“Tis the season to be jolly… anxious, as research shows more than half of women feel stressed during the Christmas period. From organising social schedules and buying gifts to navigating nativity costumes and cooking the Christmas lunch, there’s a lot to get through. “Instead of enjoying a break from work and celebrating with loved ones, we can run ourselves ragged,” states Michaela Thomas (thethomasconnection.co.uk), clinical psychologist and author of The Lasting Connection. It doesn’t end there. “Women can be more likely left with emotional tasks, too – such as managing conflict or meeting the emotional needs of the children,” Thomas continues. “Some of these are less visible and may go unnoticed or taken for granted.” All of this can mount up to create one big overwhelm – which takes the ‘merry’ well and truly out of Christmas. So how can you move away from anxieties and ensure it really is a wonderful time of the year?
Less stress solutions
Good news! There are numerous steps you can take to help lighten the load. You don’t have to adopt or incorporate every single one, either – utilising just a couple could be enough to start generating benefits.
Talk, talk, talk
Nobody will know that you’re stressed or need help unless you tell them. “A lot of it comes down to communication,” says Joanne Mallon (joannemallon.com), life and career coach and author of Change Your Life In Five Minutes A Day. “Things only become a burden if we don’t talk about them and aren’t open.” Whether you want to change who you buy presents for or switch up who you see on the Big Day, you can’t rely on someone else speaking up first. “You have to have conversations like that as early as you possibly can,” Mallon adds, as leaving it to the last minute is only likely to cause more tension if plans have already been made or provisions bought.
Make a list
We don’t mean the one for Santa. “List-making and writing things down is key, because then you’ve cast it out of your head,” explains Mallon. “Once you’ve got anything onto a piece of paper, it’s much easier to deal with because you’re looking at it in a more objective kind of way.”
Not only is this one way to help stay on top of things, but ticking things off has been shown to boost feelings of achievement and prompt our brains to release dopamine – the body’s ‘pleasure’ chemical.
Mallon also advocates using lists as a reminder of what you don’t want to occur during the festive season. “A ‘to-don’t’ list is quite a fun thing to do, because then you can [use it] to start to set your boundaries,” she explains. Perhaps yours could remind you not to leave wrapping presents until 10pm on Christmas Eve, or feel pressured into cooking Christmas lunch for all and sundry.
Know your limits
Boundaries are a festive non-negotiable. While compromise is important, it’s also vital to do things that make you happy. “Be really clear about what you want out of this time,” recommends Deborah Smith (growyourownhappiness.com), positive psychologist and author of Grow Your Own Happiness.
Don’t want to be visited by 20 family members on Christmas Day? Decide to see just a few. Would you love to start your Christmas morning with a bath and glass of champers? Put it in the schedule. Remember to communicate your boundaries though, as “if we don’t explicitly say what [they] are, what invariably happens is that we get upset when other people cross them,” Smith adds.
Learn to delegate
You’re only one person with so many hours in the day. As such, “ask for support,” encourages Thomas. “What tasks can be shared with others, and perhaps be an opportunity to play together with the children? The preparation for Christmas can be more enjoyable if shared.” Obtaining help with the smallest of tasks can make a big difference. Ask your teenagers to prepare the veg for Christmas lunch, or task your partner with wrapping presents for their family. “You’ll find that if you do get everybody else to take their part… it becomes a shared experience,” Smith says. “That’s good on all sorts of levels. You’re not only breaking the societal gender bias, but you’re getting everyone more involved and committed to making Christmas great.”
Don’t be afraid to relinquish control
With delegation comes the prospect that tasks might not be completed the way you envisage. However, “you have to let go of some of that control and accept that how other people do things, even if it’s not the same way you’d do it, doesn’t make it any less valid,” states Mallon.
Smith agrees, and suggests that reframing your thinking can help make the transition easier. “If you think, ‘This is what I expect the table to look like’, and a five-year-old has laid it, it probably won’t look like that! But being able to appreciate they’ve done their best…that’s the beauty of it,” she shares. “It’s kind of moving away from expectation and perfectionism, and being able to embrace the fact that this is everybody’s expression of love for each other.”
Create time for you
When we have jam-packed schedules, it can feel like an indulgence to take half an hour to enjoy your book, go for a walk, or grab coffee with a friend. However, doing so allows you to “charge your batteries, so that when something comes along that takes more energy, you’re in a better position to deal with that,” Mallon explains.
Essentially, it’s important to remember this period is meant to be about joy and celebration, and that there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ Christmas. Recognising these two factors can relieve some pressure off your shoulders – and, combined with our expert tips, could be the perfect gift for a less stressful festive season.
Paying attention to your breath is a quick way to slow a whirring mind. “The out-breath is where we send signals to the body to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us feel calm and connected,” explains Thomas.
“Try the Four Corners breathing,” she suggests. “Focus your gaze on the top left corner of anything square or rectangular, breathe in. Move your gaze to the top right corner, breathe out. Move down to the bottom right corner, breathe in. Move your gaze to the bottom left corner, breathe out. Continue for a few minutes, with slow and deep breaths.”
Smith recommends another technique: “Count how long you inhale for and exhale for double the amount of time. If you do this simple counting, you’re telling your body that you’re calming down [and it] starts following.”