JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Tips for a stress-free Christmas

Relax ... and leave your job at the office over Christmas.

Relax ... and leave your job at the office over Christmas.

Megan Johnston asks the experts how to make the most of the festive season without succumbing to mental and physical wear.

Christmas is fast approaching and with it, so too are rising stress levels. For all the talk at this time of year of parties and merrymaking, the silly season can be tainted by the exhausting roundabout of social gatherings, family disagreements and depleted bank accounts. Most of us subject ourselves to mad working binges beforehand, too.

But suppose there was a way to cruise through December and be at your peak going into your holidays. Instead of worrying about every obligation or giving in to that crazy compulsion to catch up with every tenuous acquaintance, imagine we could learn to chill out and enjoy Christmas.

So put away your diaries and down the to-do lists. Here is an expert's guide to putting yourself into a relaxed headspace for the holiday season.

Family comfort
Family - or lack of it - can be a big source of stress during the break, says a Crows Nest psychologist, Victoria Kasunic. If you have relatives around, conflict is the main thing to avoid. "Sometimes we don't actually see a lot of family for various reasons and when you come together at Christmas, old disagreements that haven't been resolved bubble up again," she says.

But Christmas dinner is not the time to rehash old battles, Kasunic says. She suggests treating relatives with the same respect as other friends and avoiding hot topics such as religion and politics. It also helps to focus on people's good qualities.

Relatives shouldn't be expected to play "magic happy families", however. Rather, we should hold realistic expectations of ourselves and other people - and ask for help if we are hosting a get-together.

As for singles, empty-nesters or people without family, Christmas can be a lonely time. Kasunic suggests reaching out to social networks or volunteering with a charity.

"It's really important to plan ... Christmas, whether that's being part of someone else's Christmas or a holiday with a friend," she says. "If that's not an option then do something really nice for yourself."

Work smart
The rush to finish every scrap of work before an extended break isn't necessarily the evil some might assume, says an organisational psychologist from Brash Consulting, Leanne Faraday-Brash.

"If people work really hard to clear the decks it's easier to relax," she says.

"We can tell ourselves we've left everything in good shape and we're not going to come back to chaos."
But we should be sensible about what we - and others - can achieve.

"Don't bully anyone else, don't let anyone bully you about unrealistic demands, get things done but reality-test what you're capable of achieving and manage your own energy," Faraday-Brash says.

"It's about striking that balance between a satisfied sense of accomplishment and sheer exhaustion."

When you are away from the office, avoid "addictive" behaviours such as compulsively checking messages from work. "It's about being really mindful about work when we're working and relaxation when we're relaxing and not blurring the two," Faraday-Brash says.

And don't ruin your last few days of leave by fretting about work. Instead, tell yourself: "I'm still away, I deserve to enjoy those last couple of days. I'll tackle that stuff when I'm there."

Social planning
The end of the year is a great time to see old friends but socialising to the point of exhaustion misses the point, Kasunic says. "My suggestion is to look at the weeks coming up to Christmas and don't commit to a party every night," she says. "That contributes to how you feel ... your immune system is lower and you're potentially more irritable."

Prioritising social obligations - and staggering related activities such as shopping and housework - will help you enjoy those outings. And while many people enjoy a wild night out on New Year's Eve, this isn't true for everyone. "You don't have to go partying or drinking if that's not your thing," Kasunic says. "Organise something else."

Positive partying
We should keep our drinking habits in check during the holidays but there is no single rule to suit everyone, says a counselling psychologist in Annandale, Stefan Durlach.

The key is to know how much you can handle - and, of course, never drive when drunk. "Do it in moderation, know how much you cope with and how much is good for you and don't take it beyond that," Durlach says.

"Quite a lot of people get energy from socialising ... but it doesn't mean you have to get plastered every night."

One way to gauge your limits is to consider the consequences for yourself and other people around you.
"If you know that these consequences are really unacceptable then you need to find a way of not going beyond a certain point."

Body care
Sleep, food and exercise are the three pillars of physical health - and you should not forget this before Christmas, Durlach says.

Our usual routines can become derailed but it's important to stick to some good habits. For example, you could try doing shorter bursts of activity, eating in moderation or stretching for a few minutes. The point is not to let exercise become another chore. "It's about actually enjoying it ... rather than thinking this will be good for me and adding it to the list of 50 other items I need to do," Durlach says.

Summer is also a good time to get into outdoor activities such as swimming or walking on the beach or to develop new habits to take into the new year. And if you want to stay out late, remember to catch up with a nap.

You might even be able to indulge in a few bad habits for a short time - but only if you have the discipline to rein yourself in later. If not, it's best not to stray too far.

"It's about doing things in moderation and knowing yourself and what you can cope with and what you can't cope with," Durlach says.

December doctrine
* Get plenty of sleep.
* Value good eating and drinking habits.
* Don't overindulge all month.
* Reduce exercise if you have to — but don't stop.
* Know your limits and don't stretch them.
* Avoid conflict and treat family members with respect.
* Prioritise and plan your social obligations.
* Tie up loose ends at work — but be realistic about what can be achieved.
* Stagger jobs such as cooking, shopping and cleaning.

6 comments

  • just do what my wife and I do, every other year we go to north Queensland for christmas so we can avoid the crap that goes with it.

    Commenter
    Phil M
    Location
    Bris
    Date and time
    November 29, 2011, 10:36AM
    • Yes good advice Phil. My advice is to buy something for your mother and forget the rest. You dont have to get sucked in to the whole consumerist BS that is Xmas. I spend Xmas day drinking red wine on front of Jesus movies on the tele. Works for me.

      Commenter
      Imforthewhales
      Location
      Palm beach Sydney
      Date and time
      November 29, 2011, 11:44AM
      • Do what we do - ignore it.

        Commenter
        Scrooge
        Date and time
        November 29, 2011, 12:35PM
        • It's also about really thinking about how you want to spend your day, and who with. I decided to invest more time in one side of the family this year, as they've been brilliant over the past 12 months, as we've dealt with my parents splitting up. I'll still see the other side, but they're a lesser priority. It's going to be a difficult day, and I want to be around people who understand and support me.

          I also made a decision to spend the morning on my own. Usually we rush around to half a dozen places and don't seem to be able to enjoy being anywhere in particular. This year, I'm going to be able to have breakfast when I want, and get ready at my own pace, in my own home. Then, I'm mentally set for the great day ahead, instead of starting out frazzled and grumpy.

          Good luck to everyone for a stress-free (or less stressful, at least) holiday season.

          Commenter
          JessB
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          November 29, 2011, 12:47PM
          • Another good trick for setting up next year is getting things 'handled but not done'. Organise it, get the right info filed for it, communicate deadlines or whatever and get it to a point where its easy to pick up first thing next year. Not done but handled.

            Commenter
            AnnieD
            Date and time
            November 29, 2011, 5:47PM
            • I've found burning effigies of Santa and swilling scotch is a good stress reliever around Christmas time.

              Commenter
              GFC
              Date and time
              November 30, 2011, 7:34AM
              Comments are now closed
              Featured advertisers

              Horoscopes

              Capricorn horoscope

              Trust others to think for themselves. Don't be snobbish about what seems obvious. Everyone learns at their own pace, including you.

              ...find out more here