The stress of Christmas
Years ago I made a promise to myself that I would never get stressed over Christmas ever again. It was Christmas Eve in 2003, I was pregnant with my first son, and I was sat in a Tescos car park crying. I had discovered earlier that my oven had packed up and I wouldn’t be able to use it to cook our Christmas dinner the next day. My stress levels were at an all time high and I knew how I was feeling was not going to be any good for my unborn child. I had spent the previous hour driving from supermarket to supermarket hoping I could at least buy a cooked chicken – but everywhere was closed. I was at my whits end. I was desperate to create the perfect Christmas and now it was in ruins. So I phoned the person I had always turned to in all crises; the person who always listened to my woes – my mum. “What do I do?” I wailed down the phone “Christmas is ruined!”. “Well just bring your turkey to me and I’ll cook it for you” she responded. And she brought it over the next morning with some yummy roast potatoes. Christmas was saved!
Re-evaluating the notion of the perfect Christmas
However, this whole experience really made me re-evaluate how I approached Christmas. I realised the simple mention of Christmas and my stomach would get tense and my chest, tight. But I didn’t know why. Where had the thrill and excitement from my childhood gone? Where had the Christmas joy gone?
I had completely bought into the notion I had to create the perfect Christmas – buy the perfect gifts, make the perfect dinner, be the perfect host. But for what gain? And also I had found everyone around me were also trying to do the same. So, I was listening to the people around me telling me how stressed they were about Christmas while feeling completely stressed out about it too!
Reconnecting with the joy of Christmas
So, I promised myself I would no longer buy into the stress of Christmas. I would reconnect with the joy I had as a child. And this is how I did it:
- Every time I feel myself getting overwhelmed with the list of things that need to be done, I remind myself of all the years gone by when it had come together (because it normally does all come together) and I affirm to myself “everything will come together” and “don’t buy into the stress Sarah”
- I simplified the list. I realised most of the other people I was buying Christmas presents for were probably feeling overwhelmed with buying for us too. So we formed an agreement to stop buying for one another and enjoy the time spent together instead.
- I no longer aim for perfection, “it is, what it is”
- I appreciate what everyone around me is doing to contribute to the Christmas experience
- During shopping trips, I pause, breathe and reset. When I start to feel my body getting tense and my mind over-working itself, I take a bit of time out and focus on a few breaths, notice what is going on around me and then I feel ready to go again.
I can’t say the childhood joy came back overnight. In fact, it took a few years. But 14 years on, I can reflect back on how much these changes have benefited me. I really do enjoy spending time with my favourite people, with my stripped back and simple Christmas. And I just do not buy into the stress. What stress?
Mindful present unwrapping
This is an exercise I have shared with meditation groups. Why not try this on Christmas day?
- When being handed a present, notice how the act of receiving feels. Do you feel excited? Full of anticipation? Are you feeling embarrassed about receiving a gift? Or is there something else? Where do you experience this in your body? Is it in your stomach? Shoulders? Jaw? Or anywhere else?
- Take in the shape of the present; the colours of the wrapping paper; any bows or labels. What do you notice about the way it has been wrapped? What thoughts/feelings come to mind when holding the gift?
- Now unwrap the present. Are you someone who likes to rip off the wrapping paper, or do you like to peel back the pieces of sellotape, one at a time. Do you like to peep into the opening to see what the present is as soon as possible, or do you like to take your time, only opening the paper at the last moment?
- What do you notice when you have unwrapped and are looking at the present? Are you disappointed? Are you happy? Confused? Or something else? Are there other emotions or thoughts that arise?
- Notice that you have given this present all of your attention and have been completely in the present moment. And that is a gift within itself.
Wishing you a magical Christmas and a wonderful New Year.
Tags: Bristol UK, Christmas, Happiness, Health, Holistic Therapy, Joy, Life, Meditation, Mindfulness, Quality of life, Stress, wellbeing
This post was written by Sarah Presley