Stress Less in the Lead Up to Christmas


I have a rule when it comes to Christmas: My birthday comes first! 

In mid November I celebrate another trip around the sun and until that day Christmas gets short shrift. Once the birthday is done however, it's on like Donkey Kong: the fun, the festivities, the fretting and the financial collapse.

This week I was thrilled to  break my 'no Christmas pre-birthday' rule to contribute to the Woman's Day 'Keep Your Cool at Christmas' guide. It's a week-by-week guide to staying Zen during the pre-Christmas chaos.

I shared the spotlight with fellow psychologist Dr Romana Bowd and Lisa Lawson of Sydney's Stretch Studio. (Collectively we're described as 'Australia's top wellness experts'. That's a first!)

Four of my tips made the cut but there are more where they come from.

Read on for the full list to keep your cool for Christmas

1. Share the planning load. With gifts to buy, events to arrange, decorations, food and entertaining just a few of the tasks on the pre-Christmas list, it’s important that you don’t bear the full mental load yourself. You’ll be overwhelmed and exhausted before you start! This week, make a list of the major pre-Christmas tasks and enlist help. Delegate where you can. Teens are old enough to assist and partners can and should share the load. Encourage your family to make Christmas preparations a team effort – for everyone’s benefit.

2. Manage the budget. Finances are a major source of stress for many families. Christmas gifts and festivities add further weight. This week, perhaps rethink gift-giving to reduce financial strain. ‘Secret Santa’ keeps costs down and alleviates the ‘What will I buy cousin Joanne?’ dilemma. You can restrict gifts just to kids and start to talk to them about Santa’s limited budget. When it comes to gift shopping, make lists to get prepared and start early to reduce the last minute panic and avoid the stress of crowds.

Forget perfect

3. Forget ‘perfect.’ We can have high expectations of Christmas and how it should unfold. Elaborate decorating, handmade gifts, a major feast and a harmonious family are rarely possible at this busy time of year – if at all! This week, simplify your expectations – of yourself and others. How might you do less this year? Are there events or tasks that you can do away with? Do you have to attend every event?

When we set high expectations for ourselves to 'do everything and be everything' we risk stress, anxiety and disappointment. Let things go so you don't put your mental wellbeing at stake.

4. Do it your way. Christmas and holiday rituals involving family and communities are beneficial to our happiness, sense of connection and wellbeing. Not every family gels though. Disagreements and family disputes are amplified by hot weather, alcohol and an expectation that we should spend Christmas Day together even if we avoid each other for the rest of the year. If you know that Christmas Day tensions run high in your family, consider doing things differently. Can you change location to a park or public venue where family members might be on their best behaviour? Should you limit the time you spend together? Is this the year that you book a trip and spend Christmas elsewhere?

5. Express gratitude. With just a few weeks until the big day now is a great time to take a moment out of the 'busy, busy' and reflect on what’s good in your world. Expressing gratitude for even the littlest things – coffee with a friend, time out for a bath, the sound of kids’ laughter – elevates us from daily worries and reduces our stress. Take a moment each day to scan for happiness. Savour the little positives in the lead up to Christmas and let any stress melt away.

Riding the waves of emotion is tiring but there's a simple strategy for managing your feelings so that they don't overwhelm you.

6. Acknowledge emotions. This is an emotional time of year. We’re stressed, we’re harried, we’re joyful, we’re lonely, we're nostalgic, we’re hopeful and we’re sad. Riding the waves of emotion is tiring but there's a simple strategy for managing your feelings so that they don't overwhelm you. If you’re getting irritable in the final weeks before Christmas, take a moment to feel your feelings. Notice them and label them. Are you angry? Overwhelmed? Worried? Sad? Acknowledging your emotions can help them to subside so that you can get on with enjoying the festive period.

7. Take time for yourself. With only days until Christmas it's time for self-care. I know you're busy and it feels self-indulgent to step away and focus on you, but you cannot keep on top of your tasks and care for others if you're drowning. Schedule a few hours for yourself this week. Have lunch with a friend, see a movie, take a trip to the beach or just sit in the sun and read. Treat yourself as you'd treat a stressed-out friend – kindly. You'll find yourself refreshsed, renewed and ready to go! 

8. Be present. When the big day comes make sure you enjoy the little moments. With so much going on it's easy to get caught up in the urgency of making everything run smoothly. The act of paying attention helps you to calm your body and mind and savour special moments. Slow down, pause, breathe and notice what's going on around you. Enjoy the children's smiles, the festive atmosphere and the fabulous food.  Congratulate yourself on getting to this point. You deserve it!

What will you do to keep your cool at Christmas?

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