Christmas can be a very stressful time of year. For many the Christmas holiday period is a mass of complex social interactions with family or relatives, some of whom you may rather not see.
There could well be expectations, or at least perceived expectations, to create a ‘wonderful Christmas’ with presents and perhaps the most important meal of the year. Some people rate Christmas as being more stressful than divorce or being burgled.
Here are some tips and advice to make your Christmas as stress-free as possible. Don't let the festive season get you down: follow the tips and advice, relax and enjoy yourself.
Plan Ahead - Start making a list of things you need to do for Christmas early: for example, shopping, food and presents, decorations, seating plans or travel arrangements. Make the list as detailed as possible, include people’s phone numbers or email addresses to make contacting them simpler.
If it's already too late, then save this blog for next year and set yourself a reminder to do this in mid-November.
Try to prioritise the items on your list: can they be done now, and are they essential? Do not overestimate how much you can achieve on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Many recipes can, at least in part, be made ahead of time and frozen thus reducing tasks in the immediate run-up to Christmas Day.
Delegate the responsibility for certain tasks to other family members since this will reduce your workload. Keep your list for next year; it’ll need tweaking and updating but will give you reminders of the sorts of things you need to think about.
Shop Online - Although shopping locally has many advantages, High Street shopping just before Christmas can be particularly stressful, often cold and wet and with hundreds of other stressed people trying to find the ‘perfect’ gift.
Shop online from the comfort of your own home as you’ll not only save time and be less stressed but will probably save money too. Always make sure you buy from reputable online retailers and check that they can deliver before the big day.
If you haven’t already tried it, you may be able to do your food shopping online too and have it delivered directly to your door. Remember to book your delivery slot early though as the prime delivery slots may well be booked early.
Christmas Cards - Start writing your Christmas cards early too! Many people receive and send lots of cards at Christmas time so start in mid-November, if you can, and write a few cards and envelopes each day keeping them to one side before posting or delivering.
Know When to Stop - Decide when you will stop your Christmas preparations and start to relax and enjoy the holiday. Work towards and try to stick to this goal, even if it is in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. Remember that Christmas is your holiday too.
Christmas Day and Beyond
Keep Calm - Play some relaxing music, perhaps seasonal carols, and burn some scented candles, incense or aromatherapy oil. Take a relaxing hot bath to unwind.
Seating Arrangements - If there is someone coming to dinner that you dislike, avoid sitting opposite them and instead seat them to one side and opposite somebody who they get on with better. Invite a few more reasonable people along as it will help dilute any stress caused by relatives. It’s a case of the more the merrier!
Turkey - If you are planning on cooking a bird then turkey or pheasant are good choices. They both contain tryptophan which our bodies use to make serotonin, a powerful brain-calming chemical.
Have Decaffeinated Coffee - When your body is under stress it produces cortisol which prepares you for ‘fight or flight’ situations. Caffeine does too. Offer everybody decaffeinated coffee and tea, or herbal tea alternatives, since this will help keep the stress levels down and has the added bonus that people may fall asleep after dinner!
Practise Breathing - When we’re stressed our heart beat increases and our breathing shallows, it’s all part of the fight or flight reaction. Work on reversing this process and take time to breathe deeply.
Breathe in deeply through your nose, hold for 15 or 20 seconds and then breathe slowly out through your mouth, repeat for a few minutes to instantly help reduce stressful feelings.
Have a 'Great Escape' Plan! - It's a good idea to have some pre-planned excuses to escape from proceedings if they get too stressful.
Be imaginative and use things such as leaving the room to make a phone-call to a friend or perhaps checking on a neighbour. Just by having planned a couple of escape routes you’ll probably feel less stressed anyway but actually leaving the situation, even for 10 minutes, will help clear your mind and relax you.
Make Time for Exercise - Christmas is, for many, a time of excessive eating and drinking and exercise can be easily overlooked. Diets are particularly popular in January! Exercise is a great way to reduce stress as it burns off hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and helps produce mood-enhancing endorphines. Try going for a walk after dinner as the fresh air and exercise will lift your mood and make you feel better.
Avoid Excessive Alcohol - Most de-stressing articles will tell you to avoid alcohol altogether but, let’s be realistic, it is Christmas! However, do avoid excessive alcohol as it dehydrates your body and makes your liver work overtime to process it. Drink as much water or juice as alcohol as this will help you to stay hydrated, feel better and therefore cope better with stressful situations. You'll also feel better on Boxing Day.
Have Fun! - Remember it’s your Christmas too so try to relax and have fun, laugh and be merry. If you do find others around you difficult then try to rise above the situation. If things don’t go to plan try not to worry too much, instead laugh about them and make them into fun memories that you can talk about during Christmases to come. "Remember that time Mum set fire to the sprouts!".