Christmas time can be a hugely stressful and overwhelming experience for most families. The budget usually blows out, the credit cards get a beating, you have to visit the in-laws, there’s so much to organize. For a lot of people, the real meaning of Christmas becomes lost in a whirlwind of eggnog, Christmas pudding, wrapping paper and bon-bon’s together with an unhealthy serve of overwhelm, over-commitment and high expectations.
Having not had a family to spend Christmas with for a large portion of my life I have been given the unique perspective of observing this tradition from a distance. I’ve witnessed both extremes from those who allowed their Christmas stress to completely overwhelm them, all the way through to those who do everything they can to avoid the whole tradition of Christmas.
Through observation and personal experience, I’ve discovered five strategies that have helped both myself and my clients to have a stress-free Christmas and I want to share them with you so that you can too. Yes, it’s possible! Here they are:
1. Expectations (of others)
Expectations set us up for disappointment. When we expect people to behave a particular way, but we don’t actually tell them because we expect “they should just know”, we are setting ourselves up for a let-down. It’s like having a silent contract and at Christmas time there are lots of these silent contracts because emotions are running high.
There are expectations that people will be considerate in the ways you would. There are the expectations that people will realise what’s important to you because they love you (or are family). And there are expectations people will be well behaved and keep any issues quashed on Christmas day. This all adds to the Christmas pressure.
To avoid being disappointed and consequently stressed out this Christmas take responsibility for your expectations. Clearly communicate what it is that you are wanting from the other party. What do you want them to bring or contribute on the day? How do you want them to behave? This often requires having a courageous conversation however the outcomes will be a stress-free Christmas for all.
2. Expectations (of yourself)
We all have expectations of ourselves but when those expectations are impossible even for a superhuman to achieve, let’s just say, there will be tears! To avoid the inevitable, the first step is to stop and take a breath and evaluate what you have set for yourself…realistically.
Acknowledge that you can’t get be and do everything for everyone and that you don’t have to do everything alone. It’s ok to ask for help. In fact, it’s a sign of intelligence.
Make a list and put a mark next to those things that are really important to you, as in, must happen or must be done by you. Then take the rest of the list and start delegating to other family members, friends and guests.
You will be pleasantly surprised at how much others really want to participate in the process. And the best part is, you will arrive stress-free Christmas day, relaxed and able to enjoy the special moments.
3. Let go of what no longer serves you
Often we hold on to traditions and particular ways of doing things because “that’s how they’ve always been done”. We never stop to question if that ‘way’ actually serves us any longer or if there might be a better or easier way to do it.
At this time of year, there are a lot of traditions that are created both in society and within individual families. These traditions can put undue stress on family members. I urge you to look at those that cause you the most stress and ask yourself, “Does this serve my core values” and “Is this really what I want to be doing”.
If it is a resounding yes then ask yourself, “Is there an easier way to achieve the same result?” If it is a no, or a maybe not, then perhaps it’s time to do things a little differently this year.
Change can often be scary, especially if it has to do with family, but more often than not, if approached the right way, it can often be an experience everyone can enjoy.
To make the transition, firstly make the decision on how it is going to change and then let everyone involved know that it’s going to be a little different. To alleviate their fears you can tell them you are just trialling this new way for one year and you are looking for their feedback afterwards.
By asking for their feedback it gets them involved in the process and everyone loves to share their opinion. Evaluate afterwards and look at what worked and how it could be improved for next year. You will be pleasantly surprised by how many people will think it was a good idea.
4. Keep kindness a priority
It’s human behaviour when we are stressed we lash out at those who are closest to us. At Christmas time, we are usually surrounded by those who are closest to us (together with those we feel we have to be close to but don’t necessarily want to be). This concoction is a recipe for disaster if you don’t keep kindness as a priority.
Kurek Ashley wrote the book “How would love respond” and I think that’s a great question to keep asking ourselves as we go through the Christmas stress period.
If you feel the pressure building, before you say something you may regret, take a deep breath. Then ask, “How would love respond in this situation?”
It’s a surprisingly powerful question that brings us back to our hearts and kindness. A space where stress cannot survive.
5. Practice saying no
It is one of the smallest words in the English dictionary and yet one of the most difficult to say, “No”. It causes more arguments, stress, unhappiness and resentment than any other word I know.
At Christmas time especially, we all tend to say yes to a lot more things than usual. Leaving us overcommitted and ultimately exhausted. With nothing left to enjoy what is supposed to be a festive and fun time of year.
It’s the fear of being judged as selfish that usually stops us from saying no. Along with a bit of people pleasing. The reality is people will respect you more if you have the courage to put yourself first and manage your time efficiently.
Instead, this year practice saying, “No thank you” more often. The ultimate goal being to be able to do it guilt free. The best way to achieve this is through practice.
Start with saying no to something small first and work your way up to the big stuff. Strengthen that “no thank you” muscle and watch your confidence grow. By the time you get to Christmas Day, you will have the energy to enjoy every minute of it.
Wishing you a stress free Christmas
It is my hope for you that you are able to utilize these tips and have a stress-free Christmas this year. There is one important thing to remember for any of these to work and that is, you have to know what and who is really important to you during Christmas.
Take a moment and give this some thought and maybe even write down where your values lay and in what priority. This will make implementing these suggestions, and making any decisions, a whole lot easier for you.
From my family to yours, I want to wish you a safe, heartfelt and stress-free Christmas enjoying the special moments and creating memories you will cherish forever.