Tips To Tackle Christmas Stress
Love it or loathe it, there’s no denying that the ‘season to be jolly’ is, for many, the ‘season to be super stressed’. Christmas can be a magical time, but it can also be the one time of year that takes the biggest toll on our mental health.
Advent induced pressure can be horrendous. Pressure to have a great time, the pressure to look amazing, the pressure to attend every party (when all you want is an early night in your pyjamas), the pressure to buy the best presents, the pressure to avoid weight gain, the pressure to see all your family and friends. And the pressure to do it all with a big smile on your face as you go round spreading festive cheer.
Sound achievable? Of course not.
The strain on us to have a fantastic time for just one day in itself sets us up for an almighty fall. All around us are images of people seemingly happy in huge families, cosy couple and big social groups. We compare and we despair!
According to the Stress Management Society, one in 20 people considers Christmas more stressful than a burglary, and over half of Britons will have had an alcoholic drink before lunch on Christmas day to try to cope with the stress.
As a cognitive behavioural therapist, the key piece of advice I would give right now is to get to work on changing those patterns that have created Christmas stress in the past, so that you can create a Christmas that will leave you feeling fulfilled, settled, content and ready for 2018.
The key concept of CBT is that our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are all interconnected and that by understanding them and increasing awareness of our negative behaviour and emotional patterns, we can alter them and improve our wellbeing. In a nutshell, it’s about changing unhelpful patterns into more helpful patterns.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.”
What is Stress?
Stress is a mixture of pressure and anxiety; it can come from external factors such as work or financial worries or from internal factors such as self-criticism and high expectations. Stress increases levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body; both of which impact negatively on physical health as well as our mental health.
Although stress does affect everyone differently, there are some common symptoms:
- Disturbed sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Poor concentration
- Lack of enjoyment from things
- Wanting to withdraw
- Being more irritable or angry with loved ones
- Making simple mistakes
- Feeling tired
- Lack of motivation
- Low libido
Tips To Tackle Christmas Stress
- Write it out: Putting pen to paper and writing a list of the things you find most unmanageable about Christmas helps you to really hone in on the problem areas. We can’t change things unless we become more aware of them and are willing to acknowledge the issues they are causing. Everyone’s trigger points will be different but awareness is the first point of change. Planning comes next! Write down your goals and plan, in manageable steps, how you will reach them. When we write down our goals we are 10 times more likely to achieve them.
- Seeing friends: It might not always feel that way but, by nature, we humans are social beings and feeling connected is a major part of our wellbeing. This means personal contact – actually seeing people – rather than relying on social media to manage our friendships. Feeling connected with people we are close too lowers stress levels and also improves our immunity, so will help you fight the winter bugs too.
- Lower expectations: We all need to lower our expectations on having a fantastic time, and ultimately setting ourselves up for major disappointment. This doesn’t just apply to Christmas time; we are guilty of expecting too much year-round, on a multitude of things. If we want to feel a certain way then you have to monitor the ways you don’t want to feel. Having more flexibility in our expectations around how we feel will give us more resilience when things don’t go to plan.
- To do lists: My advice would to write your list of things to do, prioritise it, and half it. We are generally very bad at overestimating what we can achieve in the time we have, ultimately creating huge stress for ourselves.
- Plan you’re downtime: Whilst many of us are great at scheduling all the things we need to do, not so many of us are good at booking in some downtime. Take time to yourself, or spend days and hours with your family and friends or doing the things you love. Christmas is a holiday time after all.
- Shop online: Throngs of crowds, traffic jams, and mile-long queues at the tills are not good for stress levels! Shopping from the comfort of your own home usually means saving time and money, and always means protecting stress levels. Set a date and do it in one go.
- Hyggee: Pronounced hue-guh (not hoo-gah), Hyggee is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment. It’s a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. Set about creating hyggee moments by using warm lighting, burning candles, snuggling in comfy blankets, putting the fire on, turning phones turned off, reading or listening to music.
- Mindfulness: A huge amount of research supports the fact that the benefits of mindfulness are countless. In a nutshell, mindfulness means slowing down, being more in the moment, being able to notice the positive things around you and becoming more aware of the patterns of your mind. Doing all – or some – of these things will absolutely reduce your stress levels. To find out more about mindfulness and its benefits, along with some resources to get you started, have a look at this previous blog https://sarahdrees.co.uk/what-is-mindfulness/
- Get outside: Sounds simple, yet too few of us do it. Being in nature is a proven way to reduce our stress levels, so going for a walk can really help
- Avoid excessive alcohol: Yes, it’s Christmas, and nobody wants to be a party pooper. However, we can’t ignore the impact alcohol has on our mental health. It dehydrates our bodies and makes our liver work overtime to process the poison. It also reduces our inhibitions and can make arguments or overeating more likely, ultimately leading to self-criticism. As a rule of thumb, drink equal parts water or juice to alcohol, as this will help you to stay hydrated and therefore cope better with stressful situations.
- Have a stopping point: Decide when you will stop your Christmas preparations and start to relax and enjoy the holiday. Work towards this date and try to stick to the goal; even if it’s set for as late as the afternoon of 24th December! Remember that Christmas is your holiday too.
- Christmas cards: If one thing needs to give, it’s spending hours writing Christmas cards to people you don’t communicate with during the rest of the year. Remove the burden by deciding not to send them, donating the money you would have spent on them to charity, and sending generic Christmas wishes out via social media.
- Feel good food: If you are planning on cooking a bird then a turkey or pheasant are great choices as they both contain tryptophan, which our bodies convert into the feel-good chemical serotonin. Other foods that are good for our stress levels are brazil nuts, berries, avocados, and bananas. Nourishing our bodies with good food is a great way to nourish our minds too
- Charity work: Christmas is a horrible time of year for many people, and if you’re able to help in any way this will undoubtedly impact you positively. Being compassionate and doing even one small thing to help others can make a huge difference. Compassion is good for us because it stimulates the soothing part of our brain and is linked to improved emotional regulation among other Have a look here to find out what opportunities are in your local community – https://do-it.org/
- Exercise: Excessive eating and drinking can take its toll on us at Christmas. Exercise both rids our bodies of the stress hormone cortisol and also releases mood-enhancing endorphins – so not only do you release the stress you feel great and a little less guilty. – There could be a local park run in your area even on Christmas day check out their site http://www.parkrun.com/christmas-and-new-year/
I’m not going to say ‘it’s only one day of the year’, because for many Christmas actually equates to weeks of stress and anxiety. Try to utilise a couple of the tips, find your coping strategy and, most importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you drop a few plates. Where possible, focus on the things and people you love. And practice some self-compassion as a Christmas gift to yourself.
Merry Christmas one and all!