Christmas, Christmas gifts, pavlova

How to create a stress-free Christmas

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What does Christmas mean to you – the pleasure of spending time with family, the gifts you give and receive, the traditions you look forward to? Getting together with friends and family is, for the most part, why many of us love the holidays. But the festive season can also be a cause for stress – stress around who’s hosting, or what you will serve, or how to avoid challenging topics like politics and fruitcake.

So what is stress? It’s that gap between your expectations and reality – the bigger the gap the bigger the stress. Perhaps a first step to reducing stress this Christmas is to re-evaluate what some of those expectatons are. Are you expecting everything to be perfect? If so you may be setting yourself up for more stress because there will always be something that doesn’t turn out quite as you planned. When we shift our focus to go more with the flow, our stress levels will drop because we are choosing not to put the ‘have tos’ and ‘must dos’on ourselves. Perhaps a good saying to adopt this Christmas is, what you think of me is none of my business.

Here are some solutions for creating a more stress-free Christmas:

The Perfect Day

Does it need to be perfect, or do you want the day to be welcoming and fun? Imperfections are what we laugh about and create good memories around. Christmas is about connecting and sharing, so if every decoration isn’t up and every dish hasn’t come out quite as planned, people generally accept what is – if they don’t, it’s their problem, not yours. We can’t make other people happy – only they have the power to do that. So focus on making yourself happy and you will create a happier environment for others.

The Delegation

When organising the meal or other Christmas tasks, instead of trying to do everything yourself, ask for help (delegation is not a dirty word). You will have less to cope with and get done, can stop being the hero who does it all, and leave others feeling important with a sense of responsibility. When asking for help, word it in such a way that others feel they have a choice, for example, “Would you be able to bring your famous dessert?”, rather than “You’re bringing pavlova.” You are more likely to receive a ‘yes’ when there is choice.

Pavlova, Christmas, dessert

The ‘Rescue Remedy’

If you are worried about those challenging relatives, here is a simple and effective way to keep yourself in a positive place when the conversation is starting to get a little heated. I call it the blessing (you may want to use another word, like kindness, love or caring). When you notice yourself feeling frustrated, hurt, upset or angry with someone, send them a blessing, e.g. “I bless you (name)”, or, “I am sending you love”. This takes you to a more positive place where it’s difficult to hold onto the negative thoughts, and allows you to see the bigger picture. Sending them something positive will also have a beneficial effect on them. Initially it may need some persistence and repetition, however, as one friend said, “it’s like a rescue remedy” .

The Gift

Another stressor is the list of Christmas gifts you need to get before the big day. Christmas is a time to spend with family, and to enjoy catching up, so here are some thoughts with this in mind. Buy one Christmas gift for all those in the family you want to spend extra time with. For example, if you live near a theme park you could buy tickets for everyone and all take off for the day, or create a voucher for a picnic at the beach that you organise and cater. While it means work for you on the day it saves you a lot of pre-Christmas stress. For the younger ones/teenagers, a movie voucher for a group is a good way for them to go and spend time together.

The Fun

Plan some fun things in advance, like making home-made pizza all together or creating a family tree – this can be a lot of fun as unknown stories about Aunt Maude, Great Uncle Ezra or Grandpa Joe emerge. If you have young children read a Christmas classic to them. Have a family quiz or home movie night – no Christmas would be complete without a great movie, especially a comedy. Laughter is one of the best cures for stress because it restores normality, hope and a sense of sharing, so find moments to create a little nonsense.

The Break

When the stress does get to you, it’s important to find some space. Be imaginative and create exit strategies, such as leaving the room to call a friend, picking some herbs from the garden, or ‘checking on a neighbour’. With a couple of escape routes planned, you’ll already feel less stressed. Breathe deeply – this produces beneficial changes in the brain by activating the hypothalamus and triggering a relaxation response in the body. It helps you cope with stressful situations in a healthier way.

The Boundary

Say ‘yes’ when you mean yes and ‘no’ when you mean no – and stick to it. Saying ‘no’ can be difficult, however it’s easier when you choose not to justify. By justifying you provide hooks for others to hang their arguments on, and eventually you either end up saying ‘yes’ or feel guilty for saying ‘no’. Just saying “I can’t manage that now” is sufficient – no explanation needed.

The Attitude

Braving the shopping centers can be daunting. People cut you off in the parking lot, push in line, and want special treatment from retailers. Nothing dispels Christmas cheer and creates stressful situations more than grumpy shoppers. We can’t change other people’s behaviour, but we can control our attitude and response. Making a conscious decision to allow people the benefit of the doubt, give up a parking space, and offer smiles as well as kind words and gestures to other people, puts you in a better mood, and may brighten someone else’s day as well.

Trying to cram in every single Christmas tradition – going out to look at lights, baking the Christmas biscuits, putting up a real Christmas tree and having the house all decorated – can be a major stressor. If you run out of time for one (or a few) of these traditions, remember … there’s always next year!