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Keeping Stress At Bay This Christmas

It needn't be all doom and gloom, and the good news is, you can have a wonderful Christmas, if you learn to put yourself first. Follow these tried and tested strategies to ensure you give yourself the best chance of having a merry Christmas...
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Let's face it, Christmas may be billed as a season to be jolly, but it's also stressful too. A throw-away comment by a partner or relative can be loaded with innuendo and historical irritations. Less-favoured relatives pay you a visit and add their two pence worth on how you should manage your home/work/children. Meanwhile on TV, smiling celebrities effortlessly show the perfectly cooked Christmas feast, which only adds to the pressures. And you still have to run the house, look after the family and be calm, cool and collected.

High expectations are fuelled by the media and our own personal hopes and dreams. We do want it to be perfect, we want everyone to enjoy themselves and share a lovely time together.

It's no surprise, therefore, that in the stress resilience world, Christmas is known to be a danger period for divorce and separation. Any bubbling tensions that have been simmering throughout the year suddenly spill over when people are forced to spend lengthy amounts of time together as they're off work, the shops are shut, and there is nowhere to go.

But it needn't be all doom and gloom, and the good news is, you can have a wonderful Christmas, if you learn to put yourself first. Follow these tried and tested strategies to ensure you give yourself the best chance of having a merry Christmas:

Get good sleep. Stress affects sleep. When we are stressed, we overproduce cortisol. This stores in the muscles causing tension, aches and pains. It speeds up the heart-rate. You can't sleep if your heart is racing.

If we can't sleep, everything is affected, and the impacts lasts well into January, when we are back at work. A recent report from research organisation RAND Europe revealed that a lack of sleep has a wider impact on society, with a cost of £40million to the economy through lack of productivity.

The first step to getting a good night's sleep is switching off, quite literally. ICT (internet and communication technology) has a profound effect on our sleep. Blue screens interfere with our bodies' production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, which is produced naturally during twilight. Constant 24/7 social media means that we confuse and over-ride nature with artificial light. So turn off all TVs, gadgets and gizmos for at least an hour before bed. Download f.lux to reduce the effects of blue screens.

Relax at night with Epsom salt baths. This cheap, simple and natural remedy has been used since 1618. Stress drains the body's magnesium and increases adrenaline levels. The salt is absorbed via the skin to replenish missing magnesium during bathing. This helps serotonin production, a mood-elevating chemical which creates a feeling of calm and relaxation, therefore reducing irritability. This in turn improves sleep and concentration, helping muscles and nerves to function properly. If you don't have a bath, use a bowl and soak your feet in the warm solution.

Beware of "Emotional Contagion". We are more likely to be influenced by negative rather than positive emotions. Our chances of picking up on other people's bad feelings like fear, anger, sadness or worry is higher than catching on to happiness, optimism and joy.

Decide not to be influenced by others. Create your own emotional programme for a wonderful time.

Plan ahead. Preparation is essential for your own enjoyment, satisfaction and a smooth running Christmas.

Make a list of chores to delegate. Don't be afraid to ask all the family to do their bit, from preparing vegetables, laying the table, clearing away and washing up.

Eight essentials for YOU

Remember, only you can let others affect how you feel. Make the decision now that you will have a really good time.

Stick to your budget to avoid "buyer's remorse".

Know that you can't control everyone or everything. Prepare, plan and expect the best. No-one minds if your house doesn't look like a magazine photograph! Do a seating plan, placing disagreeable relatives away from you. Invite someone you really like to balance things.

Book a treat in advance, a massage or facial to pre-celebrate and do something just for you.

Give yourself a cut-off point e.g. Christmas Eve. After this, take it easy, make sure you congratulate yourself on all you have done. If you haven't done everything you hoped, accept it!

On Christmas day, put on your favourite music and light a favourite scented candle.

Keep a list of who gave what to whom and put in very safe place.

Ask someone to video and photograph the best bits to remind you how well you did and how much easier and better Christmas was than you expected.