Here we provide 6 tips for managing Christmas stress that will help you let go of overwhelm and get the most out of the festive season.
Traditionally, Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill. But for many it can also be a source of stress and anxiety.
The continuing challenges of Covid have potential to exacerbate this stress and pressure. Renewed fears about potential restrictions to our freedom to travel and to hold social gatherings may make it hard to truly feel the joy of Christmas this year.
6 tips for managing Christmas stress
As we continue to experience high levels of uncertainty, our personal resources are stretched. Many of us feel close to burnout. After the year we’ve had and with Christmas around the corner we may be placing additional pressure on ourselves to make it extra special. As we raise our expectations and try to make everything perfect, the more we tend to overfocus on what might go wrong.
1. Soothe negative emotions
Feelings of stress and overwhelm can take over our brains and bodies and make it hard for us to function as normal.
So our first tip for managing Christmas stress is to learn to calm these reactions. You can do this by using strategies to soothe sympathetic nervous system arousal. A useful technique to try is slow rhythmic breathing. This skill takes practise. But once learned you can use it in a whole host of situations that might cause you to feel stressed or overwhelmed.
To try out this technique:
- Breathe in slowly over a count of 4 seconds
- Breathe out for a longer count of 6 seconds
- Pause at the end of the out-breath
2. Be kind to yourself
Being kind to ourselves and building self-compassion is about being sensitive to our own suffering and trying to alleviate it.
Caring about how we feel and noticing when we are struggling, feeling overwhelmed, anxious or stressed is the first step. When we notice these feelings it can be too easy to launch into self-criticism. This only makes us feel worse and can create a vicious circle of negativity that fuels further stress.
Practising mindfulness can help. In particular this loving-kindness mindfulness meditation will help you to focus in on and grow your feelings of self-compassion. This helps to stimulate parasympathetic nervous system arousal, leading to feelings of relaxation and calm.
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3. Notice and savour positive experiences
Noticing and savouring positive emotions is another way to boost parasympathetic nervous system arousal. This allows us to feel calm safe and relaxed. And this can soothe the sympathetic nervous system arousal linked to stress and anxiety.
We experience many of our positive emotions in relation to other people. Taking time to connect with loved ones, savour experiences we have shared or anticipate good things, helps to build positive emotions. Expressing gratitude or sharing support and kindness has been shown to boost positive emotions and resilience both in the moment and over the longer term.
You could try writing down three good things that you notice every day. Or take a moment to savour positive emotions such as hope, joy or love when you experience them.
Schedule time each day to take a step back from the hubbub of Christmas preparation to do something you enjoy. Doing things we find interesting builds our connection to positive emotions such as interest, pride or amusement.
4. Take the pressure off
The pressure we put on ourselves around Christmas, the exacting standards to make everything perfect and the multiple tasks we add into our already overloaded schedule can take their toll. It is too easy to set our standards overly high and then beat ourselves up for not achieving them. Recognising when we are doing this, and learning to take charge of our negative thinking can help.
Learning to think flexibly and to explain negative events in more optimistic ways helps us to gain perspective and take appropriate, measured action to manage the pressures we put on ourselves.
5. Spend time with loved ones
When you come down to it, Christmas is not about the presents, the food, the spending and the sparkle. Christmas is about connecting with others – our friends, family or people in our community. Ironically, we put so much emphasis on getting the other things right that we can easily forget the importance of strong, supportive and reciprocal relationships for our resilience and wellbeing.
Sharing our concerns or fears with loved ones or trusted friends helps to calm sympathetic nervous system arousal. This helps us to think more clearly and to problem-solve. And this can buffer us against stress.
Our ability to communicate and interact with others has been severely restricted through the pandemic. Of our six tips for managing Christmas stress connecting with others is perhaps the most important. We need to find new ways to give and receive support, particularly if social distancing measures are brought back in.
6. Take regular breaks
Often stress during the festive season comes from feelings of overwhelm. There’s just too much to do and not enough time to do it. So it can be easy to forego breaks in favour of getting things done. But when we do this we end up being less productive and more stressed. It becomes harder to make decisions and can draw out the process, leading to more overwhelm as the jobs pile up around us.
Giving yourself time to rest and scheduling down time is key to managing Christmas stress. Taking time out to relax, talking to a friend or watching a Christmas movie may feel indulgent but will pay dividends as we will feel more energised as a result.
Putting the 6 tips for managing Christmas stress into action
Take a few moments to reflect on which of these tips might be useful to you. Perhaps there are some skills that you have used before, and others that are new. Think about what you need to do now, today, to take action. What will help you do so? See if you can enlist the help of a friend, write a pros and cons list or schedule the action in your calendar.