It’s Christmas! T’is the season to be jolly according to the song on the radio and TV ads are filled with perfect families enjoying a magical Christmas. Yet, while the festive season should be the perfect excuse to relax and spend time with family, for many Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. This year it’s time to beat Christmas stress.
Mass catering to picky relatives, demands for expensive must-have gifts, and neighbourly competition to drape your home in a wonderland of lights and yuletide decorations can ramp up the pressure. Mix in lashes of alcohol, fights over TV schedules, and simmering decades-long family arguments bubbling to the surface and you have a recipe for a fraught and frazzled Christmas.
We’ve all been there. It can feel overwhelming. Stress leads to short tempers, bitter arguments and a miserable time for all. It can even affect your health in the long term. Little wonder that the divorce rate soars in the New Year as partners and families struggle with the fallout of Christmas stress.
So, take a deep breath. We’ve pulled together some of the best tips to avoid Christmas stress. These easy, simple steps will restore some sanity over the Christmas period, and can help when Christmas stress is getting all too much to bear.
Follow our tips and maybe you can restore a bit of magic, sparkle and harmony to the festive season.
1. Stop trying too hard at Christmas
Christmas ‘to do’ lists can rapidly spiral out of control, becoming the equivalent of a greedy child’s list to Santa. Spend half an hour writing down everything you’ve got planned for Christmas, then grab a (festive) red pen and ruthlessly remove anything that is a ‘nice to have’ but isn’t really essential. The aim is to step back, simplify everything you have to do, and prevent yuletide overload.
2. A perfect Christmas is only found in movies
As anticipation builds and we’re surrounded by images of picture postcard Christmases on TV and in magazines, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at trying to create the perfect Christmas. The pursuit of perfection is a major contributor to Christmas stress.
Stop trying to measure perfection and ensure everything is just so. Perfection isn’t about how ‘wonderful’ the Christmas wrapping is or how ideal the presents are inside or how the Christmas dinner is cooked to perfection.
Take a breath and remember that Christmas is about the quality of time you spend with others – and that means imperfection is completely fine. Focus on being part of a happy Christmas rather that ticking the perfection checkbox.
3. Preparation can reduce Christmas stress
Last minute chaos can amplify stress levels. Take time to plan ahead and try to complete Christmas preparation as early as possible. Be prepared to compromise and go off-plan as well if things aren’t working out. Cast your mind back to previous Christmases and think about what went wrong and what issues you faced, such as running out of time to buy presents or not having enough chairs for everyone invited for Christmas lunch. Plan to tackle these issues, such as ordering presents online earlier to borrowing or hiring extra seats.
4. Be human and follow the 30-minute rule
It’s tempting to attempt to scrub our home from top to bottom and transform it into a perfectly decorated palace – especially when you’ve guests arriving. Spending the day cleaning, tidying and arranging your home and then expecting to have the energy left to play the perfect host is probably asking too much.
Rather than transforming your house into a show home, let go of making it perfect. If any activity is going to take longer than 30 minutes, ditch it. In the midst of celebrations your guests won’t even notice if everything is absolutely spick and span.
5. Practice patience
Family at Christmas can bring out the worst in all over us. From overhyped kids strung out on fizzy drinks and chocolates to grumpy relatives who insist on ‘helping’. Watch out for family members who know how to needle you and let insensitive comments wash over you. By finding the strength to let go of slights and barbed comments, you’ll keep your temper in check and won’t contribute to rising Christmas stress levels.
6. You can only control you
Christmas can involve lots of moving parts, and sometimes things get gummed up. Friends can show up late, deliveries get lost and a relative get too merry on the sherry. Rather than try to control everything – catering for every demand, change of plan or feeling angry at other people’s behaviour – remember that the only person you can control is you. Focus on how you behave and respond to situations and let go of trying to control how other people act. It’s liberating to realise you’re not responsible for everything that happens.
7. Get support
It’s a sign of strength to ask for help from others, rather than weakness. Roping in friends and family to help – and being clear you need their support – shows both vulnerability and a human side. Often friends and family think you’re coping fine thanks to your Oscar worthy performance of being on top of it all.
If Christmas stress is starting to get the better of you, reach out to others and ensure work is shared. Involving others is also a great way of creating an atmosphere is festive cheer.
8. Carve out some ‘me’ time
It can be hard to keep up the frantic pace during the Christmas holidays. Don’t try or you’ll risk Christmas stress-related burnout. Put some time in the diary to simply take a break. Spend time over a coffee with a friend away from the hustle and bustle of home or pop out to a gym or spa for some relaxing time or to reduce stress with some exercise. Me time is vital over Christmas.
9. Practice relaxation techniques
Stress usually gets the better of us in the heat of the moment. Taking yourself out of the moment can reduce stress and bring back feelings of control. One approach is to try mindful breathing techniques such as the ones suggested by Dr Weil, the author of Healthy Aging. His three breathing exercises and techniques can have a calming effect.
Alternatively, when things are getting on top of you, stand still with your feet shoulder-width apart and ground them firmly to the floor. Hold your hands together in front of you and close your eyes. Breath in through you nose for the count of four, then slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this for a minute to regain a sense of calm.
Keep your brain in tip-top condition too over Christmas. Read our Brain health – 12 surprising ways to boost your brain health feature for a healthier mind.
10. Don’t take Christmas too seriously
One of the best pieces of advice in the book Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff by Richard Carlson is the realisation that your in-tray is never empty. The same applies for Christmas. It’s never done. Stop viewing Christmas as a military operation replete with a ‘do or die’ attitude. Refuse instead to take it too seriously. There is always next year, and any disasters are soon forgotten. Enjoy yourself and try to see the funny side if things go wrong (as invariably they do!!).