The shops are crowded, your bank account is rapidly draining, and the house is rammed with relatives. Oh yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Again.
Festive stress, I get it. Whether you have a small social circle or a huge tribe, Christmas can be overwhelming. And for many of us, it’s the most stressful time of the year.
So what can we worry warriors do to stay calm, collected and connected?
Let’s get real
I think a big part of staying sane at Christmas is being realistic. You simply can’t do everything yourself – and there will be many things out of your control.
Your Christmas cards might not arrive on time. Uncle Bernie will complain about your cooking. The shop will be out of that one essential ingredient. We can’t do much about the world falling short of our expectations. But we can manage our expectations.
I know you want everything to be perfect. I do too. Constantly. But striving for perfection is a major source of stress – especially at this time of year.
Here’s what we need to do:
- Let go of the need to control everything.
- Let go of the need to be all things to all people.
- Understand not everything will get done – and the universe won’t collapse as a result.
Ask for help
You know what’s great about Christmas? It brings all our loved ones together. And that means there are many hands to help take the pressure off.
Whether you’re booking flights home, or hosting Christmas lunch for 40 people, know that it’s NOT your sole responsibility to do everything for everyone.
I know it’s tough. Yesterday, I dashed to the post office 20 minutes before closing. The queue snaked out the door. A young guy was taking up the only desk, leisurely writing lengthy Christmas cards, while I balanced boxes on my knee, on the floor. As I struggled to remember what gifts and cards had to go in which boxes and bags – and where in the world they had to go – I cursed myself. Why hadn’t I asked my husband for help? Why did I always try to take on every task myself?
We have to know our limits. And before we reach them, we must reach out to the people who love us. Who want to help us – if only we would ask. After all, they’re not mind readers. Sometimes we have to speak up, share our struggles, anticipate our anxieties. You might be surprised by how people step up.
But we also need to…
Again, a tricky task for an anxious mind. But when we say yes to too much, everything suddenly becomes too much. And we’re left sobbing on the living room floor surrounded by tinsel (yep, been there).
There is a polite way to say no to people.
Here are some of my favourites:
“I’m sorry, I would love to help you with that. But I just can’t fit it in right now. I’m sure you understand.”
“I need to say ‘no’ because I’ve already taken on a lot at the moment. But I would love to support you in another way…[offer alternative form of support].”
“Oh rack off, Uncle Bernie!”
OK, maybe not the last one. But you get the idea.
How to deal with family friction
For many of us, Christmas can be a tense time as we try to navigate difficulties in our relationships. Suddenly, we’re all thrown together in the same room, putting on a smile for the kids when inside we’re all silently screaming.
On top of that, there’s a high expectation to all get along and make Christmas magical.
Consider these ideas for dealing:
- Take some time out: Before any big family functions, go for a quiet walk alone to mentally prepare yourself. Anticipate tension and visualise yourself having positive conversations with people. You can also take time out during festivities – find a quiet space to meditate or simply sit with yourself and take some deep breaths.
- Reflect: The end of year is a wonderful time to reflect on our lives and relationships. If you’re worried about friction, reflect on why you feel anxious. Are there any issues that haven’t been addressed within yourself or with others?
- Talk about it: If you do have a blow out with a loved one, try to diffuse the situation by sitting and speaking calmly and clearly about it. Also, remind yourself that you can simply walk away from a situation to catch your breath and gather your thoughts.
Go for gratitude
Practising gratitude has become my anxiety go-to lately. And I reckon I’ll be pulling it out of my hat multiple times these holidays.
Why? Because the simple act of giving thanks for what we have is proven to alleviate anxiety…and make our annoying relatives far more tolerate (OK, that last bit isn’t proven).
If we have a safe home, a hearty meal and clothes on our back this Christmas, we are oh so lucky. Anything else is a bonus.
Disconnect from digital devices
This Christmas, I’m unplugging from all social media. I’ve noticed notifications heighten my anxiety and make me feel like there are too many demands on my time and focus.
But it’s all an illusion. Since deleting all social media apps from my phone, I’ve realised the world is actually turning at a pretty slow pace. And those pings and buzzes actually aren’t that urgent.
Tuning out of the online world and into the real one also helps us be mindful. We savour the moment. We relish the small things. We connect with what – and who – really matters.
Eat well, be well
The link between nutrition and mental health is undeniable. We simply have to eat well and move regularly to keep our minds and bodies in balance.
Of course, this time of year we can relax the reins. I’m definitely avoiding the gym until January. But I’ll try to make time to go for a walk or run every day…just to the shake off the stress and all those mince pies.
Be a minimalist
OK, Christmas isn’t traditionally a time for stripping things back to basics. We’re encouraged to stuff stockings with stuff, stuff our faces with sugar, and load the table with enough to feed an army of reindeer.
But bigger isn’t always better. And gifting an experience can bring just as much (if not more) joy that the latest toy or gadget.
A simple Christmas tree or light lunch can be just as satisfying as one with all the trimmings.
It’s just about shifting our perspectives. Remembering what matters. And that’s spending time with the ones we love.
Happy, worry-free Christmas!
These are just a few things you could try this Christmas to reduce your seasonal stress. I wish you and your loved ones a merry, restful holiday.