Stress at Christmas time

Ten percent of people find Christmas a stressful or lonely time of year. The media would have you believe Christmas is an amazing, magical time, but this actually isn’t the case for everyone. Family stresses, loneliness, endless travelling, dark, cold days, last-minute stressful deadlines, Christmas parties and the never-ending (Christmas) to-do list. Whether you celebrate in a traditional way or not it creeps up on us all.

This year I decided to launch an online coaching challenge entitled Jingle Well to support people with challenges at this time of year. The twelve themes we covered have been put together a 30 second video. I have complied resources and further information on each theme in this blog post.

Know Your Stress Triggers

This time of year can lead to increased levels of stress due to commitments, finances, deadlines or having to go back to work at the end of a fabulous time. Left unchecked stress can cause chronic illness, inflammation of the body and impaired cognitive function. It is easy for us to carry on with life feeling stressed, as we think it’s normal. However, if we ignore what our body is telling us it can result in longer term health problems. Reflecting on how we are feeling can enable us to take the steps we need to re-calibrate. Make a note of your top three stress triggers during the season.

Address your Stress: Diverse Minds Blog

Stress: Are we Coping? Video and Assessment Tool: Mental Health Foundation

Knowing how you would like it to be

Do you have a vision of how you want Christmas/this time of year to be? Even if you think this time won’t be quite as you envisioned?

Visualisation is a technique used by athletes as part of their training to enable them to reach their goals. It goes beyond hoping and wishing for the best. It is the process of exploring what that goal is and focussing on it. Visualisation is about seeing that outcome in your mind’s eye, and brings us closer to achieving this goal. When the ideal or alternative is visualised it makes us more likely to pursue the steps and avenues that will bring about the particular goals.

Step-by-Step guide to Visualisation: by Jack Canfield Business Psychologist

Power of Visualisation: Article Psychology Today

Work Prioritisation

Managing your boundaries can really help to ensure you dedicate time to what you want is important to you. That won’t be the same for everyone. Working is an essential part of wellbeing, but when it stops you from doing the things you enjoy it can become a problem. It can be about being firm by saying no to an extra work project. You may like to segment your time by using colour coding on your calendar, for example, to ring-fence your time.

7 Tips for Saying No Effectively: Blog on Inc.com

Self-Help Guide to Being Assertive: Mood Juice NHS Scotland

Social Commitments

Alongside work commitments, there can be family socialising on top of this. This can be both an enjoyable and stressful experience. Then there are many who do not have family support, which means it can be a lonely time.

In essence, social engagements can affect your energy and wellbeing in various ways. Being clear about this, where and how you want to spend your time, means you can spend time in a meaningful way. By being honest with ourselves about how we feel, this can help us to make better choices. Resulting in us being happier, as we make time to build connections with people we value. Clearly, some social plans may be unavoidable, so use visualisation techniques to help you make the experience as positive as you can.

An Introvert’s Survival Guide to Christmas: Article in Psychologies

The Anxious Extrovert’s Guide Christmas: Metro online

Planning vs Spontaneity

With families and friends scattered all over the country or world these days, planning tends to form essential part of the season. Having to travel and plan everything is often one of the key stressors people talk about. So, how do you feel about planning? Likelihood is you either have everything planned months in advance, with a plan A, B and C. Or you like to wing it, go with the flow and see what happens. It’s also not unusual for main decision makers to have different planning styles! This can often cause communication breakdowns.

How to Prevent Time-Caused Conflict at Home and at Work:  Blog on Lifehacker

Taking time out

One of my favourite sayings is: you cannot drink from an empty cup. In essence when you are drained, exhausted and tired you have nothing else to give other people. By looking after ourselves, taking time out to recharge and refresh we are more helpful to other people. We are also able to be fully present in our work and personal life. By making and taking time for ourselves we develop and increase our resilience towards life’s challenges. Resilience can be defined as the ability to recover efficiently and effectively from setbacks and difficulties. It also incorporates sustainability, thus providing lasting benefits for our emotional health. Resilience is dynamic and changes over our lifetime.

