Why Christmas Should Be Stress-Free For Everybody, Not Just The Kids

It’s time we took the stress out of Christmas.

Most of us remember the excitement of Christmas as a child – the weeks of build-up, the anticipation of treats and the opening of advent calendar doors, not the mention the exhilaration of waking up on Christmas morning. But as we get older, the shine seems to wear off, replaced by underlying worries about money, the stress of hosting, and responsibility for managing the happiness and well-being of everyone around us, to the detriment of paying attention to our own needs.

As adults, we seem to have accepted that Christmas comes with some stress and anxiety, as well as joy and generosity. After all, would it still be Christmas without tearing your hair out about forgotten or inadequate presents, or a run-in with your extended family?

Unfortunately, this attitude can have a real and lasting effect on our health. Stress has a dramatic impact on our wellbeing and the effects can extend far beyond the festive period.

Stress disrupts sleep and creates tension in the body. This tension tightens the muscles, which can cause headaches, migraines, neck, shoulder and lower back pain. It can also upset your stomach, causing digestive problems – the last thing you want at Christmas! A huge number of conditions are made worse or even caused by stress.

On top of this, stress and lack of sleep affects the levels of hormones in your body, including the ones which control feelings of hunger and fullness. Stress will make cravings for fatty and sugary ‘comfort’ foods worse and can cause overeating. At a time of year when rich, fatty and sugary foods are in abundance, this can spell bad news for your health (not to mention your waistline!)

This is why I believe it’s time to put a stop to Christmas-related stress.

Just because something is traditional, doesn’t mean it’s worth it if it causes you stress. A good example would be Caitlin Moran’s pledge to do away with the Christmas dinner – this may be an extreme option for some, but it’s an example of looking after your own mental well-being rather than doing some for the sake of it. 

If Christmas is normally ‘your’ job, then maybe it’s time to start encouraging other family members to share the burden. If feeding all those hungry mouths leaves you feeling exhausted, pass over responsibility to another adult and take on the presents and decorations in exchange. Or if you love cooking but hate cleaning up, make sure the marigolds are someone else’s job this year. 

Similarly, if the idea of hosting your in-laws makes you anxious, maybe this is the year to eat out rather than at home. Or, if your family gathering is full of fussy eaters, get people to bring their own dishes and enjoy a pot-luck buffet – all in the spirit of Christmas! And, if you can’t get away with not cooking, try thinking it as just another Sunday lunch. Don’t put pressure on yourself to transform into Nigella overnight, it will only add to your stress and take enjoyment out of the day. 

Take the emphasis away from having the ‘perfect’ Christmas, and treasure the truly special moments, such as spending time with the ones you love. Don’t focus on what might be missing; be grateful for what you do have, and mindful of the things that bring you joy. And try and make time for a few minutes for yourself on the big day – find a calm, quiet space where you can take some deep breaths and remind yourself of all that you have to be grateful for. 

Doing all you can to minimise stress will help protect both your mental and physical health this festive season. It is the season of peace and goodwill after all, so why shouldn’t the holidays be a stress-free and peaceful time for everyone, not just the kids?

 

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