The Christmas Survival Guide

Christmas can be a bit like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. I’m in the love it camp, but my husband is not with me…

My husband hates Christmas. He hates being forced to do anything, particularly when it’s forced fun. He hates that it ‘pretends’ to be a holiday (often the first break since summer), when in reality it’s crammed full of more chores and duties than normal.

He hates that you’re meant to just stop and enjoy yourself when it’s his busiest work period of the year (in the beer and pub trade). Despite having more work than usual he’s got less time to get it done. And he has to remain happy and joyful, when he’s actually feeling stressed out and doesn’t have much left to give.

He’d prefer to scrap the whole gift thing entirely and keep them just for birthdays. He hates having to choose presents for himself and not so secretly believes that presents should stop when you get to 16.

He misses how Christmas used to be when you could wake up late, laze around, read the papers, eat and drink to excess and catch up on sleep. There are no lie ins or time off when you have three small kids. And driving around the country to visit relatives with ‘are we nearly there yet’ on repeat in the back seat is not his idea of fun.

He’s not alone. The run up to Christmas and the pressure to be seen having a good time, can mean that for many it’s a long way from ‘the most wonderful time of year’. In fact it can feel a bit like the scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation:

“This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. You’re gonna have fun, and I’m gonna have fun… We’re all gonna have so much f***ing fun we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles!”

It’s not surprising the festive season is often filled with stress and anxiety, rather than wonder and joy. There are so many pressures and demands placed on us to ensure that it’s the best day E.V.E.R.

The logistics of buying gifts and ordering food, seeing everyone, the increased household work. The financial worries about buying so many presents and hosting elaborate meals and celebrations. Stress at the prospect of trying to keep everyone happy and avoid any family arguments. It can leave your mind spinning before you’ve even started.

Added to which you’re out more than usual, eating and drinking to excess and sleeping less. Not exactly a recipe for feeling your best… It can feel impossible just to stop, be present and enjoy it.

So how do you ensure you do enjoy your festive break? Or at least feel less stressed? Here are my five tips for getting through the Christmas period and ensuring you have some fun:

Think about the pressures you’re placing on yourself

Although some people do have significant problems in their life or difficulties to contend with, more often than not, we create much of our Christmas related stress ourselves. Whilst it might be tricky to do much about all the external pressures (buying presents, cooking, seeing people), you are in charge of the pressures you place on yourself.

These internal demands (‘I’m going to give the kids their dream Christmas’, ‘Christmas lunch is going to have ALL the trimmings’, ‘there will be no family arguments’), are responsible for the majority of the anxiety we feel. If you set yourself ridiculously high standards, it can be very hard to meet them and will leave you little room to enjoy yourself in the process.

Christmas memories are not made on a tidy house or a perfect lunch. It’s about shared experiences and fun times together – hard to achieve when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed. Avoid creating excessive stress and anxiety to ensure you have a good time:

  • Don’t set the bar too high on what you expect for yourself – it’s much better to have realistic expectations about what you want from this time together.
  • Choose a couple of things that are important to you and for the rest,  either: scale back, delegate or let go
  • Try to keep perspective: One thing going wrong doesn’t ruin the whole of Christmas. Banish ‘what if’s  (what if the turkey burns, what if people argue…)

Get started early

Although you might not be able to get rid of the external pressures placed on you, give yourself the best chance of enjoying Christmas by getting as much done as you can in advance. Instead of procrastinating or ignoring your mental list of jobs, deal with them (so you don’t find yourself in the mayhem of your local shopping centre on Christmas Eve).

Breaking down what you need to do (get Christmas sorted) into smaller chunks (buy gifts, do food order, plan Father Christmas visit) gives you a do-able plan:

  • Write down everything you need to do
  • For the bigger things, break them into smaller more manageable chunks
  • Plan when you’re going to do each item on your list and write it into your diary so you’re more accountable
  • Tick them off as you go and let yourself feel smug for completing each task

Notice the Good

In the busyness and stress of Christmas it can be easy to focus on the things we’re unhappy with or finding difficult, but there are also so many great things happening. It’s important to remember you have a choice in where you direct your attention – putting effort into thinking about our positive experiences, no matter how small, can really help psychological wellbeing.

The more you notice the more you see. So instead of waiting to be appreciated by others this Christmas, be your own cheerleader:

  • Keep track of all your achievements
  • Really notice anything that happens that makes you smile or feel good
  • Spend 5-10 mins at the end of each day reflecting on all the good stuff and give them the attention they deserve

Don’t compare

We’re always drawing comparisons, it’s human nature. We have a drive to evaluate ourselves – our attitudes, abilities and beliefs – and to do this we often compare ourselves to others. It can have a big effect on how we feel and whilst it’s not all bad (e.g. motivating us to do better, when we look up to others), if you’re constantly comparing yourself to those you perceive as better off, then it’s likely to leave you feeling pretty awful.

This Christmas, try not to fall into the comparison trap:

  • Be aware of comparing how you’re feeling inside with what others show you on the outside.
  • On social media, in magazines at parties, people show you their best bits, but it’s not the whole story. You never know what’s really going on underneath the surface
  • Make gratitude your attitude and appreciate what you have

Be kind to yourself and give yourself a break

It can be easy to become so focussed on everyone else that you forget to think about what you need. If you want to be at your best, you need to ensure you look after yourself and take time out. You’re not going to be much good to everyone else if you’re exhausted and on edge (we all know the saying you can’t pour from an empty cup).

Time out doesn’t need to be big – sit down for a cup of tea, go for a walk, listen to your favourite song, ask your partner to take the kids out for an hour. Try to plan it in in advance as you’ll be more likely to stick to it. And remember:

  • It’s ok to say no – you don’t have to say yes to everything you’re asked to do
  • No-one is going to give you a medal for doing everything yourself
  • Accept help when offered – or ask if it’s not!

You’ve put all the hard work in, count down complete and it’s now the big day – if you don’t manage anything else, just remember your kids will have an amazing time. See the day through their eyes; for them, no matter what you do, it really is the most wonderful time of year.

As for my husband… don’t get him started on New Year’s Eve.

Originally written for and posted on Parent Apparel


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