Christmas is meant to be a joyous occasion. A time to get together with friends and family, exchange gifts and feast on festive fare. But often it's this expectation for Christmas that can leave us feeling short. It takes a lot of time, energy and money to create the magical Christmas Day we promise ourselves and the pressure for perfection makes it one of the most stressful times of the year.
What is the Festive Fear?
I'm using the 'festive fear' as a collective term for negative feelings of stress, anxiety and irrational thoughts during the Christmas period. These could be feelings of financial stress, anxiety about seeing family members who've had rifts with in the past or perhaps obsessive irrational thoughts concerning your hosting skills or the gifts you've bought. The festive fear may creep up on you months before Christmas when you start to make plans, or it may be isolated to particular events such as Christmas shopping or cooking the Christmas lunch. However it manifests itself, it's important to remember that feeling stressed and anxious during this time of year is completely normal. I've listed below the most common causes of stress this time of year with some tips on how you can alleviate them.
If you've had a rift with a family member this year, and not yet resolved it, consider meeting up with them before Christmas Day to ensure you clear the air and relieve any awkwardness of seeing them for the first time in front of the whole family. Depending on the severity of the row, consider a family counselling session. This will ensure things don't escalate and you'll be able to receive impartial advice on how to move forward and repair your relationship.
Choosing whether to spend Christmas with your family or your in-laws is often a bone of contention. If you're able to host, you could have everyone to you, but don't try and please too many people at the expense of your wellbeing. Consider alternating each year, or splitting the festive week between different groups. Perhaps you have Christmas Eve with your immediate family, Christmas Day with your in-laws and Boxing Day with extended family. If these options don't appeal, then you could escape the family dramas altogether and spend Christmas abroad. Last year Opodo reported a 39% rise in Christmas holiday bookings, and the trend is set to continue.
Perhaps the biggest cause of stress at Christmas is caused by financial concerns. Research last year revealed that British families spend around £800 on Christmas, with much of this borrowed via credit cards and loans. Last November, British families borrowed £1.5bn in the run up to Christmas.
To avoid running into unnecessary debt, it's important to set an affordable budget and plan ahead. Take advantage of discount codes, cash back sites such as Quidco, and online marketplaces such as ebay where you can search for the best price but don't get lured into 'great offers' on things you don't need. If money is tight, don't feel pressured into buying new decorations. If you're really organised, the best time to buy Christmas décor is straight after Christmas. They can then be stowed away ready for the following year. Alternatively, bring the family together by making your own Christmas cards, wreaths and tree decorations.
Cooking the Christmas Lunch
For many this is the most important meal of the year, but it's also the most stressful. Research has revealed that Christmas Day stress peaks at 12.56pm just before the lunch is served and 47% of Britons say that preparing the Christmas lunch is the most demanding part of the day due to timings, oven space, interfering relatives and the sheer volume of the work involved.
Don't try and take on this mammoth task on Christmas Day alone. Many of the components of the Christmas lunch can be prepared in advance, or even bought. Consider buying time consuming elements such as gravy and cranberry sauce or buying the entire spread so all you have to do is the cooking part. If it's the quantity of guests that's causing you stress, going out for Christmas lunch could alleviate this. Not only will you be able to spend more time with your family, but you'll save yourself the clearing up and the hassle of purchasing and paying for the ingredients. Alternatively, if you'd prefer to stay at home, there are a number of takeaway restaurants open on Christmas Day.
For many industries, Christmas is the busiest time of year and the pressures of work combined with family duties, the increased number of social events, bad weather and inevitable winter bugs can leave us feeling physically and mentally drained.
Don't feel pressured to go to every Christmas party and event. It's ok to decline an invitation if you need to spend an evening getting on top of things or simply want an early night. Guard against getting ill by getting the recommended 8 hours sleep a night, drinking plenty of water and eating a nutritious diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Research has shown that Vitamin C can reduce cold and flu symptoms by as much as 85%.
The majority of people will suffer from some form of festive fear this Christmas. If you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, visit your GP for further advice or enlist the help of a therapist.