8 ways to a stress-free Christmas

If you’re panicking about getting through December without suffering festive burnout, Louise Baty has tips to help

1 Be realistic

Picture the Christmas you want – and then lower your expectations. You may dream of whisking the kids off to Lapland, splurging on designer gifts and then throwing the Boxing Day bash of the decade. But seriously, who has time for that unless they have unlimited funds and a team of professional party planners? Rather than tying yourself in knots, focusing on consumerism, think about how you want to feel this Christmas. If seeing family is important but expensive days out aren’t achievable, organise a festive walk in the park and take flasks of hot chocolate and mince pies to share. By concentrating on enjoying moments rather than material things, you’ll minimise stress and maximise the true spirit of Christmas.

2 Know your limits

It’s easy to take on too much around Christmas, especially if you’re drawn to helping others. But it’s not selfish to set boundaries or rip up that bottomless ‘to do’ list. Avoid overspending by setting a realistic Christmas budget and sticking to it. Bear in mind that your time is just as precious as money. You may be great at organising get-togethers, but why should you agree to host extended family and friends on multiple occasions if you’re too wrung out to enjoy any of it? Choose your Christmas roles wisely and only make manageable commitments. By opting out of unnecessary tasks, you’ll free yourself up for things you really want to do, such as making Christingles with your kids or watching a Christmas movie in peace.

3 Be honest

Once you’re clear on your own personal capabilities – whether dictated by time or  finances – learn to say ‘no’ with grace and confidence. Be upfront with friends if you can’t afford a festive night out and suggest celebrating in a more manageable way, such as a games night at home. Baring your soul may feel uncomfortable, but any awkwardness will soon be replaced by relief. Also, bear in mind that by being open with others about how you’re simplifying your Christmas, you may embolden them to admit that they’re also overwhelmed. By working together to ease Christmas stresses, you could find yourself doing everyone a favour.

4 Delegate

There’s nothing festive about spending Christmas Day slaving over steaming pots of gravy and bread sauce while everyone else relaxes in front of the television – so don’t do it! Instead of one person being in charge of cooking, share the culinary load by delegating a task to each guest. One could bring a starter, another could bring roast potatoes, while another could be in charge of pudding. Of course, it pays to coordinate in advance to avoid three people turning up with a prawn ring and no one providing a turkey. If not food, then ask for other party elements, such as crackers for the table or a bottle of fizz. After all, teamwork makes the dream work and Christmas should be about everyone pulling together.

5 Simplify your gift list

A Secret Santa gift draw is useful for workplaces, as it means that everyone receives something to unwrap but also only has to buy one gift. For the same reason, Secret Santa works for extended families and friendship groups. Well before the big day, put all names in a hat and draw one recipient for each person taking part. Set a price limit so everyone has realistic expectations. Each participant should then secretly buy a suitable gift for their recipient and wrap it up in time for the big exchange. It’s a great way to reduce the cost and hassle of Christmas shopping while ensuring that everyone takes part in the fun of buying and receiving a thoughtful present.

6 Reuse, recycle and repurpose

There’s no festive rule book stating your home should look like the Christmas department at Harrods. Decorations are expensive so resist the urge to buy new baubles – after all, they spend approximately 11 out of 12 months hidden in a box. Instead, treasure the decorations you already have. There’s something magical about rediscovering the same baubles every year. If you’re really hankering after something different for your tree, check out charity shops for secondhand decorations – they may only have been used once before being donated. Alternatively, stick on some Christmas tunes and have a crafting session, making paper chains – a simple child-friendly activity, harking back to days of old when people made do with what they had, even at Christmas. 

7 Switch off social media

Your Facebook feed may be awash with snaps of other people’s ‘perfect’ Christmases, such as parcels piled under tinsel-laden trees or tables buckling with food. You may even envy other people’s mince pie baking skills! Comparison is the thief of joy and nowhere is that more true than online. Remind yourself that nothing is truly what it seems on social media, where most people endeavour (subconsciously or consciously) to show their best side or even portray a false image of their lives. Think about how scrolling makes you feel. Does it leave you sad, jealous or itching to blow your Christmas budget, trying to live up to other people’s posts? If so, log out and focus on enjoying your own Christmas rather than peering in at other people’s.

8 Focus on the small things

Sometimes, all the noise and glitter can detract from the true meaning of Christmas: being thankful for what we have and appreciating those around us. Rather than racing through endless shopping lists or feeling inadequate because your fairy lights aren’t a match for the musical light-up reindeer in next door’s garden, take time to notice and savour small pleasures instead; a hug from a relative, early-morning frost, a robin in your garden or a Christmas card from an old friend… By treasuring the tiny things, we can start to let go of our desire for an OTT Christmas and ease the stresses and strains that go hand in hand with it too.

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