With the pressure on to put up the most Insta-worthy decs and rustle up a Michelin-standard lunch, it’s not surprising that most of us feel more frantic than festive right now. But don’t panic! Follow these tips to have yourself a very merry (and stress-free) Christmas.
- Clare Evans- Author of Time Management for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons)
- Sally Brown– A counsellor and coach, she helps people manage stress and anxiety
- Simonne Gnessen– A money coach and the co-author of Sheconomics (Headline)
1. Planning is Crucial…
When there’s a lot to do, the difference between breezing through and panicking is planning ahead. “Some people buy gifts in January sales and wrap them, ready for December,” says time management coach Clare Evans. If that’s you, no need to read on.
But if just the thought of Christmas sends you into a frenzy, it’s time to get organised. “Think about what’s important, and prioritise,” says Clare.
She suggests a master list divided into sections for food, gifts, decor, and parties. “And make a plan for each week.” Then, “Allow yourself time to unwind, so you’re not exhausted,” says Counsellor Sally Brown.
2. The Money Issue
With the average family spending thousands on Christmas and many of us buying on credit, money can be a huge source of stress. “Even a cheaper gift could end up costing you more if you pay for it with an expensive credit card,” says financial coach Simonne Gnessen.
As much as we hate discussing money, Simonne says we need to break this taboo. Broach the subject by saying, “Do you mind if we restrict costs this year?” Remember, you’re probably not the only one dreading that credit card statement. Also, be mindful of the costs you and your family will incur going into January (it’s a long month).
Simonne suggests doing Secret Santa for the adults, but with a slightly higher price point so everyone gets something decent. Use this Secret Santa gift exchange organiser which sends out a mail to all involved and tells them who they are buying for. That person can even set up a wish list so everyone gets something that they really want.
This could also be an important time to look at your relationship with money, and the messages you’re sending your kids by overspending. “If you keep buying more and more, yet fretting about money, you’re sending mixed messages,” says Simonne. Don’t say, “We’re broke this year, so we’re cutting back on presents,” as that will create a scarcity mindset. Involve your kids in gestures that show a posture of giving and not only receiving by being a part of organisations like Santa Shoebox.
Or maybe this is your opportunity to have a bigger talk about values and consumerism. Also consider what’s important to the adults in your life – lavish gifts, or time with loved ones?
3. Coping with the In-Laws
What do you do if your in-laws seem to disapprove of everything you do? “Don’t rise to it,” says Sally. “Christmas is about being the ‘bigger person’ and letting go of the need to be right. Responding with gentle humour may diffuse the situation.” Try to talk to your partner before the big day and ask for their help. Keep the tone neutral with ‘I’ statements to describe how you feel. Say “I feel like my efforts aren’t appreciated” rather than “Your family is always on my back”.
Chances are they may be oblivious to how upset you are. If your mother-in-law has a habit of taking over your kitchen, try empathy over irritation. “Some women find it hard to ‘hand over the reins’,” says Sally. “What she is saying when she interferes is ‘I want to know I still matter’. It might not be easy, but try to involve her as it will allay her feelings of being redundant.”
4. Great Expectations
We’ve all seen too many Christmas movies to sail through this season without some preconceived ideas, but you’ll have more fun if you don’t stress over every detail. “If you feel you ‘must’ do certain things, ask yourself why,” says Sally. If you’d rather do Christmas differently this year, “the key is to let people know early so they have time to get used to the idea and make arrangements”. If your family expect to stay with you but tend to overstay their welcome, be clear when you’d like them to leave. “Say something like, ‘We would love you to come from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day morning’,” suggests Sally.
5. The Day Itself
If the mammoth task of cooking Christmas lunch falls to you, then we have some tips on how to stay calm and keep everything on track:
- First, work out what time you want to eat, and work backwards from there. “Make yourself a timetable,” says Clare, “and pre-prepare as much as you can.” For example, peel the potatoes the night before and keep them in a pot of water. If you’re uncertain on timings, w&h food editor Claire Badenhorst has worked it out for you, see: How To Plan Your Christmas Feast.
- Secondly, remember, it’s not about turning out the most perfect meal imaginable. “You don’t need to make 50 types of vegetables or even all the sides,” says Clare. Keep it simple. So many shops sell ready-made stuffing these days. And most people would rather lend a hand than watch you run around frantically. Too many of us feel like we need to do it all ourselves. “If help is offered, accept it,” says Clare.
And if something goes wrong? Take a deep breath. People will remember the day, not that you made four sauces made from scratch.
By Sharon Walker. Compiled by Andrea Cresswell