Christmas has always been my favourite time of year - a holiday for fun, family, indulgent food, beautiful decorations and the giving and receiving of gifts.
But for many of us the reality of Christmas is one of stress, overwhelming ‘to do’ lists and chronic fatigue.
Christmas can be a danger zone for experiencing burnout when instead it should be a time for rest, recovery and recuperation.
In nature the winter months are a time to hunker down, a slow and soothing time to think about our own needs and to be internally nurtured by the things that we love. It is a time for creativity, inspiration, deep thought and quiet reflection.
Christmas is about giving but that includes giving back to yourself.
If you long for an enjoyable and stress-free Christmas, then take a look at my ‘FIVE WAYS TO WELLBEING’ for some achievable and practical advice:
1. TIME FOR TONIC - It is easy to neglect our normal routines when the chaos of Christmas is upon us. With family arriving, gifts to buy, food to prepare and drinks to pour it seems the most sensible idea (to create more time) is to skip your regular rituals in self-care.
Whether that be you daily evening walk, the Saturday game of tennis or your early morning swim it is vital that you continue to honour your own time to protect your sense of wellbeing over the festive period. As much as we all plan to rest the reality is that when stress levels and ‘to do’ lists at Christmas are increased we actually need our ‘me’ time more than ever to ensure that we can cope with the added pressures of Christmas. As I explain within my forthcoming Self Help Guide – ‘Tonic of the Sea’, regular creative, enjoyable and quiet time to ourselves provides us with the inner sense of calm necessary to surviving the chaos that can be Christmas. Taking just half an hour of non-negotiable time for yourself each day restores energy levels, builds resilience and helps us to better manage stress, anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. By taking that time each day, you will be able to approach Christmas not with a throbbing head, confused mind and exhausted body but with a light and positive feeling of inner peace, endless amounts of energy and robust levels of capability and resilience.
2. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT – In my experience of trying to throw ‘perfect’ Christmas parties and festive family dinners there is no such thing as perfect. It doesn’t seem to matter how well I plan, how beautiful I make the table, how much I consider every possible festive detail I always end up feeling utterly exhausted, run down, and generally flat and fatigued. When I run around being the hostess and acting more like a headless chicken I realise that most of the people around me are quite happy to get their own drinks, make their own conversations and basically have a good time all by themselves. Most of the time family and friends will feel perfectly happy to be self-sufficient - especially if that means that the host gets to enjoy the party too! This tip is about learning to let some of your own elements of control go at Christmas and allow others to do more for themselves. This will give you the opportunity to enjoy your very well-planned Christmas party just as much as your guests do!
3. LET THERE BE MESS – If Christmas is about rest then it almost certainly must be about letting there be some mess. If like me, you are on a constant war path at home with trying to keep the house looking presentable (I live with 3 teenagers) then Christmas can become a very trying time to keep the house looking reasonably tidy. Before I became unwell with stress related burnout I would have frequent moments of loading the washing machine for a third time that weekend and be absolutely overwhelmed with floods of tears. My sudden feeling of distress was not really about the washing more about my never ending ‘to do’ lists. It is hard to achieve this tip if you like a tidy home but to help to support your own stress levels try to let some ‘surface’ mess go this Christmas. Wrapping paper on the floor, orange peel on the fireplace, wet towels slung over the bedroom doors – it’s all easily tidied away if you designate a time to do it as a family and often when we spend so much time trying to tidy ‘around’ everyone we are missing what is going on in the here and now. It’s the precious time that we can’t ever get back - time to sit and snuggle with a film, to play a board game with the kids or to finish that bit of Christmas colouring in – whatever it is that you love to do - if only just for Christmas, the mess will have to wait!
4. WRITE A CHRISTMAS LIST – Every year I write a list – not for presents, not for things to do, but a list of the Christmas ‘What’s on TV magazine.’ I have childlike excitement at the thought of sitting undisturbed and watching the Christmas special episodes of ‘Call the Midwife’, and all whilst eating chocolate Brazils and drinking egg nog on the sofa in front of a roaring fire. I go through the magazine with glee whilst excitement bubbles up in my stomach, thoughts of all the wonderful Christmas programmes, documentaries and films that I am going to watch in my well-deserved and very lazy 2 weeks off. I plan out the days with serious attention to detail looking through all of the times and channels. This isn’t an ordinary list, it’s a list about me and for me – it’s about the one little thing that I would like to do over Christmas. As a mother and full-time lecturer I rarely get to sit down let alone watch the television and so the idea of being able to watch an array of programmes that solely appeal to me is my idea of the perfect Christmas present. As adults, and especially if you are a parent then we don’t often get time to think about what we would really like to do for ourselves at Christmas. It doesn’t have to be long list and it doesn’t have to be grand but just for this Christmas make sure your list, gets considered too.
5. GO WITH THE FLOW – After discovering open water swimming one thing I enjoy noticing are the links I make in life to the sea. I find them everywhere I go and in most things that I do. It is almost as though everything I do as a human being always links back to nature in one way or another. The sea just is – it goes with the flow, it doesn’t get stressed or become panicked by uncertainty or change it simply accepts the situation and it naturally adapts. There is no need for drama or to make a big fuss, it just carries on doing what it does best. Christmas brings with it a wealth of change and unforeseeable events within our homes and there is always sudden disruption to the best made plans. We encounter the arrival of unexpected guests, classic culinary disasters and unfortunate breakages of expensive or hard to find gifts. We all, without doubt get stressed when we don’t get what we planned for - but if in the quiet of your mind, before the chaos begins, you can make a conscious decision to simply ride out the waves and go with the flow then the key to a stress free Christmas lies not within the practical things that you do - the secret to true wellbeing at Christmas lies solely within you.
My quick "Five ways to Wellbeing Recap"
- Don’t neglect your own self-care at Christmas – make it a priority every day.
- Let go of the idea of perfect – it’s exhausting, and no one really notices anyway.
- Embrace the mess – especially if you have extended family, children or pets.
- Write your own list to Santa – what do YOU want to really do to recuperate over the Christmas period – it’s your time too.
- Prepare for change and accept it will happen – anger, frustration and tears have no place in this joyful time of year.
Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year!