The stresses of Christmas - and how to come through them emotionally unscathed!

December 18th, 2019

It's a well known fact that Christmas is officially one of the most stressful times of year, and that January is a traditionally busy time for divorce lawyers up and down the land.

But why is it all so stressful? Surely Christmas is the time for festivities, kinship, goodwill - a time to lay aside our differences and celebrate together?

Well, the sad truth is that Christmas can be anything but. Many people face a lonely festive period, made all the more poignant by the fact that it is a time traditionally associated with being with loved ones. Others of us are dreading spending time with extended family members we would normally prefer to avoid. Perhaps they may have different opinions on politics to ours, or perhaps they are in-laws whose judgement on our homes, our children, our lives, and our ability to cook Christmas dinner are not particularly welcome!

So, with all of that in mind, here are our top seasonal stresses and advice as to how to get through the festive period with your emotions reasonably well cared for.

#XmasStress 1 - too many cooks

The Christmas meal, whenever you choose to have it, can be a bit stressful. Will you get everything together on time? And then there's the pressure for it all to be, just so. We may have lots of people round for Christmas, many of whom may be crowding around, offering help. This can actually make matters worse, as all you actually want to do as the cook is kick everyone out of the kitchen and just get on with it. The last thing you want is your mother-in-law looking over your shoulder and suggesting ways you could be doing it better, or that is how her well-meant comments come across to you, at any rate!

My Internal World says

Take a deep breath. Be calm. Don't second guess the motivation of those offering to help. They are not suggesting you can't do it. Try to delegate tasks in a way that suits you. Ask one person to lay the table. Ask someone else to take charge of drinks. Someone else can sort out pudding. You want to assign jobs so that there aren't a lot of people in the same area, all trying to help with one thing.

#XmasStress 2 - bored kids

Christmas is really all about children, but the whole thing can actually be a bit too exciting for them, especially if they are little. That may lead to poor behaviour and then judgemental comments from grandparents and other relatives, which will do little to enhance an already tired parent's bad mood.

My Internal World says

The secret here is in spreading out the excitement for children so that it doesn't happen all at once, to be followed by a crashing anti-climax that there are no more presents to open. Try to spread things out. Yes, they will probably open their stockings early in the morning. But manage expectations so that maybe they then wait for their presents under the tree until after lunch. Go for a walk in the morning, or attend church if you are a church-goer. That way, the excitement of present unwrapping gets spread out and children should be kept a bit calmer. A walk outside does wonders to make everyone feel better. There's nothing else to do but chat, and it really does help break the day up. Plus, you can shout 'Merry Christmas' to everyone who passes - and what better way to celebrate this special day?

#XmasStress 3 - not getting on with extended family

There's uncle Geoff with his extreme political views, and why does auntie Sarah never stand up to him? Get a few drinks down everyone at Christmas and the politics starts to come out, and before you know it, the general goodwill and cheer has gone out of the window. How will you survive Christmas day without throwing a wobbly when you hear conversation that simply doesn't accord with your way of thinking?

My Internal World says

Focus on what you can control. You can't control uncle Geoff and his views. It isn't up to you that auntie Sarah never seems to offer her own opinion. Christmas is only for one or two days. All you need to worry about is making sure everyone is fed and watered. You can't control what they say so don't try. If it all gets too much, just take yourself off for half an hour and give yourself some 'me-time'. It will help - we promise!

#XmasStress 4 - it's all costing too much money

This is probably the number one stress around Christmas for many of us. It all just gets a bit expensive. We ignore the costs, and then pay the consequences in January. But at the back of our minds we know we may have gone overboard with our spending, and it stresses us out more than we realise.

My Internal World says

It's such a shame that Christmas has turned into a commercial festival rather than what it should be about; spending time with loved ones and feeling general goodwill to all mankind. It may be too late for this year, but in the future you could consider some practical tips to not let Christmas spending get too overwhelming. Buy Christmas presents over several months, rather than just in November and December. Make what you can; home-made biscuits and other treats make a lovely, thoughtful, gift, and really don't cost a lot. Consider agreeing with relatives only to buy presents for children and not grown-ups or, if not, agree a reasonable spending limit and use your imagination to stick within it. Christmas really shouldn't be about breaking the bank.

#XmasStress 5 - will I get it all done on time?

Will I get the cards sent? The presents bought and wrapped? The food ordered? If I don't, will Christmas be ruined?

My Internal World says

A lot of the stress around Christmas centres around the sense that we are all hurtling towards the goal of having a perfect day on December 25, with everyone perfectly happy, well fed and content, unwrapping perfect presents, thoughtfully chosen. While there is no point pretending that there is nothing to worry about and it will all be fine - there is some organisation to be done - we can reduce it by putting the things we are stressed about into more manageable chunks, and delegating tasks ahead of the day. If guests are coming for the day and offer to bring something, consider what they could bring; the Christmas pudding? the booze? the crackers? They will be glad to help and it will be one less thing off your list, too. And, if your Christmas present doesn't arrive with someone on the day itself, it really isn't the end of the world, you know! They can just look forward to it a couple of days later.

#XmasStress 6 - I am worried about people who will be on their own

Christmas is actually a very poignant time for many of us, who actually do not necessarily have close family to visit on the day itself. If you are worried about this, then good for you. It's a great time of the year to reach out.

My Internal World says

If you know of an elderly person nearby who doesn't have anywhere to go for Christmas, you can of course consider inviting them around for a festive meal. It will mean more to them than any present you could ever give. It doesn't matter that they are not a close member of your family. Guests who aren't particularly well known to you actually make your close family behave a lot better than they otherwise would - so if you want to give it a try, then do!