IF THE thought of Christmas fills you with dread, follow our handy guide to a stress-free Yule.
As the annual binge-fest that is Christmas approaches, do you ever wonder whether all the planning, preparation and rushing around is worth it – or if there is any way of making it easier?
Many people find Christmas overwhelming but there are ways of making the festival less of a strain, according to the Stress Management Society’s Neil Shah.
“Start now and always give yourself a time buffer,” advises Neil, a spokesman for Rescue Remedy. “Draft a clear to-do list so you can de-junk your mind, then pick out tasks that are neither urgent nor essential and delegate them. Don’t be a martyr – get help.”
WeightWatchers’ wellbeing expert Honey Langcaster-James adds:
“I love Christmas but advertising puts a lot of pressure on to make it perfect. Trying to achieve the unachievable will leave you feeling guilty and frustrated. Where did your vision of a perfect Christmas come from?
What does it signify to you? Think about what you really value most and focus on that so you can relax and enjoy the season.”
Be a pre-Christmas peacemaker
Feeling overwhelmed and ready to blow like a steam engine already?
It may be time for a rethink.
“Peace and goodwill to all can work if you commit to it,” says Julia Cole, senior psychotherapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre in Southampton. “But if you’ve spent many years stifling irritation about your mother-in-law dictating Christmas or your partner’s drinking habits, this can lead to arguments at a time when you just want a rest from work and to have a good time.
Pre-empt these feelings by tackling anything you know is tricky well in advance so it doesn’t come as a surprise. Let people know what you want and expect – and listen to them in return.”
Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani adds: “Bottling up negative emotions such as anger and resentment isn’t healthy. Being a people pleaser is likely to end up with you suppressing your feelings and depriving yourself of peace and joy. Don’t be rude or offensive to those who upset you, but you don’t need to let them affect your happiness and pleasure – so minimise contact with them. If you feel strong enough, firmly express the boundaries you want to have.”
A change of routine can be helpful. “Avoid following the same patterns you had in previous years. Consider eating something other than the traditional meal, visit friends or even take a holiday away. This will help lessen unhappy memories and give you a chance to make new traditions,” Julia says.
“Create your own mantra this Christmas and let everything you say or do be guided by it,” suggests life coach Smita Joshi, author of the Karma & Diamonds trilogy (£11.99 each, Filament Publishing).
“It should be a positive, powerful and affirmative statement, so when you hit the walls of frustration it will spring you back to sanity. It could be something as simple as ‘all is well’, ‘I choose calm and peace’or ‘I am truly blessed, don’t let haters ruin it.’”
Psychotherapist Alexander Hedger, of doctify.co.uk, warns: “Expecting too much of yourself is a sure-fire way to increase stress levels. Ask yourself what you think you should or must be doing. Sometimes the expectations we have aren’t helpful, especially if we feel others might judge us.
“Don’t try and cram in too much. Taking a break will give you time to recharge your batteries before the New Year starts.”
Planning is also important to reduce the chances of a crisis at Christmas.
“If you’re expecting the holidays to be difficult, it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand, forget about it and deal with it when it comes up,” Alexander adds. “But this often backfires as it can leave you unprepared.
“Prioritise flashpoints, such as family feuds, then think how you’re going to either avoid a scene or how you’ll deal with it. Take care not to overthink and worry about the same thing happening.”
Life coaches Jo Westwood and Lucy Sheridan point out: “You’re only one person and you’ve only got so many hours in the day.
“Be honest about your commitments,” advise the pair, authors of #HigherSelfie: Wake Up Your Life. Free Your Soul. Find Your Tribe (£10.99, HayHouse). “For example, could you see both sets of parents on Boxing Day? Or rather than lots of mini meets and drink evenings, could you get all your friends together, old and new, including work buddies, hobby friends etc, for a light pub lunch?
“Chances are other people are feeling just as frazzled and overwhelmed and will welcome less formal alternatives.”
Smita warns: Christmas can dig up old wounds and unleash unfinished emotional business, setting feelings ablaze along with the Christmas pudding. But you can tackle it three ways – be gracious, grant freedom and let go of expectations.
“Sometimes we’re unaware of how high our expectations are of people that we are close to and if you don’t articulate them they’ll remain perpetually unfulfilled.
“Combine this with past conversations and you create a background of discontent in your relationships. Forgiveness is the ultimate key to peace – but if this is a step too far just when you’re itching to set the record straight with that annoying family member or friend, practice kindness as you remember your Christmas mantra.”
Remember what Christmas is about
Jo and Lucy say it is important to keep things in perspective.
“Among all the consumer madness, panic over Christmas dinner and other ‘shoulds’, don’t forget it’s about celebrating the year gone by and spending time with people who are important to you,” they say.
“Try keeping a positive-aspects journal. At the end of each day, write down everything good that happened, starting with phrases like ‘I enjoyed’ or ‘I appreciated.’
Turn off and tune in
A recent study published in the Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology by positive psychologist Sean Patrick, showed a direct correlation between mindfulness and feeling engaged and interested in your activities. It suggested taking part in activities without giving them enough time or attention reduces people’s ability to feel their lives have purpose and meaning.
Sean, the author of That Guy Who Loves The Universe (£6.27, That Guy’s House), advises: “Turn off your phone notifications while you’re Christmas shopping. It’s stressful enough without having to answer everyone’s messages and hearing the pings.
Set time aside to watch your favourite Christmas film without interruptions – this will help reduce your stress levels. Finally, don’t feel you have to see everyone in the lead-up to Christmas. Make use of the downtime between Christmas and New Year.”