The weeks before Christmas can be one of the busiest times of the year, and the expectations of the season – from presents to parties – can easily add to the stress. Wise Living has rounded up 12 brilliant mental and physical Christmas wellbeing tips to help you get the best from the festive season.
If you struggle to fathom how you’ll get everything done, you’re not alone. Research from Berocca has found that 65% of us find it difficult to stay energised and focused during the Christmas period, while 57% feel under pressure to get through their to-do list on a standard working week, let alone with festivities on top.
To help you thrive this Christmas, we’ve spoken to chartered psychologist Josephine Perry and psychologist and stress expert Sue Firth who shares their tricks and tips on how to mentally and physically get through December and the big day itself with ease.
12 Christmas wellbeing tips
1. Remind yourself how many times you’ve ‘done’ Christmas
Every time you start to feel overwhelmed by Christmas, remember how many times you have survived and enjoyed this time of year, advises Perry.
“Providing ourselves with plenty of evidence that we have the skills to tackle the challenge ahead based on past experience will help us feel more in control of the situation.”
2. Know your motivations
It sounds simple, but Perry says that you should always keep in mind your personal motivations. One of the best Christmas wellbeing tips is to ask yourself, ‘What am I looking forward to this Christmas?’.
“Is it to simply get friends and family together in one place, is it to see the smiles on their faces when they open their presents or is it to enjoy the most delicious meal of the year?” she says.
“Everything in life is easier to cope with and enjoy when we have a clear driver. Reminding ourselves of this makes difficult days feel more manageable and keeps us motivated.”
Perry believes it also works as a good sense check. “For most of us, Christmas is about being with those we love and creating happy memories.
“Simply being happy and present during the festive period is enough, which should remind us that we don’t need to do everything and it’s not worth being stressed out, as this will stop us from enjoying the moment.”
3. Focus on one task at a time during Christmas preparation
“From food to presents to family lunches to friendly soirées, there is a lot to do and think about at Christmas time,” says Perry.
“However, our brain can only fully focus on one thing at a time. Even when multi-tasking, one task happens automatically while we think about the other – meaning we don’t do either to our best ability.”
Perry says that one of the more useful Christmas wellbeing tips is to focus on our key priorities rather than trying to do everything at once, resulting in a less cluttered mind. “Between now and Christmas set time aside in the calendar for different focuses.
“Try putting your actions in the diary, and ring-fence time to research and purchase presents for individual family members, one at a time. You should do the same for food and party prep too.”
Feeling overwhelmed? Read the Wise Living guide to 10 tips for a stress-free Christmas.
4. Learn to say no at Christmas to avoid being overwhelmed
There can be pressure to catch up with everyone in our contact book around Christmas, and the party invites can clutter up our inbox. But for your general mental health and well being, also remember it’s OK to say no to events.
Suzy Reading, author of The Self-Care Revolution, says: “If you say ‘yes’ but don’t want to, resentment leaks out. Be honest and give yourself permission to say ‘no’, or shape how things are done.”
Spend a few evenings on yourself to slow down the hectic Christmas pace.
5. Timetable Christmas Day
Some people look forward to Christmas for months – or even all year. But when the big day finally arrives, the stress can be so immense that the festivities can lose some of their sparkle.
Stress is often defined as emotional discomfort, caused by a fear that we’ll be unable to meet expectations, and psychologist and stress expert Sue Firth points out: “Christmas seems to be one of those classic times where this is the case.”
Try writing a Christmas Day schedule, including rough times of when you or other family members will do important tasks, like putting the turkey in the oven or walking the dog. This will help you feel more in control of timings on the day.
6. Christmas wellbeing tips – delegate tasks to family members
If you’re cooking Christmas lunch at home, delegate tasks like preparing veg and laying the table to the rest of the family.
Alternatively instead of cooking lunch yourself, have a festive bring-your-own rule. Ask guests to bring a plate of buffet food each, and get the kids to make their own contribution beforehand if they’re old enough.
Facing a present-wrapping nightmare? Read the Wise Living guide to 16 Christmas wrapping hacks for a stress-free yuletide.
7. Breathe deeply
When we’re stressed, our breathing becomes shallow and impairs the body’s vital functions, Firth advises: “If you feel your stress levels rising, take a few moments to yourself and take some deep breaths to help you relax.” Simply breathe in deeply through your nose, hold for 15 or 20 seconds and then breathe slowly out through your mouth, and repeat for a few minutes.
8. Try to snatch some ‘me-time’ over Christmas
Many Christmas wellbeing tips revolve around being organised. But sometimes we all just need a simple timeout. Make an effort to get a bit of time to yourself during the festive season to play some relaxing music or at least some seasonal carols, light some scented candles, and have a relaxing hot bath to unwind.
9. Go easy on the booze
It’s possible to feel merry at Christmas without going overboard with alcohol. Alternate your drinks with water or ditch the red wine for a spritzer; when you’re feeling run-down, there’s nothing more unwelcome than a hangover – and you don’t want to spend an off-day with a splitting headache either.
10. Keep on top of exercise and nutrition
“During the festive focus, exercise can slip down the priority list or totally go out the window,” warns Perry. “However, it’s so important to re-prioritise this.
“While it may not feel it’s a productive use of our limited and precious time, it will help you to feel more focused and energised, ultimately making you more efficient.”
Perry says that neuroscientists have identified strong links between aerobic exercise and cognitive clarity. “When we do vigorous exercise, our frontal executive network system in our brain experiences increased blood flow. This is the area linked with planning, focus and concentration and goal setting.
“If you can’t fit in sweat-inducing exercise, walking can still be beneficial. If you have a busy working week, walking to meetings can be particularly helpful.”
Make sure you’re fuelling your body properly, too. “This is especially important during the festive period when we’ll often be eating on the hoof, or indulging in festive delights.”
Need some motivation? Read the Wise Living guide to 6 reasons to keep active and exercise this autumn and winter.
11. Enjoy a laugh
Keeping your sense of humour throughout the festive period is a great way to put things in perspective; put on your favourite Christmas comedy, read a light-hearted book, or find a hilarious TV show or podcast.
Sometimes it can be a real effort, but if you make yourself laugh at points throughout the holidays and in particular the big day itsef, the stressful stuff may not feel so overwhelming.
12. Have realistic expectations
Finally don’t get hung up on what Christmas is supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel.
Firth stresses: “If you’re comparing your festivities to Christmas at the Walton’s, they’ll always come up short, so don’t worry about festive spirit and take it as it comes.”
Accept your family aren’t perfect and make a decision to try not to have any disagreements spoil your day, and try to steer clear of risky conversation topics which may provoke rows.
“Whatever the time of year, but especially at Christmas, it’s important to monitor your feelings,” says Firth. “Adopting a positive attitude can help you think of Christmas as less of a stress and more of a joy, and you may be surprised at how much even this change can help.”