The psychology behind Christmas stress

Written by nick redfern Google
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A headache for the holidays

The psychology behind Christmas stress
When Christmas isn't merry (Getty Premium Images)

"Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home"

— Charles Dickens, author

It's that one time of the year, perhaps more than any other, when we should all be celebrating, laughing, joking and having a great, festive time. But, for many, Christmas is not like that at all. Rather, it's the definitive holiday from hell, a time guaranteed to be dominated by stress, migraines, raised voices, face-to-face arguments, and tears. And not tears of joy, we might add. But, it doesn't have to be like that in the slightest. Just a few easy-to-follow tips will ensure that your Christmas is just as it should be: namely, a fun and cheer-filled event for family and friends alike. When it comes to festive stress, it really is all in the mind. Honest!

Planning in advance

The psychology behind Christmas stress
Food for thought (Getty Premium Images)

There are no big secrets to making Christmas one free of stress. Rather, it's simply a case of using yer noggin, a lot of common sense, and planning in advance. Of course, at this time of year, with everyone else rushing in and out of the shops like headless chickens, it's hard not to do the same. But, if you can escape the temptation to do likewise, there's hope on the horizon! Let's start with two of the biggest things that most of us over-indulge in while looking for batteries, trying to get the Christmas Tree to stand upright, and watching the James Bond movie: food and drink.

If your family consists of husband, wife, and one or two kids, it really might not be the best idea you've ever had to invite over your in-laws, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and grandparents for a slap-up Christmas lunch. And, particularly so if you're not used to cooking for what almost amounts to an army. So, there are two options available: you can have a quiet Christmas with your immediate (in other words, relatively small) family, where cooking doesn't require you making frantic phone calls for help to Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. Or, you can take your time and - a couple of months before a dozen or so hungry relatives invade your home like something you'd likely see on The Walking Dead - get to grips with what it actually means to cook for so many people in one day. If there's simply not room in the oven to cram in a turkey huge enough to feed so many, well, don't panic. Instead, take a deep breath and maybe mix things up by preparing a cold ham for those who may not want turkey anyway. It's the same with dessert. To avoid the embarrassment of not getting enough Christmas Pudding in, buy a selection of puddings, pastries, pies, and tasty cakes. And so what if they're not homemade? There's nothing wrong with having someone else do the hard work for you. As for the booze, instead of thinking carefully, think simply: it's Christmas! They'll drink anything!

Planning the presents

The psychology behind Christmas stress
Getting to grips with the gifts (Dylan Ellis/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

All of us, at one time or another, were kids. And all of us - also at one time or another - undoubtedly made loud demands to our parents about why we wanted this or that at Christmas, only to change our minds the very next day when the latest computer-game, cool bike, or futuristic toy hit the telly adverts. For mum and dad it's not much fun, at the last minute, to have their heads spinning around while trying to figure out what to get the brats on the big day. But, it can be so easy! Once again, it all starts with a deep breath.

There's nothing wrong with laying the law down as Christmas Day gets closer, and there's also nothing wrong with telling the kids that when they write their "Dear Father Christmas" letters, they better get it right. Because when the big bloke in the red and white outfit receives their scribbled notes, there's no going back on what they requested. And make sure those letters get into your hands well ahead of time. Er, Santa's hands, we mean. Like a couple of months ahead of time. Unless, that is, you want to find yourself doing hand-to-hand combat with someone's mum or dad in the closing minutes of Christmas Eve, as you fight over the last iPad on the shelf that your little Jimmy or Julie decided they wanted only hours earlier. That's the sort of stress you can definitely do without.

Making time for yourself

In this day and age, there's no reason why, when Christmas comes around, everything should fall onto the shoulders of one person and one person alone. You know: mum cooks the turkey, the veg, the spuds and makes sure everything is running smoothly, while dad nods off in front of the Queen's speech with a glass of beer in his hand. On a day that can go very well or very bad, one of the biggest keys to success is ensuring that you delegate tasks. Okay, so the family may not want to hear it, but if everyone wants a stress-free day, then they all have to lend a hand.

If you can persuade the family that actually getting involved and doing something useful is a positive thing - even if it's only stirring the gravy, getting the cat's new toy mouse out of the jealous jaws of the dog, or making sure that granny's glass of sherry is constantly topped up - then you're on the right track. And, let's face it, if you can keep things light and cheery, and everyone mucks in together, you may actually succeed in bonding with the usually sullen and texting-obsessed kids. After all, isn't that what Christmas should be about? Peace, love, goodwill and all that? Yes! So, remember: the old saying that too many cooks spoil the broth isn't always correct. In fact, many hands this Christmas will make you a far less stressed-out soul!

Tips and warnings

  • Take your time at Christmas. Delegate and don't try and take on everything yourself. Plan the big day well in advance. Buy your presents early. Think carefully about what you're going to cook, and for how many.

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