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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A Dozen Tips for a Less Stressful Christmas

Depending on which survey you read, Christmas is always somewhere in the top 30 most stressful events of life – it’s often ranked as highly as sixth.  Unlike Christmas, many of the other events are infrequent for most of us (deaths, marriage, divorce, house moves etc). According to one survey, 86% of people say they find buying presents hard work and 65% find Christmas shopping stressful.  60% of people felt stressed by buying a gift for someone only to see how disappointed the receiver was.  However much fun it is, there is no doubt that Christmas is stressful – even for the kids!

So here are some tips for making it less stressful:

1.   Don’t Take Too  Much On
You are not superwoman (or man) and so if you’ve already agreed to host a party and go to a further 2, do you need to add to that?  Think of the stress and not just the potential fun.  There has to be some rest in this busy period.
2.   Plan Ahead with Presents
Buying presents over a few months can take away the stress of having to find them all at once and can also spread the financial burden.  It is nice to shop when the lights are in the shops and especially on Christmas Eve, if you can bear that, but maybe buy just a special present late – and be flexible.  It’s not wise to wait that long for something that’s likely to sell out.
3.   Buy Some Things Online
Checkout queues can be a really stressful thing.  You may even suffer trolley rage.  It is possible to order some food and drink for delivery to your house if you get in quickly enough.  The few pounds you have to pay for this is worth it for the loss of stress!  Many presents can also be bought online.  Do it early or you’ll worry about whether it will arrive in time or not.
4.   Don’t try to Make Everything Perfect
You are not responsible for everyone’s happiness.  It might be your job to cook the dinner and pick the presents, but if Aunt Flo is in an awful mood, or Grandma insists on watching 3 hours of continuous soaps and upsets everyone else, it’s not your fault.  You can help to set the atmosphere, but essentially people will make up their own minds whether they’re going to be in the festive spirit or not.  Which brings us nicely onto...
5.   Treating Alcohol Wisely/Going to Parties
Alcohol could be a friend or an enemy at Christmas depending how you treat it.  Christmas is so stressful that I like to have a small drink just as it’s about to swing into action.  This relaxes me and makes me feel jolly, helping to create a festive atmosphere.  Of course, this does mean just a tipple, as a drunken host or hostess is not a good idea.  If you’re cooking, get someone else to be responsible for drinks.  They should make sure everyone has what they want but doesn’t overdo it.

Since tensions can be high, it’s not a good idea to get sozzled enough that you tell your sister exactly what you really think of her children!  That will greatly increase your stress for a long time to come!  This is less likely if you stick to an amount of alcohol you know you can handle well.

Parties are a great time to let your hair down, but it’s a good idea to drink soft drinks interspersed with the booze during the night and some water before bed.  Overdoing it will often ruin what was otherwise a great night, so one way of dealing with that is to say, as I do, “I am going to drink only 4 pints tonight” (or whatever you know you can handle and not suffer the consequences).  If you plan it that way, then you will find you can stick to a sensible limit more easily.
6.   Dealing with The In-Laws
...Or as a friend of mine calls them, the Outlaws.  If you have wonderful ones then this is no problem at all - move on to the next item.  If yours are not, then, you may just have to steal yourself and accept that it’s going to be a strain.  Knowing what has made it easier in the past can help, as can the notion that you can take 10 minutes out from time to time – agree this with your partner beforehand and work together as a team.
7.   Simplicity
Although there are certain things you cannot avoid putting extra effort into at Christmas there may be others that are so stressful that they are not worth the payback.  It is not necessary to prepare every meal as a gourmet feast or to put up so many decorations that your house can be seen from space.  Even the kids will appreciate doing something more low key for some of the holiday.  If they don’t chill out at some point, there will be tantrums.  Sometimes, less is more.
8.   Charity
Helping others to enjoy their Christmas can greatly help us to enjoy our own and make us feel connected to the wider world.  One way we can feel we have done something really useful as opposed to simply having over-indulged is to give something to a charity at this time of year – whether it be with money or with time.  Don’t get stressed about giving.  Just give what you feel is reasonable for you.
9.   Being Prepared with Christmas Cards
I have got into the habit of starting mine in the last week of November.  I don’t send them out at that point, but I do have them stamped up and ready to go.  I find if I do 5 or 6 cards a night for a couple of weeks, it makes life a whole lot easier.  You can do this in front of the tv, so it’s really not much effort this way.

It’s also useful to have a Christmas card list.  I keep a note of who I send to and who sends to me every year.  Except for very special reasons, if someone doesn’t send me a card three years in a row, I don’t send them one next time.  Why feel obliged to people who aren’t bothered?  Christmas can be a good time to accept that some people go out of your life.  It may be sad, but it’s a part of everyone’s life, and can be stress reducing to realise that you don’t have to hold on to people you met five years ago on holiday or you lived next door to twenty years ago.
10.     Relaxation and Time-Out
It is important to have something planned that is stress free around Christmas.  Many people book a massage or spa session either just before or just after (or both if you have the time and money).  This can de-stress you at a vital time.  A round of golf or playing some other sport can also do this –if it’s not too cold!

Counsellors often have very busy January’s when new clients want to unload their stresses.  It can be good to unburden this to an empathic ear.
11.     Go For a Walk
I often go for a walk on either Christmas Day or Boxing Day, and also on New Year’s Day.  This can be a blessed relief from tv, relatives, broken toys and over-indulged stomachs.  Getting out in nature, especially if there is festive weather can really help to lower stress levels.
12.    Keeping the Faith or at Least Having a Spiritual Moment
If you are a religious person it can be the highlight of Christmas to go a Carol Service, and even if you’re not it can be lovely just to stop and listen to the Salvation Army play some carols.  Don’t walk past, however busy you are!  Stop, throw some money in the box and enjoy a bit of the more spiritual side of Christmas.  Take ten minutes out from the manic shopping and lower the pace of the day and your pulse.
Remembering that Christmas is a happy occasion of celebration and peace towards others helps put the stressful parts into some perspective and keeps our thoughts balanced.

David is a fully qualified and BACP registered Person Centred Counsellor.  You can book a session with him by ringing 07578 100256 or emailing him at