Remember those wonderfully long school Christmas holidays you enjoyed as a child, full of lazy days playing and swimming, friends and treasures from Santa, with not a care in the world? Unfortunately, though, as grown-ups it’s a bit more complicated. It can be all-too easy to take on responsibility for everyone’s happiness, and it can feel as if there are so many things to do – write and mail dozens of cards, buy and wrap gifts, decorate, organise, shop, plan menus, cook, clean, entertain... Yikes!
Bring back the magic
If you’ve reached the point where your reaction to Christmas has gone from ‘bring it on’ to ‘please, make it stop!’ and you wish you could recapture the old magic, the good news is that it’s well within your power. By rethinking your approach and altering the way you respond in certain situations, you can bring about positive change. The smallest shift can make a huge difference when it comes to zapping that seasonal stress and reviving the Christmas spirit, even when times are tough.
First, you need to change the old narrative. You know the voice in your head that insists you strive to be all things to all people at all times? Well, you can’t, and trying to will royally mess you up! Let go of this notion and so much stress will simply up and leave the building.
Lessen your load
• If you sense that things are spiralling out of control, stop and ask yourself: ‘Am I my own worst enemy?’. Think about what you could change to halt the chaos. Do you sabotage your own best efforts by taking on too much, by saying yes when you’re already operating at full capacity and by never asking for help?
• It’s okay to say no. Whether it’s a party invitation or a request to whip up three dozen cupcakes and 25 sets of reindeer ears for the school play, if it induces panic, don’t automatically say yes. Practise saying something like this: ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I can’t this time. I’ve committed to something else.’. Then give yourself permission to walk away, guilt-free, knowing you already go above and beyond.
When the going gets tough
If you’re dealing with the pain of loss, serious illness, divorce or other misfortune, it can be extremely difficult to set it aside in order to live up to an idealistic vision of how things are supposed to be. The truth is, sometimes life is not always great and it’s important to acknowledge sadness or strife.
Make the most of it
• Let go of the ideal and look at Christmas as just another day. If you don’t put up a tree, spend a fortune on gifts or prepare a banquet, life will go on. By toning down your expectations, you will cut yourself a little much-needed slack.
• As painful as it is missing someone close who has died, try to honour their memory by trusting that they wouldn’t want you to be sad. Talk openly about them and share fond memories with others who knew and loved them.
• If the kids are splitting their time between divorced parents, keep stress to a minimum by making sure that everyone is clear about the arrangements, and by remaining civil.
• If you’re lonely and seeking companionship around this time of year, why not find out what’s happening in your local community? You may able to find somewhere to volunteer.
• Being short on funds can be extremely stressful, especially when there are kids involved. So concentrate on creating Christmas traditions rather than overindulging with expensive presents. Check out discount stores, which are great for picking up cheap toys and games. Bake together, make crafts and even consider visiting a homeless shelter or soup kitchen to teach your children about compassion for others.
Rethink gift giving
When budgets are tight, you don’t know what to get people, you run out of time to scour the shops or you feel obliged to buy for the sake of it, stress happens!
Buy yourself time
• Agree to buy for the kids only, and stick to a pre-agreed budget. I Consider a secret Santa draw for the adults in the family, where everyone picks one name from a hat and buys a gift for that person only. Set a price limit and make it even easier by asking people to include a wish list. This way, everyone has something to open and no-one stresses about what to get Aunty Em, who already has everything that opens and shuts.
• Instead of swapping gifts with close friends, why not start a pre-Christmas spa day tradition or get-together for a special meal out? Since it’s sometimes so difficult to sync schedules, this can be considered as a precious gift of togetherness that becomes something you can look forward to all year.
• Shop online to avoid crowds and car park mayhem, and let the presents be delivered right to your door. And, thankfully, the internet is open all night!
New rules of the feast
If you’ve always been the chief cook and bottle washer but it’s wearing a bit thin, it’s time to hone your delegation skills.
Share the responsibility
• Ask everyone who’s coming to pitch in. Whether that’s bringing a dish with them or slinging on an apron when they arrive, it’s a fun way to lighten the load. Kitchens are fabulous places for fostering bonds that can last for a lifetime.
• Book a restaurant or plan a picnic. Look, Ma, no dishes!
Difficult family dynamics
Most families have their version of trouble waiting to happen at this time of year. Agitators looking for a row, chronic complainers, those who don’t get on at the best of times and others who tend to enjoy ‘refreshments’ a little too much. Sure, it creates memories, but probably not quite the kind you were hoping for!
Live and let live
• Instead of taking the bait, why not try to engage? If your mother-in-law starts complaining about the ‘tough’ turkey again, ask her if she could share her cooking tips with you. You may discover that the real issue is she just misses those days when she was running the show. Involving any disgruntled folk, whatever the problem, can often neutralise tension.
• Make a decision to simply forgive and move past any old indiscretions and arguments. In the true spirit of Christmas, and with the knowledge that life is short, it’s a great gift to give yourself.
And as for those cards...
Do you know what would happen if you didn’t send a single Christmas card this year? Nothing! As lovely as they are, if cards bring you undue stress, resolve right now to cross them off your to-do list. Done!