How to shake off your Christmas stress

People who have a calm perspective make better decisions than those who are stressed. And stress behaviour is self-perpetuating

Faith WoodIt’s almost that time of year again – the shops are filling up, along with the roads, and people’s stress levels are increasing.

Christmas is a time of tradition. Some people have huge family gatherings with relatives from all over the place, others prefer a quiet evening – fireplace, wine, blanket and time off work.

Whatever your tradition, it can be very stressful.

I remember a few years ago on Christmas Eve, I realized we needed a few more items for the next evening’s feast. I decided to take my life in my own hands and head to the shop. I honestly thought it would be quieter, the night before Christmas. After all, it was about 8 p.m.

How wrong I was.

The grocery store was in meltdown. Elves were running around wildly trying to stock the shelves as the crazed hordes continually emptied them.

One well-dressed woman in her late 40s stood in the isle and screamed at staff for over five minutes about items she couldn’t find for her holiday stuffing. She was bright red; the only thing missing was steam out her ears.

It was clear the staff elf (although incredibly polite) was at a loss about how to resolve the situation. He had offered substitutes, which had been turned down flat as not being suitable. He stopped short of explaining that although the staff wore Santa hats, they were in fact not magical elves.

“I’m sorry ma’am, there simply is no more of that particular item in the store and we won’t be having a delivery for three days,” he said.

That wasn’t good enough.

I noticed a small, embarrassed looking chap lurking behind her trying to walk away. He nearly made it until she said: “Look at what you’re doing to my husband,” pointing wildly at the escaping man. “Just look! He’s traumatized. Christmas is ruined!”

Anyone who takes something that should be a time of fun and laughter so seriously that they turn red in the grocery store and frighten their partners really needs to locate a bit more comfort and joy.

“But if I don’t make it happen and get stressed nothing gets done,” I often hear people say.

I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes being stressed is exactly what’s required and there are also times when it can be useful for someone to know you’re angry.

But being unable to find the necessary groceries isn’t one of those times.

People who have a calm perspective make better decisions than those who are stressed. And stress behaviour is self-perpetuating.

“I’m gonna be late, traffic, lights, Christmas shoppers, rain, grocery items – arrgghhhhh!”

It builds and builds.

But with a little practise, you can make decisions from a different perspective.

Learning to be calmer will in no way ensure that you’ll never get upset or stressed again. There will always be people who are annoying to you. This is a good thing. It reminds you that you’re still alive. Besides, we’d have nothing to talk about if idiots suddenly ceased to exist.

But you can decide to handle things in a calm way, feeling relaxed and making better decisions, instead of having a shop full of people think you’re nuts.

So here’s a visualizing tip for erasing Christmas stress. And if you have a problem visualizing, just close your eyes and pretend you can. Some people find this easy the first time while others take a little practise.

  • Sit somewhere comfortable where you won’t be disturbed for 10 minutes.
  • Close your eyes and remember a time when you were cool, calm and collected (CCC), or relaxed. It doesn’t have to be your most relaxed time, just any time when you felt peaceful.
  • Breathe deeply and evenly, just as you do as you fall asleep.
  • Recall those moments of peace and calm. See what you saw, hear what you heard, feel how good you felt.
  • If you have difficulty achieving this, just pretend you can – it works just as well. Sit and relax into the memory for a few minutes.
  • As you recall the CCC memory, imagine it getting brighter and bolder, the sounds becoming crystal clear, and notice where the relaxed feeling starts. Breathe at the same rate as when you are CCC.
  • Once you begin to feel relaxed, breathe in and imagine that feeling expanding.
  • Now, keep the feeling and think of a time in the future (say two weeks from now) when you would like to have a more stress-free approach (perhaps when the in-laws arrive for the holiday feast).
  • Then imagine taking the CCC feeling into the situation that used to cause stress and allow the moment to feel different. It can be helpful to repeat this several times with different events.

Practise the feelings you want to have in situations like this every other day (just 10 minutes) and you might find that the things that once stressed you out simply don’t have the same power over you.

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 


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