RIGHT NOW IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR
But you still have to juggle those family commitments, work deadlines, crowded shops, disappearing bank balances and the nagging pressure to catch up for a festive drink with pretty much everyone you’ve ever met. Is it any wonder that, according to research by AXA PPP healthcare, a third of us reach Christmas Day feeling totally wiped out from the stress of the lead-up? “For many people, the anticipation and enjoyment of Christmas is overshadowed by stress, exhaustion and illness,” says Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services for AXA PPP. “Far too many of us fall ill over the Christmas break and miss out on the opportunity to relax with friends and family.” But is there really anything you can do to reduce your festive stress levels? Actually, there’s heaps…
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1 Know you’re enough
Or to put it another way: stop putting so much pressure on yourself. “Write ‘I am enough’ wherever you’ll see it – on your mirror in lipstick, inside your diary, as a screensaver on your phone – and keep saying it to yourself,” suggests therapist Marisa Peer. “We try so hard to make Christmas perfect, but the people who strive to make everything perfect are the unhappiest people in the world. Let other people worry about having the stunning decorations, exquisitely wrapped gifts and stylish table settings while you focus on having a fun, happy day filled with warmth. Switch your goal from ‘perfect’ to ‘enough’ and you’ll find that festive stress will be much easier to sidestep.”
2 Keep things in perspective Easier said than done?
The trick is to grab a pen and paper, says NLP coach Tam Johnston. “Draw a line to represent a year in your life and mark on it the time you’ll be celebrating Christmas. Notice the proportions. It’s a tiny dot compared to the rest of the year. You can handle that small amount of time and make it the best experience possible. Now, in your mind’s eye, fast-forward to the time when the celebrations are over. Imagine looking back on those few days, having now got through them successfully. Now you can rewind to the present, knowing you have that feeling to look forward to.”
3 Prioritise you
Calendar starting to fill up with Christmas get-togethers? Stop right there! No matter how appealing these invitations might seem now, you’ll be heading for burnout if you don’t factor in time to rest and relax. Instead, prioritise self-care to ensure you enjoy yourself and don’t get sick. Accepting two out of three invitations and feeling great, rather than going to all three parties and feeling stressed and worn-out, is clearly the better option.
4 Listen to your body
It’s that annual dilemma: do you let your usual fitness regimen slip over the silly season or do you do your best to stick to it? “If you feel missing a workout will add to your stress levels, make it a priority,” says personal trainer Callum Melly. “Exercise is a form of stress relief, after all. But if you feel you could do with a break, allow yourself a week off to make the most of Christmas. As long as you have the willpower to pick up again, a few days won’t matter.” Of course, taking time out from the norm doesn’t mean you can’t exercise at all. Use the opportunity to try something new that fits with your Christmas plans, like a brisk post-dinner walk or early-morning run while everyone else is still in bed.
5 Crack some nuts
The key to keeping your mood in check over Christmas lies in maintaining steady blood-sugar levels, according to nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville. “Instead of delving into the chocolates, snack on a handful of almonds instead,” she suggests. “They’re rich in essential vitamins and minerals that will stop those roller-coaster highs and sweet food cravings. As blood sugar steadies, so will your mood – reduced adrenaline levels automatically make you feel happier and calmer.”
6 Make your boundaries clear
We all feel honour-bound to do things we don’t want to do – and spend time with people we wouldn’t necessarily choose to – over Christmas. So how can you make the best of it? “Set out your boundaries beforehand,” says life coach Olga Levancuka. “If you’re obliged to visit the in-laws, for example, agree in advance how much time you’ll spend there and ensure everyone is informed. Making things clear from the start will avoid upset further down the line.”
7 Have a cuppa
A tea really can make everything better! “Regular black tea contains an amino acid, L-theanine, which helps relax the mind,” explains nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton. “You’ll maintain alertness, thanks to the small amount of caffeine.” Switch to chamomile nearer bedtime. And relax…