From cooking up a festive feast to endless drink duties and coming up with a seating plan everyone’s happy with, not to mention everything in between, it’s exhausting just thinking about it. And if you’re already thinking you’ll need a seasonal survival guide to get through it, you’re not alone.
“Fewer daylight hours and hectic social calendars, together with potentially less sleep and more alcohol, is the perfect recipe for fatigue and stress,” warns Dr. Jenny Williams, a GP and clinical operations lead at Thriva.
“When you’re stressed, your body produces the hormone cortisol. If you’re stressed a lot, cortisol levels stay high for longer periods of time, which can lead to low energy, poor sleep, weight gain, mood problems, and high blood pressure,” she adds.
The good news is, there are often things we can do to help keep stress levels under control and bring those high cortisol levels down…
Be wise with your diary
“Think about what you will be able to realistically fit in,” says Williams. “There is a huge amount of pressure to do it all. Go to every festive drink, see every family member, and not say no to anything in the run-up to the holiday season. Taking things at your own pace is really important, to make sure you don’t feel overwhelmed.”
Create a routine
Derek Aidoo, meditation and mindfulness coach for audio-led fitness app WithU, suggests creating a Christmas self-care routine. “As the season approaches and high expectations from family and friends grow, so too should your love and attentiveness to the biggest asset available to you grow – yourself!
“This should be a routine done daily, preferably first thing in the morning,” he says. “You may need to wake up a little earlier, or adjust your existing routine.”
Choose something that engages both your mental and physical health, but which is also enjoyable for you, Aidoo adds: “A walk in nature, a short run with the dog, a home workout, or meditation. What this does is reinforce the importance of caring for oneself, and rewires the brain to place meaning on one’s own wellbeing – before caring for others.”
Manifest some low-stress magic
Aidoo also suggests creating a vision board, to help bring to life the sort of Christmas you’d love to have. “Find time to collect images from the internet or pre-used magazines to create a collage of the feeling and environment you plan to create,” he says.
“The human mind benefits from suggestion. Being able to see our goal makes focusing on it easier. Find images that reflect experiential qualities, such as smiles for happiness and hugs for joy, as well as specifics including cut-outs of a particular wine you will purchase, and dishes to prepare. If you have them available, use images of those who will be present at your Christmas event to personalise and solidify a stronger mental picture.”
Plan activities and break-out areas
Remember – no amount of wishing and planning can guarantee an entirely stress-free Christmas. So it might be helpful to allow for the possibility that people will need a breather, distraction or change of scene every now and then.
“The bottom line is, everybody doesn’t get on with each other all the time,” says Aidoo. “If you can, be smart and selective about where you seat people at your Christmas event. Why not have themes for different rooms or spaces in your home?” he suggests. “Such as cards and board game corner that can sit four at a time, or cocktail making table for six, etc. This can also be handy in managing personalities that may sometimes clash!”
Divide up the chores
Endless festive to-do lists can be a big source of stress. But as Sammy Margo, a physiotherapist and sleep specialist at Dreams, says: “There are so many mini tasks families take on over the festive period, but everyone should have a role to play.
“To help reduce stress and help give everyone a purpose, it’s important to give each family member some sort of chore to do – from drying up to laying the table. This sounds silly, but it honestly takes the pressure off. Even go as far as a family WhatsApp group over Christmas,” Margo adds – so you can divvy things up in advance.