If you are feeling stressed about Christmas, you are not alone. Research shows that Christmas can be stressful, and it can even place a toll on your health.
Studies from around the world have found Christmas is associated with an increased risk of fatal heart attacks. In fact, one large study reports that Christmas and New Year’s day are associated with more fatal heart attacks than any other days of the year.
And while researchers are still investigating the mechanism of this “Merry Christmas Coronary”, we know emotional stress is one risk factor that can be ameliorated through self-care.
Instead of doing Christmas on autopilot, follow these three easy steps to a stress-free Christmas. These strategies are backed by science and can help boost your well-being and protect your health during the busy time ahead.
1. Give love not stuff
Look around any shopping centre this time of year, and it is pulsing with stress. Just finding a carpark can seem like climbing Mt Everest. And that is before you have even started the intrepid task of finding the perfect gift to symbolise how much you care.
Almost all of us have enough stuff. So finding a thoughtful gift for loved ones is exponentially hard.
This year, instead of focusing on expensive gifts, try writing gratitude cards to your loved ones. Gratitude card writing offers a very powerful boost to happiness that, so giving gratitude won’t only mean something to your family – science says it will likely improve your own well-being, and your relationships, as well.
But if you do want to spend money on others, a well-being tip is to purchase experiences not things. Replace a gift of hand cream for your mum with a voucher for afternoon tea. Research tells us that experiences have a bigger positive impact on our happiness than things.
Taking your mum out for afternoon tea will create a happy shared memory that will last well after the hand cream tub has been used up and thrown away.
2. Seek stillness
December is one of the most social times of the year. Between work parties, catch ups with old friends and family get togethers, make sure to schedule time out to be still.
While social connection is a strong contributor to health and longevity, too much socialising without time to restore is not balanced – and it can contribute to mental and physical stress.
At Christmas time, family tensions are particularly common and there are often pressures (especially for women) to cook and care for everyone. Taking time out for self-care is essential.
During December, you will have to schedule time for self-care. If you don’t schedule it, life will get too busy and self-care simply won’t happen.
This month, set reminders on your phone to do nurturing things such as long walks, quiet cups of tea on your veranda, or nights in – curled up on the couch with a good book.
3. Embrace imperfection
Western culture strives for perfection.
At Christmas time, the struggle for the perfect gift, the perfect celebration, and the perfect family is immense. Striving for perfection is perhaps a key reason why most people experience an injection of extra stress at Christmas time.
In fact, a recent study of approximately 30,000 Europeans found the only demographic who do not report elevated stress at Christmas time are religious Christians. Perhaps this is because there is less of a focus on outer perfection, and more of a focus on stories and the immaterial meaning of Christmas in this group.
Rather than striving for the perfect Christmas this year, let go of the reins a little and make peace with your argumentative aunty and burnt-sausage Christmas lunch. By allowing your Christmas to be imperfect, you will have more mental space to savour the real meaning of Christmas.
When you let go of ‘perfect’ it is easier to laugh, and you will enjoy a Christmas of connection, sharing and self-care.
So this year, don’t do Christmas on autopilot. Give love not stuff, seek out stillness and don’t strive for perfection. That way, you will have the mental space to settle into the magic of Christmas, and you will start the new year feeling rested and restored.
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