With the festive season fast approaching many people are starting to feel the strain. One in five of us feel stressed during the holiday season according to a survey by MIND, the mental health charity.
When we were children Christmas was a magical time and for many adults Christmas is still a time for children. The older we get the more we realise that Christmas is a time that can have too many expectations. Some of you may look forward to the shopping and preparations while others approach the season with fears of all the disruption and extra work it is likely to bring.
Everywhere we look we are faced with adverts and scenes of happy people coming together to share the Christmas period. However, The Samaritans expect an additional 100,000 calls during the holiday period and January is the worst time for an increase in suicide rates. For some people the enforced period of goodwill and family festivities can bring on feelings of intense loneliness.
Thankfully, most of us find Christmas an enjoyable time and you can reduce the pressures you experience if you just follow the stress-busting tips listed below.
Running out of time
Make a plan and list everything you need to do in the run up to Christmas and on the day itself and work out what to do when.
Ask your family to help out by putting up decorations, including any for the Christmas tree. When people ask you if they can bring something say yes – if you know that someone is bringing home-made minced pies then that’s one thing off your list!
Get the children to wrap the presents and turn the process into a game by getting them to put a special label on each gift saying, “this gift was individually hand-wrapped by…” This way it doesn’t matter if the wrapping isn’t that good as people will respond to the fact the children have done it.
When planning make sure you put some time in for you to pamper yourself. If there’s too much to do then leave something out. For example, you may have been planning to cook all your food from scratch – cakes, pies, stuffing and the like – buy some of them instead and order via the Internet to save time.
Remember Christmas Day is only one day of the year – do not get the whole event out of perspective.
Money is a real problem
There is no rule to say that you will be measured by what you spend at Christmas. We all seem to buy too much food so why not think about having a healthy Christmas this year? Think of Christmas Day and Boxing Day as a weekend and only buy what you will eat. You don’t have to starve but you don’t have to be eating turkey for the next two weeks either.
Why waste your money buying presents that people neither want or need? Perhaps you could make up a voucher that can be redeemed for an amount of your time or a specific activity such as cleaning the house or weeding the garden. Why not write a letter about how you feel about the person telling them what you like and value about them and the impact they have made on your life. Something like this is really special and will be treasured. Forewarn those you would normally buy presents for that you are intending to do something different this year so that everyone can plan accordingly.
Create a budget for everything and stick to it. Remember that children would rather have parents who spent time playing with them than have one hundred and one presents.
The horrors of shopping
Unless you are someone who loves shopping, give the internet the task of dealing with your presents. I first discovered the joys of internet shopping one Christmas when looking for something for my sister and family who live in Australia. As the service wrapped the presents and gave me the option of adding a personalised message it meant I saved time, energy and money (I used an Australian gift store) and my Aussie relatives loved their presents. Since then I have been hooked on what the internet can offer. On-line shopping is as safe as any other kind of shopping and if you look for sites with secure payment facilities (a padlock should appear in the bottom right hand corner of your screen) you are as safe as you can be.
Useful sites include Hamleys at www.hamleys.co.uk and the Early Learning Centre at www.elc.co.uk and for books, CDs and many other gift ideas you could try www.amazon.co.uk or www.whsmith.co.uk. For shopping, recipes, crafts and even present ideas for your pets try www.christmas.com which is also excellent for locating a whole range of gifts from the usual to the more unusual such as vegan products, holidays for all festive and religious occasions and the chance to name a star after you.
You can save time by shopping for Christmas cards and decorations online. Search for ‘Christmas’ on any major search engine and you will be inundated with choice. If you bookmark the sites you like it will be much easier for you next year.
Coping with parties
Not everyone enjoys parties, especially if they’re a bit shy. However there are things you can do to boost confidence. Don’t worry about coming up with sparkling conversation. Just being a good listener makes you popular. To get the conversation going, ask open questions such as what someone is doing for Christmas and think of FORE – Family, Occupation, Relaxation and leisure, and Education – for generating conversation topics. We all get on with certain people at work or socially more than others. At a party, talk to them first to build your confidence. Breathing exercises will help you relax. Breathe in to the count of four, out to the count of five, relaxing your shoulders and tummy. Repeat four times. Don’t rely on alcohol to calm your nerves – it can make you more stressed.
Coping with all that indulging
Christmas usually means eating more rich, high fat, high salt and sugar laden food, washed down by stimulants like alcohol and caffeine. If you are a little careful with your diet, you’ll have more energy and feel less anxious. Why not offer to drive when you go out or drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink to prevent dehydration and a hangover the next day. Drink fruit juice as a healthy alternative. Eat more food with antioxidants as these help relieve the effects of stress – red fruit and vegetables, like tomatoes, broccoli, grapes, cherries and nuts will all help. Try to eat chocolate that has a 70 per cent cocoa content as it is better for you and usually has less sugar but still tastes good.
Chill out time
Choose a night to curl up with a good book or have a long soak in a bath. Before you go to bed, drinking camomile tea may aid relaxation. Exercise is a great stress reliever so take a walk every day rather than staying indoors throughout Christmas, or book a pre-Christmas treat at a health spa. Orange, Lavender and Cinnamon aromatherapy oils can make your house smell lovely and are also relaxing.
You never know what might happen over the Christmas period so it is helpful to keep a range of telephone numbers ready in case of emergency.
Avoiding Christmas Stress
CEO’s Christmas Countdown
A free organising plan featuring tips, gift ideas and recipes to help you have a happy and calm holiday season.
Produced by Boots, this website has advice on how to reduce Christmas stress and features gift ideas for men, women and children.
Christmas can be Stressful and Depressing
For those with a disability
Produced by Disability Online, this article acknowledges that Christmas can be a stressful time, and offers useful advice on how to cope. Australian-based.
For the Lonely and Suicidal
www.samaritans.org.uk telephone 0845 790 90 90
The Samaritans offer a 24 hour, 365 day a year service for those who need someone to talk to.
This article is an updated version of the original post which appeared on Counselling Practice Matters.