“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Or at least it should be. In reality, many of us find Christmas to be the most stressful time of the year. Do you ever find yourself standing in the shopping aisle so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Christmas nibbles on offer that you have total brain freeze? Does it seem as though no matter what you do to make the house feel festive, no one ever bloody appreciates the amount of effort you put in? Are you the one sat at the kitchen table furiously wrapping presents at 1am on Christmas Day, fuelled by caffeine, sleep deprivation and pure rage? Fear not, we are here to help and try to reduce those not-so-festive knots in your shoulders.
Christmas should be a calm, peaceful, joyful occasion where we all eat and drink a bit too much and enjoy time with our families and friends. Christmas shouldn’t be a series of increasingly demanding hurdles you have to jump over in order to get to the next row with your partner over how to untangle the fairy lights and who forgot to buy Sellotape (note: it wasn’t me). Join us now as we take a look at some top tips for how to avoid the key stress factors that really push our buttons over Christmas and get our tinsel in a tangle.
Plan Plan Plan! (And Don’t Forget to Delegate)
To reduce your anxiety and cut down those pesky stress hormones, it’s a good idea to get started with your planning as early as possible. Ideally, you want to start planning in Mid-November but it’s not too late to start now. Create a master list or spreadsheet for yourself including things like the food shopping list, decorations (where they are going and when you are putting them up), christmas card list, present list and any travel arrangements or the dates of social gatherings you have planned (although it is quite different this year).
Get it all down in one big list or notebook. It may even be an idea to start with the areas that you find the most stressful first. You can then get a head start on tackling the major stressors early on. Once you’ve created it, you now have a Christmas Master List that you should be able to use and add to every year. This will become the new template for managing your Christmas.
Now for the tough bit, it’s time to start delegating. This may feel like a foreign concept to you, but trust me this works. Getting other members of your household involved with the Christmas planning will help them to appreciate everything a little more and make them feel a part of something special. It also gives you back some of your precious time so you can focus on other key Christmas tasks (“Love Actually” and a glass of wine, anyone?)
If you live alone, why not ask friends or relatives if they can help you with any of your tasks? You could even end up doing a swap. If one of you finds food shopping stressful but the other person loves it, then make a trade by doing something from the other person’s list in return. Christmas is all about giving after all and what better gift to give than your time and some friendly assistance?
Manage Your Time
Hopefully, a bit of Christmas delegation should free up some extra time for crossing some of the other things off your list. If you’re going it alone, try to make the best use of your time with a bit of multi-tasking. Got a lot of presents to wrap? Do a bit of wrapping every night whilst watching the telly – this will help to break down the task and make it feel less overwhelming than trying to slog through it all at once. Better yet, if you’re ordering presents online then go for the gift-wrap option – this will save you a lot of hassle in the long run and you can also cross ‘buy wrapping paper’ off your list.
If you’re working from home, use the time you would normally have on breaks to do a bit more Christmas prep – get the house in order, see if you can book an online grocery shop or write some Christmas cards. Try to dedicate an hour of your day to Christmas preparation on a daily basis. This will help you to feel more organised and make progress on your list, thus reducing your anxiety levels.
Don’t Get in a Twaddle with the Turkey
In the wise words of my mother, ‘Christmas dinner is just a glorified Sunday lunch’. She’s not wrong. We put so much pressure on ourselves to create this fantastic spread but it really is just a slightly bigger Sunday lunch – we all need to get a grip. Why should we cook this any differently than we normally would?
Thinking about making roast potatoes from scratch when you normally have Aunt Bessie’s? WHY? Stick with Aunt Bessie. Peeling and preparing all your veg when you normally have a microwave selection from M&S that takes 3 and a half minutes? WHY? There’s no need to change the habits of a lifetime just for one day of the year. If it’s good enough for Sunday lunch, it’s good enough for Christmas day! So what if you’re not the world’s best chef? No one will ever know (or care).
If you are adamant that you want to do everything from scratch then, again, get delegating if you can. Let the kids help with some peeling, get your partner to give the turkey a good stuffing and for God’s sake let your mother-in-law make her Christmas gravy – it won’t hurt for one day. Christmas should be about doing things together. It’s not about you knocking yourself out to wait on your family hand and foot all day. If you have guests coming over, ask them to bring a dish and get them to join in the cooking ‘fun’.
Avoid the Annual Arguments
If spending time with your extended family over Christmas fills you with a sense of dread, try to prepare yourself in advance and have some realistic expectations. If you know that there are certain conversations or topics that will always result in an argument or a tension-fuelled, frosty silence then try and steer clear of them in advance. Also, try and limit the alcohol on offer as booze always fuels a tantrum or disagreement.
Keep everyone occupied with food, games, positive conversations and television both before and after your meal. If you know that a family member is going to try and wind you up then avoid them as much as possible, be the bigger woman/man and take every opportunity to nip outside for a few calming, deep breaths and a good swear. It’s important to accept that your family are not perfect and that they will probably say things that you don’t like, but make a decision to try not to let it spoil your day.
Of course, during this time of COVID-19, you may not be able to see your family at Christmas this year. If seeing them is always unpleasant and stressful then take the opportunity to have a year off. Schedule a Zoom chat with them and leave it at that. Enjoy your Christmas and reduce your stress levels. There’s nothing for you to feel guilty about. With the year we’ve had, no one can blame you for taking time out for yourself and your family.
Take Care of Yourself – It’s Your Christmas too!
Most importantly, Christmas time should be about giving yourself a gift – the gift of self-care! It’s all too easy to let your stress levels rise, to run yourself ragged and overindulge in everything that tastes good. Finishing Christmas ‘running on empty’ will leave you in no shape to help anyone. Make sure you take some regular time for yourself to relax and chill out. Schedule some long, hot, bubble baths with a glass of wine and a face mask. Burn some lovely, smelly candles and listen to some peaceful music. Get a bit Zen every now and then.
It’s also important to make sure that you get some regular exercise – don’t let yourself turn into a Christmas couch potato who’s already on the Baileys by lunchtime. Go for some walks, get some fresh air and get those endorphins going. They’ll help to improve your mood, reduce your stress levels and give you a bit of room for another mince pie.
If you’re overindulging in alcohol over the festive period, then make sure you drink as much water or juice as alcohol as this will help you to stay hydrated, feel better and therefore cope better with stressful situations. Alcohol and overeating are not great for helping you sleep either so try and set yourself a cut-off point three or four hours before bedtime.
Remember, above all, it’s your Christmas too so try to relax and have fun, laugh and be merry. If things don’t go to plan try not to worry too much, none of us are perfect. Concentrate on making some good memories and spending time with the people you love (even if you can only see them online this year). It’s been a hard year for us all so take some time out, enjoy yourself when you can and have yourself a merry little Christmas.