I absolutely adore Christmas, that is; I adore the idea of Christmas. It has to be said, the ghosts of Christmases past have frequently delivered heaps of stress, annoyingly complex social interactions with relatives and unreasonably high expectations (usually self-inflicted).
I used to run myself ragged, trying to make everything ‘perfect’ and to please everybody. I swear, if Instagram and Pinterest had been around back then I would have killed myself to achieve a Christmas to outshine the shiniest of Pins!
So what changed? Well, to be frank, I did. And when I had examined my life and decided to take a different path, a path that didn’t involve trying to make everybody else happy (at the cost of my own happiness, and often health), I started to weed out the ludicrously ambitious plans that I made every year in my quest for Christmas perfection.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a wonderful Christmas, it’s what I hope for every year. But the realisation that Christmas can be amazing, even if it isn’t Pinterestly perfect, can be such a relief! So how do I achieve a stress free Christmas?
How To Have A Stress Free Christmas
I don’t! No matter how organsied, how chilled out, how determined you are to enjoy every moment of the holidays, there will always be a few sneaky minor/major disasters that threaten to blow your calm and erupt into a full-on, head busting, red alert panic.
The trick is to accept that something has gone wrong, then allow yourself to feel stressed until you count to 5. That’s right, you have to the count of 5 to let the stress do its thing. It’s then time to let it go; just let it float away.
Take a few deep breaths after your mini almost-meltdown. Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold for 15 seconds then breathe out slowly through your mouth. Repeat for at least a minute. You’re now probably thinking something along these lines, “Great, so I’m supposed to stand there huffing and puffing like a the Big Bad Wolf. That’s hardly going to help me rescue my incinerated turkey!” But that’s where you’re wrong: taking a deep breath gets more oxygen to your brain, which allows you to think more clearly. It also slows your heart rate, which allows you to feel less anxious and more in control. And having a clear head and being less anxious will definitely help you to solve your Christmas dilemmas.
So now that we’ve established that it’s practically impossible to have a guaranteed stress free Christmas, here is a list of tips to eliminate at least some of the stress that Christmas brings:
- Making a list, and checking it twice – make a list of everything that needs to be done in the run up to, and on the day of Christmas – and be really detailed and specific. For example; don’t write ‘decorate the dining table’, write a list of everything you will need to decorate the dining table. Then make sure that all the items you need are easily accessible. By doing this you will avoid any last minute dashes to buy the table linen that you could have sworn was in a box under the bed right next to that box of shoes that you very seldom wear – yep, been there, done that.
When you have filled a notebook roughly equal in size to the old Yellow Pages (remember them?), it’s time to prioritise.
Take three different coloured highlighters and mark each task as follows: what has to be completed, what you would like to achieve and what would be nice to do but isn’t really necessary. Then ask yourself if any tasks can be done sooner rather than later.
For example: you could make your Christmas gravy well ahead of time and freeze it, wrap gifts as and when you buy them, write a few Christmas cards every day – smaller, bite-sized chunks of laborious Christmas duties are much easier to swallow that an overwhelming mound. Work through your list accomplishing the tasks in order of importance, and delegate! You are not, and nor do you need to be, Wonder Woman – and take those hands off your hips 😉 You are not solely responsible for everybody’s merriment, so dish out some of the tasks to family members. Your announcement that you need help will probably be greeted by one of three reactions:
1) The moaner – simply explain that it is your Christmas too and you would rather greet Christmas morning with a smile, not an exhausted yawn.
2) The doer – thank your lucky stars and dole out a few tasks.
3) The organiser – this is the person who has been itching to join in the Christmas organising, but hasn’t wanted to butt in to ‘your’ way of doing things. Sing hallelujah because this person, I can tell you from experience, is going to help you obliterate that list, big time! The only side effect of having an organsier on your team is the slight guilt you will feel for not including them in Christmases past – yep, been there and done that too.
2) Don’t shop till you drop – if you are a ‘dyed in the wool’, good old high street shopper then for the love of your sanity do your Christmas shopping early! Shopping locally definitely has its advantaged, but shops on the high street can be manic just before Christmas – not great for stress levels. Unless your idea of fun is rushing around in the cold and wet (in the UK at least) alongside many hundreds of stressed out shoppers. For those of you who can bear to give the high street a miss, shop online. I’ve actually managed to spend less money when online shopping than if I venture to the nearest city. There are no smells to entice you, no heaps of tactile loveliness call to you and no (sometimes) pushy sales people to encourage you to hand over your cash. It works for me, but make a list of who you need to buy for, set a budget and stick to it. Don’t forget to check the delivery date for all your online purchases and, if you want a food order delivered straight to your door, book your slot early.
3) Make time to rock around your Christmas tree – Set a deadline for yourself and others; know when to stop. You may have ambitions to deck your halls, and make this Christmas just the most wonderful Christmas ever. But are you really going to enjoy it if you’ve stayed up for half the night making mince pies? So set yourself a goal to finish all prep and relax – even if it’s late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. I can guarantee that most of those little touches that you are half killing yourself to finish wont be missed, so chill out and spend at least Christmas Eve doing something you enjoy.
4) Play musical chairs – in most families there will always be a person that you ‘have’ to invite to join in the merriment. Be it a relative you dislike, a friend or relative’s partner you don’t get on with, even some children can be overwhelmingly annoying. So what to do? Think long and hard about the seating arrangements. Avoid sitting opposite the person(s) in questions, and try to seat yourself on the end of the table. This will ensure that you can ‘escape’ if things get too stressful. Have a couple of good excuses to leave the table: check the pudding, you think you can hear your mobile phone, was that a knock at the door. Removing yourself from the situation will give you a bit of breathing space. You may actually find that just knowing that you have an escape route planned will make a stressful situation less stressful.
5) Let’s raise a glass (of water) – Panic not, I’m not going to bang on about staying off the booze over the Christmas period. Just give a thought to how alcohol affects your body: it dehydrates you, it slows down your nervous system, your reaction time will be slower and your thinking becomes hazy. Not great if you’re in charge of serving Christmas dinner. Yet let’s be realistic, it’s Christmas and a drink or two is almost inevitable – just don’t go overboard and intersperse your alcoholic drinks with water, or soft drinks. Try to drink two non-alcoholic drinks to every one alcoholic drink – cheers!
While we’re on the subject of drinks, stay of caffeine if you possibly can. Stressed bodies produce cortisol which brings about that ‘fight or flight’ feeling. Caffeine does something very similar, so drink de-caff if you can.
I do my tops tips on having a stress free Christmas help. Here’s to stress-free (almost), Christmas time!