Coping with Christmas stress
Christmas is almost upon us……. it’s time for the decorations to be pulled out of cupboards once again. Magazines are full of exquisitely decorated homes with boughs of pine strewn artistically across mantelpieces, sparkling with teeny tiny twinkling lights. Rooms are colour themed from pure white to opulent crimson and perfectly wrapped gifts lie around a perfectly decorated tree. We see pictures of tempting food and glasses of champagne or mulled wine just waiting for the guests to arrive. Christmas is such a wonderful time of year….. isn’t it?
Well, yes it can be but it can also be one of the most stressful and challenging times of year through which we must navigate. Magazines, shops and television programmes create an almost impossible to achieve level of perfection which often bears little in relation to reality but many of us still feel driven to try and achieve the fantasy. How many of us spend more than we can afford and then are left with sometimes crippling credit card bills that take most of the following year to pay off? Perhaps it’s worth asking just what Christmas is about for us. A wonderful celebration doesn’t just rely on expensive decorations, masses of presents and luxury food items – it’s also about what we need, what will bring us joy and what we can afford without landing ourselves with even more financial stress in the New Year.
Asking everyone to stick to the same, manageable Christmas present budget can take a lot of anxiety out of the situation, and it’s surprising how ingenious people can be. Adding a twist to the day can also help make it more meaningful and fun without costing the earth: having a home-made fancy dress code for example, or a treasure hunt before or after lunch.
Stress can begin to escalate when we start to panic about how much needs to be done and how on earth we can remember it all and stay on top of things. It can help to buy a special notebook specifically for Christmas and writing absolutely everything down that otherwise would have filled our heads to bursting point. This can be from what presents to buy who, to timings for all the different components to Christmas lunch, numbers of taxi companies and even dates to put the bins out.
Delegation is also a key weapon so think about which member of the family could do some of the things on the ‘to-do’ list and stick to it – some of us tend to do everything ourselves as we either feel it’s our responsibility or that no-one else will want to help or actually do it properly. However, this kind of thinking really isn’t helpful and once we start to question that kind of ‘I have to do it myself or I’m a failure’ internal dialogue, delegation does become easier! It also gets the family involved in the preparations with everyone playing their part and working to a common goal.
Stress is a well-known challenge for some relationships during the 21st century’s seemingly never-ending Christmas break. Partners who are usually out at work all day suddenly find themselves forced together for days on end and tempers fray, anxieties are heightened. Parents might come to stay and act in ways which make the grown up son/daughter feel themselves being pushed back into ‘child’ mode. Other, barely seen family members may come to stay and all familiar household regimes are turned on their head or comments are made which seem to question how you run your home/raise the children/conduct your life in general. The home becomes a hotbed of tension and slamming doors because the usual response to this kind of situation is to lose our temper and then that extra glass of wine that was meant to help us relax, actually pushes us into saying something that inflames matters.
How to deal with such a situation? Accepting that nobody is perfect and letting minor annoyances go is one of the most helpful ways of dealing with this kind of stress. Understanding that irritations will arise and planning for them is half the battle so it’s important to be able to take ourselves out of the danger zone for a while. Exercise can really help burn off the stress hormones and although Christmas morning may be an incredibly busy time, taking 10 minutes out to run around the block with the dog, for example, is preferable to a row which would have impacted on everyone for the rest of the day. Other escape plans include listening to favourite or relaxing music away from everyone for 10 minutes and mindfulness - paying attention to the present moment through meditation or deep breathing- there is lots of information about mindfulness on the internet. It is also worth remembering that an argument only occurs if two people take part – walking away before things explode makes it much easier to stay in control and not say something that may be regretted later.
The Christmas period can, however, be a far darker and lonelier place for many people and families may be estranged or suffering loss. In these instances, there is such a glaring contrast between the sparkle and fun that everyone else seems to be having compared to those who are struggling through bleak and difficult times. For those in this position, it can be comforting to know there are others out there who feel the same. On-line communication, community events and volunteering are wonderful ways to find connection with others in a similar position.
Should it become too difficult to cope, then do ask for help. If asking friends or family feels impossible, then organisations like the Samaritans (they are available 24/7 throughout Christmas and New Year on 08457 90 90 90) will listen and talk through how things feel for you. Talking to someone who genuinely accepts what you say, how you are feeling and yet does not judge, can be immeasurably powerful and allow a glimmer of light to pierce the darkness.
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