Little donkey, little donkey…
Ah, the sweet sound of children singing in their Nativity play. Another year gone and Christmas is upon us again.
Do you feel like the donkey, carrying the weight of Christmas virtually on your own?
If you do, you are not alone.
Many people find the run up to Christmas and the big day itself brings additional pressure and workload. Working mothers bear the brunt of this heavy load, not only doing the chores but carrying the mental load.
The stress of attempting to create the TV movie style perfect family Christmas can leave some women completely wrung out by the time Boxing Day arrives. (We all know why it’s really called that, right?!)
Common causes of stress
Trying to meet all the expectations
The kids have a present wish-list as long as Doctor Who’s scarf, the in-laws have told you they will be arriving on the 23rd and staying until the New Year. The school wants you to man the tombola at the Christmas fete and your partner has been dropping hints about the latest bit of tech for weeks. You even place expectations on yourself – scrolling through Pinterest for Christmas themed home decorations and recipes for melt-in-the-mouth mince pies.
Everyone wants something and most people want lots of things. Getting it all right is stressful.
Workload and financial pressures
Christmas brings additional strain because it adds a lot of additional chores. These are traditionally heaped on mothers – cooking, cleaning, present buying and wrapping, attending school concerts, Christmas fairs and other festive activities such as ice skating, panto and Santa visits. It’s enough to make you dizzy.
All of this “fun” comes with added cost. If you are worrying about money week to week, you can be fairly certain that Christmas will compound the problem. A tendency to overspend on credit will only delay the inevitable anxiety until the bill drops through your letterbox at the end of January.
The traditional Christmas nirvana is all the family around the piano singing carols or enjoying a light-hearted game of charades whilst delicious food and drinks are consumed and everyone is overjoyed with their perfect presents.
The reality is often a good deal harsher. Expectations run high at this time of year and often those expectations are unrealistic. This leads unavoidably to tension and relationships can become strained.
Arguments over trivial matters such as who sits where at the lunch table can be amplified when you have been crammed together in too small a space for too long. Your relationship with your partner and children can be affected by your own parents or your in-laws being present as everyone tries to re-adjust the pecking order.
So what can you do this year to reduce the stress?
You could decide to go for a more minimalist approach to food, drink and gifts this year. Limit the number of gifts per person or just buy for the children. Set a gift budget and STICK to it. When it comes to food and drink, most of us are guilty of overindulgence on a huge scale on Christmas Day. By the time it gets to 5pm, we are more stuffed than the turkey and beginning to regret our gluttony.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of the 4 (or more) course meal, with countless mince pies and sweets afterwards, why not have a regular Sunday roast? The most important thing is that no-one is going to go hungry and your heart and waistline will thank you later for being sensible. By opting out of the traditional trimmings of Christmas, we save ourselves time, energy and sanity.
Keeping It Real
In the chaos that often comes with Christmas, it’s easy to forget what’s important and assume that others are also wrapped up in the festivities. In reality, many people are facing hardship this year, whether as a result of homelessness, needing to use a foodbank or being elderly or infirm. Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen or simply inviting an elderly neighbour round for lunch as a way of counteracting all the consumerism. This kind of selfless act will be a good antidote to your own personal stress and also help you to get more perspective on what really matters most.
Optimism bias and planning fallacy often catch people out at Christmas and this leads to stress. Optimism bias is the human tendency to expect the best result and planning fallacy means that we routinely underestimate the time and effort required to complete tasks. If this sounds like you, don’t beat yourself up, just recognise it more mindfully this year and make a change in the way you do things to help reduce the impact of these phenomenon.
When the last of the turkey has been consumed in a curry and the tinsel is packed away for another year, ask yourself, is it really worth all the stress?
If your answer is no, or not sure, then think about how you can make changes next time to reduce the festive frenzy and bring things back to a simpler, more joyful family celebration.
I’d like to hear about what stresses you out, both at Christmas and at other times of the year. Please drop me a line or comment below.
In the meantime, hope you have a blissful and peaceful holiday.