The trees are going up, the sounds of Christmas anthems are filling the airwaves and bars are buzzing with revellers drinking mulled wine and beer - the festive season has officially arrived. And while we're extremely excited about the time off work and fun-filled events December brings, we have to confess - beneath our Christmas cheer, there's a layer of anxiety and stress that's brewing within us, because it's also the time of year that we pack more into our days than the rest of the year.
According to a 2013 survey, Brits crammed 44% more social occasions into December, racking up to over 12 hours of socialising per week. If you think about it, we plan, travel, see, chat, give, eat, drink, laugh, spend and plan again repeatedly in mere days during the Christmas period. And while this is incredibly fun, it can become overwhelming.
From the plethora of festive markets and pop-ups on offer to Christmas lunches to Boxing Day sales, there's a pressure at this time of year to do and see as much as possible and we don't want to miss out on any of it. A study from last year tested for signs of FOMO (fear of missing out) over the month of December found that one in five Brits (18%) worry about turning down social events in case they miss out and the same number attend more than one event a night.
That means we're cramming months of social engagements into a space of two to four weeks. (How many times have you said, "We'll catch up in the Christmas break?"). In fact, two in five (43%) of us juggle three events or more in just one evening during the height of the party season.
Combine that with the fact that we're already feeling exhausted by the end of the year - most of us had our annual leave four months ago in the summer - and we're pushing ourselves to burnout.
To help you cope with the busyness and cramming of plans this Christmas, we look at the ways we can prevent feeling overwhelmed and stressed. We wish you a more peaceful and calm Christmas.
1. Learn to say "no" nicely
Although it's the time for giving, sometimes a request at Christmas-time can push you to your limits. Whether it's a favour, a demand from a family member or an event you've been invited to, if you can't or don't want to attend you must speak up, to avoid unnecessary stress and burning out. Here's four steps to declining gracefully:
- When you're faced with a request, pause for a moment before you reply. This gives you the impression that you're truly considering the request and also buys you time to think.
- When you do turn down the request, keep your reply short; for example, "I'd really love to, but I can't".
- Don't feel obligated to explain. You have your reasons and they may not be ones you wish to discuss. If you're comfortable to explain, make it as simple as possible.
- Resist the urge to apologise profusely, because it shows you're uncomfortable with your decision. But do sincerely apologise once.
2. Postpone plans until January
It may sound ridiculous to do so but over-packing December with too much to do will only increase stress levels and reduce your enjoyment of the event. So try to simplify your plans by arranging time with friends and family in January rather than cramming it all in now. The likelihood is you'll have the time and energy to savour the experience and have something to look forward to post New Year.
Dr Phillips who conducted a study on how busy schedules at Christmas can trigger illness at the University of Birmingham, explained: “At Christmas, when we are trying to do everything, or get everything finished at work before the break, there can be a dip in desirable events and a rise in negative mood, caused by the varying pressures we all find ourselves under, such as financial worries, time constraints and a lack of support from friends or family.”
“These kinds of worries, when built up, can quite literally make us ill as the stress from these events affects the balance of the body’s hormones.”
“Listen to your body’s slow down signals and obey them," she recommends, "and most of all, make a holiday exactly that; a relaxing break.”
3. Shop for presents at home
Buying gifts is one of the most stressful parts of Christmas. Avoid heaving high streets and buy your presents on the internet. Spend one day doing this as it;helps focus the mind and makes the shopping experience more efficient. Many online retailers such as John Lewis, Amazon, ASOS,Urban Outfitters and Zara offer free delivery if you spend a certain amount. Other retailers allow you to buy online and collect in store such as Selfridges and Liberty. However, allow for plenty of time to fetch your goods from the shop as these departments can get very busy at this time of year.
4. Stick to a budget
Once you've jotted down your list of loved ones to buy for, write a minimum and maximum price range you want to spend on each person. Then calculate a total figure for each price category. If you're not happy with the estimated cost, go back and revise the maximum price list.
Next, think about what you can realistically buy in that price range and when shopping online you can narrow down your searches by price. It's important to remember that a special and meaningful gift doesn't have to be expensive. Have a look at our round-ups of affordable yet beautiful fashion, accessory and homeware brands for inspiration.
5. Write Christmas cards in the evening
You may have the intention of writing heartfelt and thoughtful messages in Christmas cards, but after about five it can become a time-consuming and laborious process. Make it easier by writing out a list of names and addresses of whom you'd like to send cards to in a spreadsheet. Print it out and keep it with a stack of cards, pens and stamps. Every night, sit down and write a few. You'll get through them quicker and be proud of the results.
6. Give yourself a cut off point
There should be at least a one day gap between preparing for and celebrating Christmas. That means set end of play 23 December as your deadline. Christmas Eve should be about putting your feet up, spoiling yourself and letting the festivities begin...
7. Alleviate stress and anxiety with baking
Supermodel Karlie Kloss spends the night before important shoots baking her Perfect 10 Kookies (milkbarstore.com) to calm her nerves and sends the editors at US Vogue her homemade toffee every Christmas. In an increasingly fast-paced and unpredictable world, baking has become the modern woman’s stress buster.
For a start, the techniques used in baking – stirring, mixing, kneading – are very similar to other proven stress relievers such as knitting or squeezing a stress ball. The calm movements and predictability (if you follow a recipe correctly, you're almost guaranteed success) of baking can offer relief when your brain can't focus and your heart is racing from feeling overwhelmed.
8. Avoid a hangover
There are a few precautions you can take to avoid feeling unwell and sluggish in the morning after a night out:
- Line the stomach with healthy carbs such as brown rice or pasta and add asparagus, which contains amino acids and minerals that can prevent nausea and headaches.
- When you're out, match your each alcoholic drink with a glass of water, that way you'll stay refreshed and will dodge the dehydrated feeling in the morning.
- Avoid dark-coloured drinks - red wine and whiskey contain congeners which can contribute to some hangovers.
- Try to stay away from champagne and any other bubbly as research shows that alcohol with bubbles can cause your body to absorb alcohol more readily.
- Drink premium alcohols instead, because cheaper spirits contain more congeners.
9. Learn how to diffuse your temper
Whether it's a busy high street, packed-out train journey or your family on Christmas Day, chances are Christmas will bring out the worst in you once or twice during the break. But there are numerous techniques to control your temper, from controlling your breathing and going for a run, to holding off from venting. See our guide on How to be less angry.
10. Plan your outfits
It's around this time of year that we realise we have nothing to wear. We hastily run to the shops to find any alternatives, but end up settling for a dress we'll only wear once. Use our guide to clearing out your wardrobe and create your ultimate wardrobe edit in the first fortnight of December, before the festive calender officially kicks off.