I love Christmas. There are lots of things about it that I don’t like – such as the push to over-consume, the waste of resources, food and materials. But the things that make it special to me – family time, holidays, traditions and memories – all of these things bring me great joy. I like the lead up, the thinking about gifts, the meal planning, the present wrapping, and sneaking around being Mother Christmas. I love the mess on Christmas Day, the noise, the bling, the music, the decorations, the giving, and the food. I love seeing my extended family and being grateful for having this life. I am lucky. I have a home, a family, and food on the table. Despite our own struggles in life and the complex chronic conditions I live with, I see myself as very lucky.
But not everyone is so lucky.
At this time of the year, there are people who are suffering. We are in the grip of drought and bushfires. People have lost homes and their livelihoods. My own hometown and family beach shack were under threat in recent weeks. Other places are still burning and towns are running out of water. Many people in these regions don’t know what their futures will bring. None of us know what the future will bring for our planet earth.
For others, there is the grief of their first Christmas without a loved one who has passed, or the marking of many years of Christmas without them. There is the stress and worry that you won’t be able to make ends meet. There are people who don’t have enough food on the table at the best of times, let alone making the decision about whether to have pork, seafood, or ham. Some people don’t have a home to celebrate within. There are those who live daily with the dark hole of depression that sucks the life out of everything, and is only deepened by celebrations, where the whole world seems happy, except you…….
As you decorate your home and share around beautiful images across social media of your celebrations, family, and events, spare a moment to think about those who are not feeling so joyful – those who have no home to decorate, whose children ask on Christmas Day why Santa didn’t come? The families dealing with violence, financial crisis, job losses, broken relationships, health problems, and broken hearts. Be grateful for your life, for what you have, but also, be generous. Give where you can to others in need. Give your time, not just money – because often, a listening ear and knowing you are not alone, is the greatest gift anyone can offer.
No matter what your situation, it is important to remember to care for yourself during this time of year, and reduce your stress. This should be a time of reflection and celebration of what really matters, not one of increased anxiety about the decorations or presents or Christmas dinner. What makes a beautiful Christmas, is time, people to love, and a sense of connectedness to others.
Here are 14 ways to reduce Christmas stress
1) Get Help
If you are dealing with a situation that is out of your ability to manage, get help. Go talk to your local doctor as a good starting point. They can refer you out to all sorts of support services and counselling, and some services can be covered under Medicare with a mental health plan. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. I have been there myself with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Getting outside help made all the difference. Nobody can do it all alone. In particular, if you are experiencing a situation where you or someone else is at risk, and things are spiraling out of control – get help.
2) Exercise and get outdoors
We hear all the time that we need to move more. This is vital. Sitting has become the new smoking, and is a leading cause of all sorts of ill-health. In particular, exercise and time in the outdoors, are great for your mental health. Just taking half an hour each day to go out for a walk, is a great start. I walk my son and our dog to school every day, and then go on for a longer walk. It is such a lovely thing to do and we have great conversations too. During the holidays, don’t let yourself become a couch potato – get outside and play with your children, walk the dog, or wander along the beach.
3) Eat a healthy balanced diet, but allow yourself some Christmas goodies!
If you have been, or are, trying to lose weight, or like me, if you have very restricted food options due to chronic conditions, Christmas can seem like Mt Everest. There are all those parties, dinners, BBQ’s and work events. Food and alcohol are everywhere. I have sat in the middle of a group of people watching them eating the most delicious foods, being able to eat only soup. It is depressing. You need to be sensible and plan ahead. Allow yourself some treats that are within your menu options and take your own – I always take things I can eat as I know other people will not really know how to provide these for me.
If you are trying to consider your weight, balance is the key. Choose your treat. Have a mince pie or piece of Christmas Cake, alongside some cherries and other festive fruits. For Christmas lunch stick to your choice of lean protein, with lots of healthy salads and vegetables on the side. Add a Christmas pudding with custard for desert and lay the fruit and nut platters on thick throughout the festive season for healthy snacking.
4) Reduce your alcohol consumption
Alcohol is a depressant. It makes you feel good, for a while. Then it makes you feel like crap. Then you do it again. I used to drink far too much and gave it up 20 years ago. My life is all the better for it. If you choose to drink, make sure you add a glass of water in between each drink and monitor how many times your glass is filled. If you already suffer with depression, alcohol is only going to make this worse – a really bad combination. Seek help if alcohol is a problem for you. Aussies are big on the binge drinking and it is killing us.
