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A Christmas without Stress

 

by Jenny Gould
Limited Edition - Oxford Times. (December 2006)

Here we are again, Christmas in looming and for many of us that means lots of stress, hard work and worry. We’re busy for weeks before the actual holiday, drive ourselves into the ground and then wonder what happened to the fun!

Why do we put ourselves under this pressure if it makes us feel bad and leaves us so exhausted that we don’t enjoy the festivities? Who are we doing it for anyway – ourselves, other people, or perhaps we don’t even know? And what do we think really matters at Christmas time?

‘Be perfect’  In my work I come across lots of people (especially women) who are driven by the need to be perfect. The problem is that’s an impossible goal - human beings aren’t perfect, not even you! When we try to be perfect we set ourselves up for failure, but by accepting that good enough is in fact good enough we give ourselves permission to be like everyone else – fallible! AND we’re often so keen to please others that we forget completely about our own needs – about our responsibility to ourselves. This isn’t about being selfish. If we compromise our own health and well-being what good are we to others anyway? And what message does that give to our children about self-care and self-respect?

Listen out for that little voice saying ‘I must’…’I have to’…’I should’…’I ought to’…, then challenge those thoughts. Ask yourself is it really so important. Will it really be ‘awful’ if you can’t afford the latest electronic toy for little Ben? Make a decision right now to regain some perspective. After all did you get everything you wanted as a child – I hope not!

Expectations.  There’s a ‘perfect’ Christmas fantasy inside each of us I suspect. For me Christmas should really be like the opening scenes of Disney’s ‘The Lady and the Tramp’ – virgin snow, big house, happy warm loving people, perfectly wrapped presents, beautiful decorations, a log fire…etc.. But for most of us these are indeed childhood fantasies – not reality. Mind you that’s not to say we can’t take pleasure in those images – as long as we don’t feel cheated in some way when they don’t match the real thing. If you’re having a family Christmas why not talk with everyone about how you would all like Christmas to be. What do you all want out of it? Talk about having some fun - get ideas, maybe get one person to be responsible for that side of things.

Delegate – discuss how each person can help with the jobs. Make a list and then ask them for their suggestions as to who does what. That will get everyone (even the young ones) involved in the planning and will help to take the pressure off you. Just make it clear you aren’t doing it all! Good, honest communication is key to avoiding stress.

Looking after yourself will help build up your resilience to stress. Try to get plenty of sleep in the lead up to and over the Christmas holiday. Get plenty of exercise (walking is a great way to beat stress), eat good nutritious food and don’t skip meals. Drink lots of water - it’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re busy (or drinking alcohol!). Do make a commitment to some ‘me’ time. Put on a relaxation CD or some relaxing music, curl up with a good book, have a long soak in the bath – whatever helps you to relax. And try not to over-commit to social engagements – think before saying yes to things rather than overstretch yourself. Be realistic. And laugh - go to a pantomime, watch a funny DVD, phone a friend!

What are your stress ‘triggers’? Be aware of situations that make you feel tense, and tune in to your body so that you notice when tension is beginning to build. Are you shoulders or jaw feeling tight, have you got back-ache or a headache? Or are you feeling tearful, irritated or moody? The most important thing about stress is to stop it from building up. By taking time (even a few moments) to relax you can really reduce that build-up. I promise you it works -you just need to DO it!

Keep things in perspective.  If things don’t go well, remember we all feel disappointed or let down sometimes. Families can be difficult and arguments are common at Christmas. Don’t encourage too much imbibing of the Christmas spirit, arguments flare-up more easily when people are ‘merry’. And don’t assume everyone is having a better time than you – the chances are they aren’t!! Try counting your blessings – there are always others less fortunate than you. And if dinner is late or overcooked, never mind – that’s life! Anyway it’s all over in a flash when it comes down to it!

We’ve said a lot about families, but what if you’re on your own at Christmas? If you find yourself feeling lonely, why not give someone a call? And if you don’t feel like going out and meeting people then stay at home and pamper yourself. It’s a holiday after all – treat it as such.

So take time for fun and laughter and celebration. Keep it light-hearted and you’ll enjoy the festivities – imperfections and all!!