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  • Sharon Cole

Beating Christmas Stress & Anxiety



With Christmas fast approaching and a huge list of things to get done, we can often feel like our to do list has a life of its own and our anxiety leaves us doing nothing instead. Do you find yourself barking at the kids, getting road rage more than usual or simply waiting for your head to explode with a never-ending list of things to do? Then you are probably feeling overwhelmed, and you are definitely not alone.

I’ll be honest with you, I always dread December just a little bit. Maybe dread is a little too strong, but there is always a little anxiety in the air as I worry about how much there is to do in so little time. Between Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, writing cards, putting up decorations, planning family dinners, visits to Santa and social events all on top of my normal routine stuff and work, it’s no wonder all I want to is put on my pyjama’s and take a nap!

First of all, take a deep breath and remember the festive period can be an overwhelming and stressful time for most people, and with the added pressure of trying to please everyone, it’s no wonder you might be starting to feel the stresses and strains.

Women also find it harder to relax over the holiday season, with 44% of women more likely to feel stressed around Christmas time compared to 31% of men. The women surveyed said they had a harder time relaxing as they were more likely to take on tasks such as shopping, cooking and cleaning.

Stress as we know, is linked to a long list of health issues from digestive flare-ups to a lowered immune system to heart disease. Christmas should be a time to unwind and spend quality time with family and friends, but it’s hard to do when you are frazzled and exhausted, so make sure your self-care is at the top of your priority list.

Here are 9 simple ways to reduce the Christmas stress, get organised, and stop that overwhelming feeling from taking over.

1. Don’t forget to breathe – Ever noticed how when you are stressed, your breaths are short and shallow? Stop and take a minute to concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths. Allow the calmness of the breath to take over each cell in your body, breathing in lightness and energy with the in breath, and releasing tension with every out breath.

You can practice this anywhere … at your desk, waiting for your train, standing in the queue at the supermarket, whenever you notice yourself tensing, just focus on your breathing.

If you have trouble focusing and find yourself worrying about your mountain of tasks, try breath counting. This is a relaxation technique that will keep your thoughts from wandering too far off. Sitting comfortably with your eyes closed, take a few deep breaths, then settle into your “normal” breathing. When you exhale, count “one.” The next time, count “two.” Do this until you have exhaled (and counted to) five, then start the count again. Don’t count past five, and if you lose count, start again at one. You’ll be surprised at how much concentration it will take to keep yourself on count.

2. Stay mindful to the needs of your body – your body needs to stay hydrated to keep you going. Water clears the brain fog, keeps you alert and energised, and also helps to maintain clear skin and a healthy weight. It will also stop you over eating and reduce the hangover from the Christmas party, so always keep a bottle of water handy.

Also remember to eat well, and watch those sneaky calories. There is nothing more disheartening than standing on the scales in January to find you have undone all your hard work this year, but equally, it can be really hard to stick to a rigid diet, so be kind to yourself, and mindful of what you are eating and drinking.

Festive Lattes are a good example of those extra calories sneaking into your day. They might taste amazing, but they can add an extra 500 calories per drink. That’s a whopping 3,500 calories a week, and a 4lb weight gain in just one month.

In order to combat this, be more mindful of your eating habits and purchases. Don’t over buy, shop for need and not to stock the cupboards with enough chocolate biscuits to last you till Spring. Drink plenty of water as staying hydrated will keep you feeling fuller for longer and stop you overeating. Slow down, chew slowly, and allow your brain time to realise when you’ve eaten enough. And finally, avoid the cocktails and mulled wine, which are full of sugar. Opt for white wine instead which is just 85 calories per glass.

3 Prioritise your to do list – is all of it really 100% necessary? Ask yourself what’s really important to you and what feels like it’s an obligation or a tradition? If you didn’t have homemade mince pies for Santa this year would anyone notice?

Last year I delegated Christmas cards to my husband, giving me more time to spend wrapping. So, ask yourself this year, who are the important people, and ditch the traditional cards for the rest, or send e-cards instead which are eco-friendlier too!

Is there anything you can delegate or scrap completely this year? The kids can help to put the tree up (not to your standard maybe, but they’ll have fun anyway). Many people offer free gift wrapping services, so take advantage and tick another thing off the list. If you are hosting a party, ask everyone to bring a dish with them. Think about who can help and don’t be afraid to ask.

4 It’s ok to say No – there are so many social occasions at this time of year, that’s it’s difficult to find some me time to just chill out and recharge your batteries. Learn to prioritise, and what to say no to. And when you say No, mean No.

It’s ok to decline some party invitations. Only say yes to meaningful events that focus on bringing the whole family together. Keep gatherings small, with a few of your closest friends and relatives, and save the big blowout parties for later in the year when you have less things competing for your time and energy.

It’s ok to be honest, you can say ‘I’m so grateful for the lovely invite, but I’m just too busy/fully booked/need a night off’. Your family and friends want you to be happy and relaxed at this time of year too.

5. Limit the expensive traditions – if you are dragging the family to see the ‘Nutcracker’ again this year because it’s family tradition, but the kids are whining, is it really necessary? Firstly, kids want your time, so start a new tradition such as Christmas Eve cookie making together instead. Secondly, it’ll give your bank balance a break and ensure you are not paying for Christmas well into the new year, and thirdly, you’ll have the time to do the things that are really important to you and you family.

6. Keep the daily rituals – if you like to read before bed, or take a hot bath after work, don’t give these up in favour of another chore on your list. These daily rituals are what makes you feel human again after a long day, help you to de-stress and leave you feeling calmer.

So, don’t let the mountain of tasks keep you from activities that make you feel healthy, rested and relaxed. Make time (without the guilt) to do something for yourself – put that exercise class on the calendar, just as you would any other event, and if someone asks you to do something, well, you’re busy!

7. Planning is key – There is nothing more overwhelming and stressful than leaving things to the last minute, then rushing around to get it all done and staying up till midnight on Christmas Eve getting everything wrapped. Let’s face it, we know Christmas is at the same time every year, and although we moan about the shops putting Christmas things out earlier and earlier, there are advantages to planning ahead.

Gifts can be purchased all year round. Put a list together in your phone or your diary of who you usually buy for. As you are out and about during the year, if you see something they would love, get it and put it away for Christmas. This has two big advantages; Firstly, you are not panicking for ideas at the last minute, and secondly, you spread the cost over the year so December’s wages are not used up in Christmas presents (causing financial stress). Just remember to update your list, otherwise you may forget what you already have, and buy it again!

8. Wrap as you go – avoid the late-night Christmas Eve wrapping fest that makes your eyes blurry and your back ache. Plan a wrapping station. I use the dining room table as a temporary gift-wrapping station where I have everything I need to hand (paper, pens, tape, labels, ribbon, scissors etc.) and then wrap as I go. Yes, your table drives you crazy for a few weeks, but when I take my time, the task doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

9. Experiences not things – if financial worries are stressing you out at Christmas, remember that experiences can be better options than shop bought gifts. Most adults I know have all the things they need, but a day of free baby-sitting, or their favourite home cooked meal can show how much you care without costing a penny.

Think about homemade gifts? Try knitting a new beanie, making cookies, a scrapbook photo album, or a special playlist. None of these costs a lot to do, but will be well received as a thoughtful and unique idea made with love.

The way you spend Christmas is far more important than how much

Sharon Cole

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