Your Stress-Free Christmas step-by-step
Yes, Christmas is supposed to be the merriest time of the year. Yet the individual stress and peer-pressure can be extremely high! We all have high expectations about what Christmas is going to look like this year, in terms of food, interactions, gifts, experiences… and for four weeks before, and for the same number of weeks after Christmas, people keep asking “What are your plans for Christmas this year? What did you do for Christmas this year?”. Very often, despite the decorations, mulled wine and treats, we are not at our merriest ourselves.
This year, I decided to support you with easy steps you can follow to make sure that (if you want!) you experience a stress-free Christmas, or at least feel calmer before and during the festive season.
I have identified 2 types of stress factors we usually experience over Christmas (among many others I’m sure) that I will cover in this article: the usual Christmas stressors (preparing, cooking, socialising…) and the relationships’ stressors (conversations, comments, behaviour…). Let’s have a look at how you can overcome these stress factors and implement some wellbeing.
For the overall Christmas stresses: So many things to get ready for, so many gifts to buy with a limited budget and not a single idea, so much food in front of you repeatedly, so many people to see and fit in… How could you remain MERRY among all this? Grab a pen and a piece of paper and follow these steps:
Step 1: Identify the stress factors: What do you find the most stressful over Christmas? Having too many socials? Trying to fit more in? Buying gifts? Eating too much? Write down your top 3 concerns.
Step 2: Identify your healthy coping mechanisms to stress (your ways of wellbeing): what do you usually do throughout the year to overcome stress in a healthy way? Do you go for walks, chat with a friend, have a coffee on your own in a nice café in Leeds…? Try to identify something that makes you smile, relax or not look at your phone, and you’ll be on the right track for a way of wellbeing! If you are struggling to identify your personal coping mechanisms, you can find inspiration using our Wellbeing Clinic framework with our 7 ways of wellbeing. Write these ways of wellbeing down too.
Step 3: Learn to say ‘no’. What is usually dragging your time, energy and mental space at Christmas? Is there anything you want to say ‘no’ to? As hard as it might sound, you can see this in a positive way: saying ‘no’ to one thing (another social for instance) is the opportunity for you to say ‘yes’ to one of your way of wellbeing (a walk in the park). Write down what you are planning to say ‘no’ to this Christmas.
Step 4: Decide when you will implement time for yourself over the Christmas period: Now you have said ‘no’ to something, you have more room to look after yourself. Making sure that you implement some me-time for your wellbeing, will prevent you from reacting in a way you might regret afterward. And even during a time-scarce season (Christmas or not), it is key for you to put yourself on the to-do list as well. When will your me-time, your social with yourself, be this Christmas? Now write down in your calendar when you decided to experience your wellbeing time.
Step 5: Explore the ‘grey zones’: If you find it too challenging to make time for yourself, you might need to explore the ‘grey zones’. There are many options between saying ‘yes’ to 3 socials a day and saying ‘no’ to everything. Why not trying to gather people from 2 socials together for instance? That would be 1 less social for you (and room for sleep or one of your ways of wellbeing) and most likely a great time for everyone. The more, the merrier, right? It’s Christmas after all!
And now let’s focus on our relationships’ special: We spend time with our loved ones and yet sometimes it does not go as planned, we overreact, we regret it, but it’s too late...
Step 1: Identify your triggers and unwanted reactions: what makes you react in a way that you regret afterward, in a way that can harm others but most importantly can harm yourself? Is it a comment, a situation, a conversation, a person? Identify those and write them down. Awareness is the first step! One of my own triggers, for instance, is tiredness: I get very tired over Christmas getting from one social gathering to the other, drinking and eating more than usual, having to pretend everything is fine while it might not be… and one of my reactions is sometimes to be very sharp in my spontaneous comments with loved ones. I instantly regret it, feel guilty, but the harm is done.
Step 2: Decide to replace your usual reaction with the one you have decided on beforehand. Once you have identified your reactions and the triggers, try to decide before the situation occurs (now!) on the reaction you would like to have instead. In the example I just gave, my ideal reaction would be to remain silent and smile or make a joke to change the topic. The fact that I have identified the trigger and decided on that desired reaction already makes me more likely to react the way I want to! The underlying technique here is that if you cannot change a situation that you find stressful, try to change your reaction to it. In one of my workshops lately, one attendee told me that one of the best parts of Christmas for him was to have his father around. Yet one of the worst parts of Christmas is having his father around too! Not helping out, waiting to be served as the guest of honour from breakfast to tea, and commenting on everything he does! His set of options to change the situation are limited: he does not want to not have his father around during Christmas, and an upfront conversation would trigger a storm reaction (he knows!). However, he realised he could change his reaction to this stress factor: instead of sighing, raising eyebrows and building long-lasting resentment, whenever his father asks for an extra cup of tea, he can kindly suggest him to help himself. Here again, there is a ‘grey zone’ that is worth exploring.
Please remember that it is all about incremental change: one change at a time. If you have identified many stress factors and many triggers, try to change only one reaction or implement one wellbeing way this year. It would most likely be very difficult to change everything at once***, so think about the one that is the most important to you, write it down and keep it visible and in your mind throughout the Christmas season. You got this!
***Oh, and it is the same for new year’s resolution: it never works because we try to change everything all at once. Maybe in 2020 you might want to try to change one thing at a time too, or one thing per quarter? Incremental is the new black!
See you next year!
Love and snowflakes,
Side note: Christmas can be very lonely for many people as well (see article in the Yorkshire Post on loneliness in Leeds). Look out, check on neighbours, especially young people, elderly people, and single parents, and why not invite them along generously? If you want to know more about loneliness in Leeds, here is a list of resources on Mindwell’s website.