It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but also can be the most stressful. Whether you are planning a big Christmas this year or something more intimate, you are not alone if you are feeling the pressure to make it perfect.
Every year people get into debt buying food, drink, and presents in an attempt to keep the magic of Christmas alive. Social media has added an undeniable element of competition to the festive period. It has brought about pricey new traditions such as high budget advent calendars, matching pyjamas, Christmas Eve boxes, and every parent’s worst nightmare – Elf on the Shelf.
The Pressure To Create a Magical Christmas
Every year we imagine that the festive period will be filled with families building gingerbread houses, making wreaths, heading out to Christmas parties, adorning our loved ones with gifts, decorating the tree, and cooking the perfect Christmas dinner. This glamourised image is rarely the reality.
The pressure to create the perfect Christmas for our children can often weigh heavy. However, it is important to remind ourselves that children have fewer expectations at Christmas. They rarely care about Christmas dinner (especially the Brussel sprouts). They often don’t like Christmas pudding or fruitcake, and they definitely don’t notice the washing up pile. Children love the magic of discovering that Father Christmas has been, they want to be with the people they love, to rip the wrapping paper off presents (whatever their value), and play.
Adults can feel harder to cater for. However, most just want a relaxed day with family, food, and an ample supply of wine. We often feel like we have to prepare a near Michelin star meal, with perfectly wrapped presents, free-flowing champagne, and nibbles circling through the house. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that our family so rarely have these expectations of us. A few well-thought-out gifts, a dinner that isn’t burnt and time together is always more than enough.
Try to be kind to yourself, trying to make Christmas perfect for everyone can quickly make you stressed or anxious.
How To Spot Signs Of Stress
While everyone might react differently, these are some of the signs that you may be feeling stressed:
- Having trouble sleeping
- Feeling short-tempered and irritable
- Crying more easily than normal
- Feeling overwhelmed or panicked
- Not being able to concentrate
- Feeling restless
- Over or under eating
If you regularly experience high levels of stress then you might find it beneficial to have counselling.
How To Make Christmas Less Stressful:
We all want to buy everyone the perfect gift, but it really is the thought that counts. If there are a large number of adults to buy for, it’s worth suggesting a Secret Santa. This way, you only need to buy for one person each. If this suggestion isn’t popular, try setting a spending limit per person.
Ask your children to write their wish list, but make it clear that it is just that – a wish list and that they won’t be getting everything on it. It is no secret that children love the idea of getting lots of presents. However, they often have too many and they rarely all get played with.
Plan your food for the festive season and if possible book a food delivery. If this isn’t possible, divide your list into the food that you can buy in advance and what needs to be bought closer to the day.
Try and be flexible though, a Christmas dinner often contains a large number of different foods and people don’t eat much of each one. It won’t ruin the day if you are missing a particular vegetable, even if it is the sprouts. If you end up with a chicken instead of a turkey, or your potatoes are cooked in olive oil rather than goose fat, the world won’t end – we promise.
Everyone has expectations about Christmas Day, whether it is when the presents can be opened or how much time teens should spend talking with the guests before disappearing in front of their screens. It is worth discussing these expectations in advance. Setting boundaries and agreeing on expectations can help to reduce conflict on the day.
If you have a difficult history with a family member, try to limit the time you spend together. We’d also recommend surrounding yourself with those in your family who you trust.
If there are conversations you are worried about having, try clearing the air beforehand by talking in advance. It could be helpful to meet in a more relaxed environment before Christmas, in an attempt to resolve the situation.
Make a rough plan for the day
Make a rough plan of times for Christmas Day, especially key cooking times. However, try to see this as a guide, and not set in stone. The cooking and resting window of food has some flexibility. A turkey won’t go from undercooked to ruined in 20 minutes if you get distracted. Stuffing isn’t going to be inedible if it has to sit on the side for half an hour, and the Queen really won’t notice if you miss her speech at 3pm.
Planning everything down to the last detail (and sticking to it) is going to make you more stressed.
Go for a walk
It’s important to give yourself a break when you start to feel stressed, even on Christmas Day. A quick 10-minute walk will help you to feel better, and make everything easier to cope with. Or, if you can’t leave the house then try hiding away for a short yoga session or meditation.
When it feels like can’t go for a walk on your own, try suggesting a family walk. Especially if the atmosphere is starting to feel tense. Often leaving the space where the tension is building is an effective way to stop conflict before it takes hold. The change of air and pace can often sober up family members, give children a chance to blow off some steam, and help you to avoid the family member with differing political views.
Whether you love being the host or you take on the role reluctantly, you should be part of the day. If you are in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun, you are likely to feel resentful. Get people involved in helping, whether it’s peeling potatoes or washing up. Bring the party to the kitchen, or minimise what needs doing during the day so that you can be involved more with family.
If you need any extra support to know how to handle stress at Christmas, to learn how to deal with conflict, or to process your inner perfectionist we are here to help. At Hope Therapy, we have a vast range of therapists. Our therapists are here to help you cope with the stress, and to feel some of that Christmas magic again.
Owner and lead counsellor of Hope Therapy & Counselling Services. Ian draws upon various approaches including CBT, Person-Centred Counselling and Mindfulness.
To book a session with Ian or one of the Hope Team, just get in touch.