Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many of us simply looking at the calendar and wondering how we're supposed to be ready for the big day is enough to send our blood pressure through the roof.
With another awful year behind us and expectations rising that this should at least be a bigger and better Christmas than 2020, December can be a challenging time for mental health. Even at the best of times a quarter of the population say that they find Christmas more stressful than any other time of year, but even with vaccines, boosters and the likelihood of a more sociable festive season than last year's, preparing for Christmas this year can still be more than enough to tip you over the edge.
There are gadgets and products that are designed to help you chill out – one of the best weighted blankets, for example, can ease anxiety and work wonders for sleep issues, while today's best SAD lamps are designed specifically to help those suffering from seasonal affective disorder. But there are also techniques to adopt that are completely free. Here, health and wellbeing expert Stephanie Taylor from StressNoMore (opens in new tab) offers her tips on having a stress-free, happy and healthy Christmas.
- 5 stress-busting techniques you can do in the time it takes to boil a kettle
1. Prepare, to an extent
It's all too easy to put off thinking about Christmas, only to find it's a few short weeks away and you don't have anything planned. If you haven't started yet, now's the time to get organised.
"Preparing a list of gift ideas, meal planning and mapping out your social calendar can help you feel more in control and minimise the stress that comes with making last-minute decisions," says Stephanie.
But, she adds, it's important not to pile on the pressure and feel like you need to get everything sorted straight away. "This stage is about getting a plan in place and spacing out your to-do list, so you're not overwhelmed in the lead-up to Christmas."
2. It's the thought that counts
Everyday expenses, spiralling energy bills and tax increases are all taking their toll on household budgets, and yet every year the average spend on Christmas presents increases. But when you think about it, material things aren't really what Christmas is about; it's spending quality time with your loved ones that really matters.
Stephanie points out that creating further financial stress after what's likely been a tough year for many might only result in more stress and anxiety in the long run. "Make sure to set yourself a realistic budget for your Christmas spending and try to stick to it," she suggests. "Be savvy and shop around for your gifts."
Alternatively, consider making your own gifts. "Sweet festive treats, flavoured tipples, handmade Christmas tree decorations and scented candles can all be made at home with a small spend on equipment or ingredients," says Stephanie. "Sure, they may take a little time, energy, and effort, but that's what makes homemade gifts so special."
3. Don't say yes to everything
We've all missed out on social events during the pandemic, so you might feel obliged to accept every festive invitation this year. But, says Stephanie, it's okay to say no.
"Packing your calendar too tight in the lead-up to Christmas will only leave you feeling overwhelmed, burnt out or resentful," she explains. "Follow Marie Kondo's approach – if it doesn't spark joy, don't do it. Only say yes to things you want to do with people you want to spend time with. And make sure to leave yourself some 'me time' to relax and unwind in between plans, too."
4. Look after your mind and body
It's very easy to overdo it with food and drink at Christmas, but you need to take care of your health and wellbeing too. Stephanie suggests that you allow yourself some time to indulge, but also to balance your diet across the week to give your body the essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy and energised. And also, try to keep active.
"Get outside and breathe in the fresh air," says Stephanie. "If working out or running isn't your thing, a fast-paced walk can do wonders for your wellbeing – both physically and mentally. Most importantly, listen to your mind and body. If you're not feeling good, rest and recharge, or seek advice from a health professional."
And finally, remember that COVID-19 is still a real threat. So, cautions Stephanie, enjoy Christmas but don't do anything you're not comfortable with and follow the guidelines as far as possible.