finish. And there are good reasons why so many of us fear the festive season. High expectations, enforced family visits, and a to-do list the length of War and Peace are a daunting combination. Late nights, excess alcohol and worrying about the expense only add to this explosive mix. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are a number of successful strategies for coping with Christmas stress. So if you dread December, follow these key guidelines, designed to make the holiday season happy, not horrid. As a result, with my advice, I believe you can truly avoid stress at Christmas.
Lower your expectations
Everything at Christmas has to be perfect, doesn’t it, or else it’s the end of the world. It’s so easy, but very destructive, to think this way. If you feel under pressure (from yourself or others) to produce the best decorations, presents, parties, tree and dinner – then stop. Breathe, be kind to yourself, and lower your expectations. The quest for perfection in all areas can be poisonous. Good enough is great and this is a great way to avoid stress at Christmas.
Above all, don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself with others. This is harder than ever to do thanks to social media. But try to remember that Instagram isn’t real life. Yes, the photos might look fabulous, but resist the temptation to always do everything bigger and better. Event management is a full-time job. If you already have one of those, then anything you achieve at Christmas, in addition to that, is a bonus. It doesn’t matter if the tree isn’t real. It’s not important if your parsnips were purchased ready-prepped. Think like this and this will certainly help you to avoid stress at Christmas. Not everyone has to be beaming and dressed in their best by 9am.
It’s also useful to accept, in advance, that something, at some stage, is bound to go wrong. Toys will break, batteries will go flat and there will be an argument. You cannot be responsible for everything. Try not to get upset when issues arise. Realise that it’s impossible to find an instant solution to every problem and keep everyone happy all of the time.
Ask for help
Asking others to help is not always easy, especially if you’re a perfectionist with your own way of doing things. But insisting on going it alone is a sure-fire route to unnecessary stress. Do not take on too much or it will be impossible to avoid stress at Christmas. After all, you are not the only person who can deliver Christmas. So make sure you spread the load. Don’t wait (often in vain!) for offers of help. Learn to delegate and allocate specific tasks to others. Friends and family are perfectly capable of helping out and usually enjoy being included. So don’t go solo, while simmering with resentment. Ask for help wrapping presents or peeling carrots. The hard part? If the job you delegate isn’t being done exactly how you’d do it, let it go. Don’t interfere, criticise or take the job back.
Learn to say no
The run-up to Christmas itself can be a whirlwind of activity. But you don’t have to accept every single invitation or go out with every single one of your friends. Don’t be afraid to say no and this will certainly help to avoid stress at Christmas. A couple of early nights, with no rich food or alcohol, could do wonders for your stress levels.
December is busy enough with lots of events that only happen once a year. So, prioritise the school nativity, the office party, the annual Christingle service. Block some dates in January when diaries tend to be empty, to catch up with friends. This will free up much-needed time around Christmas and give you something to look forward to in the new year.
Take time out for yourself
If you start to feel overwhelmed by everything you have to do, take some time out to avoid stress at Christmas. This could be something as simple as going for a walk by yourself, or soaking in the bath. Use this time to de-stress – not to make more lists! Losing yourself in the latest best-seller is another excellent way to unwind.
Our usual exercise routines often fall by the wayside at Christmas. Make a conscious effort not to let that happen. Do your best to go for that swim, or get to your regular Pilates class. Physical exercise is a great stress-buster all year round, but it can be invaluable at Christmas. Hitting the gym – instead of the bottle – will lift your mood, we promise. And if you can, spend some time outdoors. The days are short and dark in December, but snatch any natural sunlight you can. Reduced exposure to sunlight can exacerbate the symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which won’t help your stress levels. If you think you’re susceptible, a special light box could help. If you’re really struggling, see your doctor.
Don’t skimp on self care
Now is also the time to watch what you eat and drink. This might seem counter-intuitive with all the traditional Christmas treats on offer. But sugary snacks will only provide a temporary energy boost. The crash that comes afterwards won’t help your stress levels. And your waistline won’t thank you in January for over-indulging now.
It’s also tempting to try to calm your nerves with alcohol. But sipping too much sherry is not the solution. Alcohol is a natural depressant and it increases the body’s toxic load. So if you indulge, do so in moderation. Aim to feel mellow, not maudlin.
Last but not least, try to keep things in perspective. Don’t think of Christmas as a test, a trial or a competition. It’s just one special day, that comes just once a year. Silence your inner Grinch and make the most of it, however you’re celebrating.