When it comes to the Christmas season, are you Elf or the Grinch, or a little bit of both? It’s tricky. While on the one hand Christmas is often a joyous and sociable time of year, it can also be exhausting and stressful as you try to juggle extra social commitments with work, family, school holidays and massive amounts of additional organisation and planning. If your life is already busy, the thought of fitting in all the ‘extras’ that the Christmas season brings can lead you to dread this time of year. The weight of expectation and responsibility can put you at risk of succumbing to overwhelm.
You’ll have heard me talk about overwhelm before – it’s one of the 5 pitfalls of working parenthood and I address some of the general ways to tackle it here. But Christmas is a special case with its own set of unique problems. If the dropping temperatures and release of the John Lewis ad are already starting to make you feel a little nervous or Christmasphobic, then this blog is for you. I’ll show you what you need to do to stay calm, focused, and keep that festive overwhelm at bay!
Here’s how to avoid overwhelm this festive season:
1 – Plan in your anchors
These are the non-negotiables; the things you know you need to do to stay sane – such as exercise, walking the dog, calling your mum or having a coffee with a friend. If you have to move the times or dates to accommodate festive commitments, the rule is that you need to find time for them elsewhere in your calendar that SAME week. No postponing. You need your anchors and stability now more than ever.
2 – Plan your nights in
That’s right – usually we plan our nights out! At Christmas, there’s so much going on and so many opportunities for going out that you need to be selective. Plan a minimum number of non-negotiable ‘nights in’ in advance – this will give you a framework for accepting or declining the social opportunities that arise. Be firm.
3 – Limit your drinking
It sounds a little bah humbug, but it’s not about restricting yourself, its about staying in control. Drinking too much alcohol at this time of year is what contributes to you feeling exhausted (you don’t sleep as well), below par, and more prone to overwhelm. All you need to do is decide ahead of time when you’re going to drink and how much, and then stick to it. For example, If you are out for a Christmas lunch, and there are also drinks in the evening, decide you’ll drink only a glass at lunch and, say, a bit more at dinner. Or vice versa. Measuring it is easy: never fill a half empty glass and you won’t lose track.
4 – Make a Christmas card commitment
It’s amazing quite how burdensome this task can feel! We all have good intentions, but usually we don’t live up to them. I often find myself on the wrong side of Christmas with a stack of half-written cards and several books of Christmas stamps. Every year! I know some who have dispensed with sending cards altogether. If this is you, good for you and it’s one less thing to worry about. But if, like me, you still see the magic in receiving a hand-written card, then try this for a plan of action: Decide to send out a limited number of cards (in my case 50). Then spend one week writing a certain number of cards a night (say 10). If you make a commitment to yourself to do this, you’ll be much more likely to honour it.
5 – Don’t get pressured by presents
Here’s my advice for making gift choosing and buying stress-free: 1) Remember less is more – buying 1 thoughtfully chosen present is better than 4 gifts you scooped up on your way to the till or at the last minute. 2) Keep the list short – perhaps exchange gifts with just family and very close friends – don’t be whipped up into a frenzy of consumerism. Some people only give to children under 18 and this is a great idea if your whole family agrees. If you like giving and receiving presents generally however, then keep them small. 3) Don’t give presents, give thoughts. You’ve heard the expression ‘it’s the thought that counts’? Well why not give a thought instead of a material gift? Heartfelt notes, cards, or acts of kindness can mean more than a hastily ordered present. 4) Prepare ahead of time. Start early and think of just one gift a day that you need to buy. This way you can really think about what the recipient wants, do research, and avoid the over-compensating that often happens when making last minute purchases.
6 – Get up early
Just when you think there’s an excuse not to – (those dark mornings, the late night partying), – getting up early is even more important than ever during the festive period. It still is my favourite balance tool, the one thing that helps me stay grounded, avoid the feeling of overwhelm and enables me to feel as though I’m in control of my life instead of the other way round. If you’re already a convert, don’t use the silly season as an excuse to start hitting the snooze button. If anything, get up 10 minutes earlier. The busier your life is, the more of that precious morning time you need to centre yourself, plan ahead, eliminate the unnecessary and feed your soul. Have a look at my blog with tips on how to start being an early bird here.
7 – Say no more often
If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know that ‘saying no’ is one of my favourite balance habits. (Have a look at my post on how to do it here). The festive period becomes stressful because we suddenly start saying yes to everything – going out 3 nights in a row, making promises to meet artificial deadlines, cooking Christmas dinner for 14, giving our time to people and things that aren’t a priority during the rest of the year. Resist! If anything, the festive season is a time when you need to be more selective and say no (even) more often than usual.
8 – Plan some white space
If you look at your calendar and all you see is colour and appointments, something needs to change. Time when you have nothing scheduled is as important as the time you have set aside for meetings or completing your latest project. Create white space in your diary so you can take a breath, take stock, and check you’re doing things in the most efficient way. It also means there’s space to absorb any unexpected but likely festive overspill.
9 – Take it off the list
Treat this season as a chance to cleanse your to do list. All those items that have been cluttering up your list for 6 months need to go. Just accept that you’re not going to do them, ditch the guilt and move on. You’ll feel much more clear-headed and motivated when you have de-cluttered your diary in time for Christmas.
10 – Put it on next year’s list
If there’s stuff you can’t take off the list, ask yourself if it really needs to be done now. With all the real deadlines during the festive period (Christmas day itself, for example), you don’t need to create any artificial ones. Most likely your boss or your clients are already doing that, putting pressure on because they want everything done and dusted before the holidays. When this happens, try composing a compelling suggestion that things be postponed until the new year. Don’t let others shift the burden of their busy festive seasons on to your shoulders. Set your own boundaries and decide your own priorities.
11 – Let go of perfection
We all have hopes and expectations of putting on a wonderful Christmas for ourselves and others – the perfect presents, decorations, entertainment. But perfection is rarely a realistic goal and only really serves to cause stress and disappointment. Be less hard on yourself and learn to invite a little imperfection into your life. You won’t regret it. (Have a look at my blog post on why I’m an advocate of ‘imperfect’ parenting here).
So, all that remains for me to say as we head off into Christmas 2018, is good luck, keep calm, and most of all, look after yourselves. Write and let me know how you get on!
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org