TIME TO THRIVE BLOG
How to enjoy a stress-free Christmas
While some can’t help but be cheerful and excited about the festive days to come, not everyone feels so merry and bright as the holiday season approaches.
Even though it’s considered the most magical time of the year, for many of us women it’s also the most stressful.
We’re usually the ones organising the perfect gifts, planning the perfect meals, hosting the perfect parties, while also navigating the family calendar and all the different family dynamics. We run around serving everyone even though we feel the need to be served ourselves.
As the calendar flips to December the panic sets in. You go into overdrive, running around like a headless chicken, complaining that nobody helps you, until…
You can’t think straight anymore.
Suddenly it’s Christmas Eve. It’s time to celebrate but you feel like you’re just back from bootcamp, and now you’re either sick or feeling grumpy and resentful.
‘I suggest we postpone Christmas,’ I said, hoping the armour I put up would protect me from being judged.
My daughter didn’t say much, but I could feel her disappointment. And who could blame her! She had had enough postponements lately…
It was 2021. We had been dealing with pandemic lockdowns for nearly two years. We had all gotten Covid and were just coming out of a month-long quarantine. It was challenging to get back to our old rhythm. I was functioning, but my shoulders were tense, my breathing was still shallow, and I was feeling more tired than usual—definitely not looking forward to travelling over Christmas.
All I wanted was to snuggle up under my beloved blanket and watch new episodes of my favourite series ‘This is us’ on Amazon Prime.
Every time my mum called from Sweden to ask about what we should cook for Christmas (and it was often!), I kept repeating myself like the drunk butler in Dinner for One: ‘same procedure as last year’.
I had stopped caring about the details. Life had become more about the essential need to stay healthy.
And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I got a phone call with the news that my dad was taken by ambulance to hospital. They didn’t know what was wrong with him and how long he needed to stay.
We all just needed to wait and hope for the best. And that meant postponing Christmas. Looks like I got my wish after all, though this wasn’t how I had pictured it!
The opportunity to recharge
Of course we wanted to be there to support my parents, so we packed up the car and headed up north. And that Christmas, instead of decorating the tree and handing out gifts, my husband, daughter, and I spent the holiday on the Swedish coast having snowball fights on the beach. And you know what? It was pure bliss. No stress. No tension. (Dad turned out to be fine.)
And a few days later, we celebrated our family’s traditional Christmas with Polish barszcz soup and Swedish köttbullar.
Postponing Christmas was the best gift I could have given to my mental health. It gave me and my family the opportunity to recharge—even my dad said he rested well in hospital!
Tips to help you stay calm over Christmas
What helped me to cope with this situation?
Choosing to stay calm.
‘Choosing calm’ had been my most important practice during the pandemic. When we choose calm before a panic response, it usually has a tremendous impact on the people in our lives.
“Our calm can be as contagious as our anxiety.” – Brené Brown
Though practising staying calm is especially hard when we are with the people we love most. It’s easy to get triggered and irritated by the things mum and dad, or a sister or brother, even a distant aunt, uncle, or cousin might say.
All it takes is for my mum to say something that reminds me of how I felt as a child, and the overreaction is immediate. Or our kid misbehaves in front of our parents, and we start correcting, judging and controlling.
Why do we go back to behaving like when we were rebellious teenagers?! Why is it so challenging to stay calm when we’re with our parents?
We have become adults, but our parents awaken our unmet needs from childhood—the need to be seen, heard and validated.
If you feel you have a tendency to panic and overreact when you’re seeing family over Christmas, these three tips from Brené Brown will support you:
- Be quick to think and slow to respond.
- Stay mindful that a panic response produces more panic and fear.
- Ask yourself: Will freaking out help the situation?
We are always more easily triggered when we are tired.
What can we do to reduce stress before the holidays so that we’re more rested when we travel to see family?
I believe all the stress leading up to Christmas—making the perfect Advent calendar, getting the right gifts, preparing for either work or kids school events—comes down to one thing:
We don’t want to be judged.
We don’t want to be the one who doesn’t bake her own cookies, whose kids misbehave, who can’t handle the whole big chaotic snowglobe of Christmas stress. So we juggle, bake and smile.
How to enjoy the festive days
A client of mine shared with me recently how she is always the one inviting friends over to her house the weeks before Christmas. It makes her feel exhausted afterwards. This year she chose not to. She decided she wanted to be invited by others instead. What a great example!
Here are a few things that have helped me enjoy the festive days leading up to Christmas:
- Be clear about expectations. Talk with your partner or immediate family about what to prioritise in the time leading up to Christmas so that you are clear about everyone’s wishes and expectations. If you travel to see family over the holidays, talk with them beforehand about what you want the holiday to look like.
- Take responsibility for your well-being. Make sure you take responsibility for your mental well-being and get the rest you need, so that you have energy to enjoy the beautiful festive days. Do you not have the capacity to take on more projects at work? Then get someone else to take it on. Not really feeling up for another party? Then don’t go.
- Focus on the good things in each other. A couple of years ago I invented a game we play on Christmas Day called ‘The Heart Game’. Everyone writes down four things they appreciated about every family member during the year. Then everyone gets to read out loud the cards that were written to them. It’s a heartfelt way to focus on the good in each person.
- Ask yourself how you want to feel after Christmas is over. Do you tend to feel like you need a new holiday after the Christmas festivities come to an end? If yes, what can you do differently so that you rather feel nourished and rested? Maybe a spa day with friends? Being clear about how you want to feel afterwards can help you prioritise.
Now, what action will you take as a result of reading this blog? Write down three steps and put the note in a place where you’ll see it often!
My Time to Thrive journal
If you need help to identify what’s dragging you down so you’ll have time for things that lift you up, my free guided journal ‘Time To Thrive’ is a useful tool. Download it here.
Users of my ‘Time To Thrive’ journal are telling me:
‘I finally got better at focusing on ONE thing at a time’
‘I feel so much more energised’
‘I’ve started to be more honest and self-compassionate. This journal is truly life-changing!’
Grab a copy of my free guided journal here.
And have a joyful, nourishing, stress-free holiday season.
Hello, I’m Katarina Stoltz, a life coach and psychotherapist helping international professionals prioritise their well-being so they can achieve fulfillment without burning out.
Welcome to the 'Time To Thrive' blog, where I share real-life stories and offer valuable and practical tips for how to prevent burnout, expand your self awareness and start living your vision.
I don’t offer ‘quick fix’ solutions, but my tips are straightforward and easy to follow. You’re in the right place if you’re looking for some thought-provoking articles and honest life stories.
I’m happy you’re here!