Coping with festive stress

christmas dinner with family

It’s December, and that means that the festive season is well and truly here.

A time for children gazing in awe at beautifully wrapped parcels beneath a glittering tree, of gasps as the Christmas turkey is delivered on its platter to the white linen tablecloth and of smiles over glasses of freshly prepared mulled wine.

The reality is that Christmas can be an extremely stressful time, largely because of the pressure we put ourselves under to deliver that ‘perfect’ festive season.

We’ve all seen the movies filled with Christmas joy and cheer and have this idea in our minds of what Christmas should be like. We want to make others happy, be that friends, family or children and so we heap on the pressure to buy the perfect gifts, create the most delicious meals and host the most epic parties.

And the result, inevitably, is that we end up feeling incredibly stressed and don’t engage in the festivities quite as fully as we could.

Stress is all about triggers and patterns. Certain times or experiences, like Christmas or shopping for festive food, can make us feel stressed. We get this rush of cortisol in our system, which is our body’s way of preparing us to get the job done. You might be lying awake at night, heart racing as you mentally run through your to-do list, or see the huge queue to get into the superstore and feel yourself becoming agitated. The thing with stress is, that we also tend to repeat the patterns year in and year out, and after a while, your reaction to Christmas is one of stress.

Recognising triggers and patterns is extremely useful when attempting to better manage stress, as it helps you to identify the times when you are more susceptible to stress. If Christmas is a trigger for you, or if you’ve fallen into a pattern of stressful festive behaviour, then you can make efforts to change things. The first thing to do is to be kind to yourself, and lessen that self-imposed pressure to recreate this unrealistic ideal. Adjust your mind-set, so that instead of being anxious about all of the things you haven’t yet done, focus on what you have. This also applies to what you’ve achieved in the year. Instead of beating yourself up about things you ‘failed’ to do, celebrate the things you did do, however small and silence that inner critic who always focuses on the negative.

Another trigger for many women around the festive season is events, particularly the annual work Christmas party, and this largely centres on confidence and self-esteem. When we feel positive about our appearance we’re assured, happy and positive but when we’re not, an invite to a posh party can be just another thing to feel stressed about. Our first inclination can be to decline, we’re too busy, we couldn’t possibly fit it in, and we think that we are eliminating the stress but in reality we are just avoiding it until next time. Instead of just dismissing invites that come your way in December out of hand, think about why you’re doing it. And if a confidence boost is in order, treat yourself to something new that you feel fabulous in. A new look can do wonders for self-esteem, and actually for reducing stress too.

There is no one way of managing stress. Its literal meaning ‘stringi’, means ‘drawn tight’ and that’s what festive stress can feel like. As if you’re constantly alert and poised, racing through December at the speed of light but liable to snap at any minute.

So this December, do yourself a favour and take some of that pressure off yourself, throw away those unrealistic expectations that you are forcing yourself to comply with and be open to the experiences that the festive season will throw your way. Be in the moment, relax, enjoy and have yourself a very, merry Christmas!

About the author

Stephanie Varda, is a life coach specialising in stress management and image consultancy. Find more about her here.

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