8 Tips to help you become more resilient: TED Ideas

Emotional Resilience Toolkit: Mental Health Foundation

Hosting

I appreciate some of us really enjoy hosting, but it can be managing expectations of ourselves that can be tricky. It can also be the case that one person ends up with the lion’s share of the work.  You don’t have to go it alone. Ask people around you for help. Devise task lists and let people choose what they would like to support you with. Guests are usually more than happy to bring a dish and contribute.

There is immense pressure for everyone to attain the “perfect” Christmas, whatever that is? I say, keep it simple. As the host you want to feel relaxed and able enjoy the day too. By all means set yourself a standard, but not a back-breaking one where you are going to feel exhausted. Remember your visualisation, bring in those positive elements to focus on the goal. Good is good enough.

How to host Christmas Dinner without having a meltdown: House Beautiful Blog

Christmas Planning Checklist: Good Vibes Blog

How to Share the Christmas Cooking: BBC Good Food

Presents vs Presence

We all know that technology has taken over most of our lives in some way. Smart phones, answering emails at all hours, checking social media, home gadgets etc. In the name of saving time, we often find ourselves reliant on our electronic devices. The impact this has is that we may not listen and engage fully as our attention is spread thinly.

With presents there is the potential of financial burn-out and debts. There is pressure through advertising to spend more money than we may have, with serious repercussions. Spending time is often more valuable than spending money.

7 Ways to have a non-traditional Christmas: Lifehack blog

44 Money Saving Tips for Christmas: Money Saving Expert website

Physical Activity

Physical activity is linked to positive mental health and wellbeing due to the endorphins that are released during physical exertion. Endorphins help boost your mood and sense of achievement. Regular physical activity also supports the immune system to keep colds and viruses at bay. Choosing physical activity to engage with over the season will reduce sluggishness, lethargy and toxin build-up in the body. It also means you are likely to sleep more deeply, and get the rest your body needs. Additionally, it is a good opportunity to integrate presence.

10 Fitness Tips to stay active over Christmas: Tips from Team GB

Exercising in Winter: NHS

Family Conflict

One of the elements that can make or break this time of year is family. Opinion is often split down the middle. Many people relish every moment with family, while for the rest of us, it’s a case of managing, ducking and diving those we wish to avoid. It can especially be the case with someone else’s family where values collide. There’s rarely an easy straightforward solution. It is helpful to understand how people behave in conflict and our own conflict styles.

Tips of dealing with family conflict in the holidays: Mediate.com

How to avoid family conflict at Christmas: The Jackal

Ten ways to stop family members ruining your Christmas: Psychology Today

Nutrition

The festive season is about the joy of sharing food with friends and family. It is also a way of including people who may otherwise be spending Christmas alone. What I will say however, is to think about nutrition whilst indulging. The season can be a tricky time to eat well consistently.

Eating a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits,cereals, proteins and nutrients is thought to contribute positively to mood and feelings of wellbeing. A Spanish study in 2012 found that higher levels of depression could be linked to fast/junk food. Conversely higher levels of wellbeing were reported by individuals who ate more unprocessed fruit and vegetables.

Eating Well for the Season: British Nutrition Foundation

Food and Mood: Video and Information by Mind

Looking Forward

After your holiday season, what happens when it’s all over? Interestingly, planning things we look forward to for the future, known as the power of anticipation, can help us get through those less-than-ideal moments. These can be small things, like looking forward to your favourite TV programme, making time to take a break or seeing a close friend.

In the book Savoring  by Bryant & Veroff (2007) talk about the positive implications of anticipatory savouring. It suggests that the enjoyment people can glean from anticipation might also be an important component of life satisfaction. Whether it’s choosing a new book to read or planning a holiday to an exotic destination, we can feel very positive when share our ideas about what we will do in the near future.

The Joy of Anticipation: Psychologies

How to have a happy January: Plan your summer holiday: BBC Radio 1

I hope this will be a useful resource to you.

How do you stay well over the season? Do share your thoughts and comments with me below. I wish you all the best and here’s to a great year ahead.