5) Hydrate and drink plenty of water
This is so basice, but so important! It is also easy to forget. If you are a tea lover like me, you can get through most of a day drinking cup after cup, never stopping to take a simple glass of water. When you do, you feel so much better. Try to get your 6 – 8 glasses a day and watch how much better you feel.
6) Reduce Caffeine
This is a tough one. On the opposing side to alcohol, caffeine is a stimulant, and what goes up must come down. It can cause terrible withdrawal symptoms. I know because I had to give up diet coke and coffee due to my chronic stomach problems and am currently only able to stomach 1-2 cups of leaf tea per day. I still drink a LOT of herbal tea, but that has no caffeine. Enjoy your coffee, but try not to overdo it.
7) Create and listen to music
Music really has an amazing affect on your wellbeing. It can lift your spirits, help you to express your feelings, get you dancing, make you sing at the top of your lungs, tell a story, tell your story, make a party, help you exercise, make the mood and basically is good for your body, mind and soul. So listen to lots of music, whatever you enjoy. Better still, create your own music.
8) Take some time out
If you can not bear how happy everyone else seems about Christmas, or if you are simply finding yourself exhausted, take some time out. Get a massage and spend a few hours at the day spa. Go away for the weekend. Take time to enjoy a special meal or activity that is unrelated to Christmas. Talk to a friend and share how you are feeling. Get off social media! Just get off it and do something else in the real world.
9) Try to be organised
Making lists or at least writing things down, can help when you feel overwhelmed. It is easy to get distracted by all the daily tasks of life and forget that great idea you had last night, or the 3 really important things you needed to do today, or your plans for the next week or month, or year. The internet tends to make that worse as you go from link to link, picture to picture, page to page and before you know it 4 hours have passed! Writing things down, especially at the start of a new year or the closing of an old one, helps to get it all out of your head and lowers you stress. You can use a fancy planner or just write it in a notebook or diary.
10) Make time every day to be still
I am not great at this one….it is on my list to work on more. But I do find time, if only for 5 minutes in each day, to sit in one of my nooks in the house and just be still. Take time away from screens, technology, conversations, jobs, thoughts, people. Just take a moment to be totally mindful, notice what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste – have a cup of tea, look at the world, be still. Be a human being and not a human doing.
11) Make sure you get enough sleep
You need to get a good quality sleep, at whatever number of hours is right for you – generally that is 8 hours, depending. I find as I get older that 6-7 hours is enough. If you have young children sleep can get tricky. Try to have the same bedtime most nights, create a healthy sleeping environment – no screens or phones in bed, a comfy bed with decent bed linen, a calming routine before you hit the pillow. If you can over the holidays, have some afternoon naps as well. It can really refresh and energise you – but not for too long. A short nap is a good nap!
12) Eat more unprocessed foods
Take an honest look at your alcohol and junk food consumption and see if you can make any changes – your body will thank you for it. Try to have less packaged and processed foods in the house and more raw, fresh and unprocessed foods. At Christmas time, we are blessed with so many fresh fruits and baking some of your own cookies and slices, is a lovely activity to do with the music on and the Christmas candle burning.
13) Love and be loved
We need each other. I remember learning in University about the impact on brain development on a group of orphaned children who were left in their cots and not touched. Their brains did not develop properly, as they did not experience loving touch. This is a powerful message – we need each other, we need connections. This may be your family and friends, it may be the lovelies you meet online, it may be your workmates, it may be a pet, or the group who shares your hobby – but we all need some love and connections.
14) Let shit go
Anger never did anything good, for anyone. Learn to not sweat the small things. Throw away road rage, ditch jealousy, stop comparing yourself with your peers. Let shit go. At the end of the day none of it matters. The sun will come up tomorrow and a new day will dawn. Make it a good one.
Here is a exercise you can do to assess where you are at with life and increase your wellbeing:
1. Rate your current level of taking care of yourself, your health and wellbeing if zero was the worst possible care and 100 was the best possible care
2. Is there anything you think you could do more of to better take care of yourself?
3. Is there anything you think you could do less of to better take care of yourself?
4. Is anything getting in the way of taking better care of yourself? Maybe a person, situation, problem, life issue, thinking pattern or behaviour? Or maybe you feel totally at peace with your self-care? If so, what is helping you to feel this way – work that out and make sure you do more of that!
This worksheet for The Willingness and Action Plan from The Happiness Trap, by Dr Russ Harris, is a great tool for committing to a goal in your life. I have used it myself and in fact the entire book is a wonderful and life changing read.
This can help you to work out what things need to change, what commitments you need to make and how to take action on these, to make more time for your own health and wellbeing, at Christmas and all year round. Wishing you everything you dream of and more in the new year
*update of a post from 2015