Christmas is almost here and with it comes particular stresses whether we want them or not. It is difficult to avoid and truth be known by the time Christmas Day arrives most of us force ourselves to dig deeper for that extra physical and emotional strength needed to embrace a full day.
It is traditionally portrayed as the gathering of happy families, beautifully decorated homes, perfect food laden tables, an optimism that is not always realistic with the added bombardment of commercialism.
Unfortunately for many, this idealist picture will not be painted like an artist’s gentle strokes on a canvass. The more honest and realistic we are with ourselves, and acknowledgement that it is okay if we don’t achieve utopia, the better will be our coping mechanisms.
Stress factor statistics:
One research project found that 84 percent of 2,000 respondents spending time with family improved their mental well-being at Christmas. Conversely, it found that family also seems to be the biggest source of Christmas stress with 76 percent of respondents reporting that family arguments have the worst impact on their mental well-being during the festive season.
They also found around half of the participants claimed to have become run down during the holiday period.
Level of stress and annoyances results: (respondents were able to choose more than one answer):
- Shopping for presents – 50%
- Costs of Christmas – 48%
- Pressure to find the perfect gift – 28%
- Getting rundown – 28%
- Fatigue from business – 22%
- Dealing with high expectations – 22%
- Pressure from hosting – 12%
- Gaining weight – 16%
- Loneliness – 6%
Small annoyances (personally I find some of these to be major annoyance);
- Long queues in stores – 50%
- Wrapping presents – 26%
- Cooking Christmas dinner – 21%
- Excessive Christmas songs – 20%
- Sending cards – 18%
- Putting up the tree and the lights – 16%
- Hangovers – 10%
- Christmas number one talk – 10%
Further research found it was not so much the small issues, but the deeper emotional triggers that contributed to their Christmas stress:
Five most stressful factors;
- Absence of a beloved person
- Family misunderstandings and inner conflicts
- The economic difficulties
- Physical tiredness
The impact on women
There appears to be a common theme with gender stress levels and from a female’s perspective I am sure you will relate to these findings:
According to one research on 786 adults aged over 18, holiday stress has a particular impact on women as they are the ones who normally take charge of organising the holiday celebrations and particularly the tasks related to shopping, preparing meals, decorating the home.
Women have a harder time relaxing during the holidays and are more likely to fall into bad habits to manage their stress, like comfort eating. They feel a particular stress to get everything done on time.
Understanding overestimations vs underestimations
As humans, we seem to have the ability to overestimate our expectations and underestimate our letdowns. The results can be extreme disappointment and sadness that can lead to depression. This phenomenon is known as the optimism bias and one of the most consistent, prevalent, and robust biases documented in psychology and behavioural economics.
If we prepare ourselves mentally for a less biased approach it helps us to deal with the realities of life and cope with them that much more.
If you are aware of the likelihood of a dramatic rise in stress levels at Christmas, rather than pretend they won’t happen, identify and acknowledge them and consider how you will cope with those potential stress factors.
Consider their level of importance and how to address them. For example, if you are struggling financially and still want to give gifts, discuss your situation with family and friends and agree on an outcome that suits everyone. You may find their response is one of relief as they could be in a similar predicament.
The overall secret to a stress free Christmas is to be mindful of expectations whether it be self- inflicted or coming from others, and work out your own coping strategy to keep things in control.
Ten mindfulness coping mechanisms:
- No one rule fits everyone, find what best suits you
- Acknowledge Christmas can be a source of anxiety and worry at a time when the general expectation is that everybody should be happy
- Identify and understand potential stress areas early and emotionally prepare yourself
- Take control, it helps if you are able to own your Christmas and drive it as you want (not by others), guilt free
- Avoid leaving things to chance or having to fit in with other peoples plans because you haven’t finalised yours
- Planning and preparation is the key and writing a list of things to do, other than just your shopping list, helps to see your situation more realistically
- Remember to eat when you are running around rather than skip meals due to time pressures
- Accept that with life, situations are not always perfect as in television shows or movies and is often unpredictable
- Consider the possibility of postponing ‘catch-ups’ before Christmas and organize in the new year
- Focus on things that make you happy and think positively about the future
- Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London. Science Direct, R942, The Optimism Bias by Tali Sharot.
- 2006 Greenberg, Quinlan Rosner Research: Holiday Stress
- Medical News Today-Honor Whiteman: