Some little tips to get you through the ‘stress’tive period.

Christmas treeThe endless pattern of life repeats itself, year on year, and here we are again with Christmas approaching inexorably.  For me it is still a wonderful time and no matter how aware you are of the commercialism and the hype, you can’t help but feel excited. It is a time of reconnecting with loved ones; a time of peace, and a time of fun and humour.

Why then, oh why, does it have to be so blooming stressful?

Like so many things in life we get tied up with a few things.  For example:

  • Habits
  • Details
  • Past experiences
  • Expectations

So here are some tips that might help make Christmas a smoother, more enjoyable experience for you and your loved ones.

  1. Habits
    Christmas is by definition a time for traditions: the traditional tree; the traditional cake; the traditional 2 a.m. start with the kids; the traditional bickering. There is a thin line between tradition and habit. Going to Midnight Mass is a tradition for many, even though they may not practice Christianity. Eating too many chocolates and then regretting it for the whole of January is a habit.  If you have an unproductive behaviour that you do every Christmas, just because you have always done it, decide to do something new.  If it’s eating sweets, do a completely different Christmas shop and focus on fruit and nuts for your Christmas picking. If it’s getting drunk at Uncle Gordon’s (or just with a bottle of Gordon’s), visit someone else for a change and invite Uncle Gordon along. If it’s having your mother in law over and feeling like you are walking on egg shells all day, why not let her enjoy Christmas her own way for a change and have a day for just you and your loved ones. What is the worst that can happen?
  2. Details
    As Christmasses come and go, the nitty gritty details of what makes Christmas special can become more and more elaborate and involved. What started as a traditional roast dinner becomes, roast turkey, with chipolatas, and stuffing, and sprouts (that nobody wants) and bread sauce and cranberry and those little baby sweet-corn that Jemima liked when she was 3, at your parent’s house, with hats, crackers and after dinner mints and it has to be finished by the time the Queen does her speech.  Be aware of how complicated things can get. Do those little details really matter? Maybe you could even start with a clean slate now and come up with a completely new format for the day.  Would it be more fun to open the presents in the evening? Could you try beef instead of Turkey? Do you have to use every decoration in the Christmas box this year? Could you try a different country’s Christmas Tradition for a change?
  3. Past experiences
    Does Christmas have some negative past associations attached to it that make it a slightly painful experience even at the best of times?  A death; a family break-up; bad news or a major catastrophe; that happened one Christmas in the past can cast a blight on the whole season.  When you think about it, it stands to reason that some of our bad experiences are likely to have happened at around Christmas time, just on the law of averages. The experience can seem particularly poignant at Christmas because of the contrast between expectations and reality in that particular year.  I am willing to bet that just as many bad things have happened to you in the Summer, or in the month of March as have happened around Christmas Day.  The truth is that Christmas can be whatever you want it to be. Most people can recall some very happy memories at Christmas too.  Why not make a list of a few that you have and resolve to pass those memories on to those around you by sharing them or even recreating them. Make them really vivid in your mind and whenever you recall a negative Christmas experience, turn to one of these memories to contrast and overcome that thought.
  4. Expectations
    The hype and the excitement that leads up to Christmas Day can be so overwhelming, that things can feel a little flat on the day.  After the opening of the presents and the delicious lunch what are you left with, the boxes and wrapping has gone and what is left behind may seem surprisingly little.  There may be a lot of tidying up, washing up and other jobs to be done too.  Experiences always have a more lasting impact on us than things, so rather than blow all that money on expensive toys, high-tech jewellery, gourmet food and luxury crackers, why not consider putting your money together and having a day out, a holiday or going to a special Christmas Event if there is one.
    If you are keeping to the traditional stay at home gift extravaganza then agreeing with your loved ones in advance roughly what you are going to spend on presents may seem a little contrived or mercenary, but you will find that once everybody has got the idea it can bring a sense of relief and security.  There is no longer a need to out-do each-other, and far less disappointment.

When it comes to Christmas life just seems to shift into another gear and so many of our beliefs and values can get in the way of enjoying what was always meant to be a simple time of peace and goodwill.  Don’t let it govern you, take control of it and make it something that you can call special.


Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.

2 Comments on “Some little tips to get you through the ‘stress’tive period.

  1. It’s all very true.

    We started going to a posh hotel in London on Boxing Day for an overnight stay and that always made Xmas more memorable. This also solved the problem of who’s parents to go to for Xmas day Dinner,as my Mother in Law would always get upset if we didn’t go to her house – when quite frankly we would rather stay at home.

    As I get older I am a great believer in doing what we want to do and not trying to please everyone. After all we work all year and don’t go on holidays much anymore and sometimes the only time we get to do as we want is Xmas.

    Thanks Robert. I enjoyed that.

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