There’s a lot to task you in December: travel, the race to get the work finished on time, spending a lot of time with family, the search for presents, the fight over the last turkey at the supermarket and one long hangover. ‘Tis the season to be merry and yet it takes an enviable amount of self-possession to feel good when you’re under so much pressure. As usual, we bring your attention to our ever so popular article on surviving Christmas as a gay man, but this time we’ll talk about how to turn the stress down when the feasting gets too much.
Workplace secret santa, exchanging gifts with friends, multiple Christmas parties, ice-skating and mulled wine, trip to see the Christmas tree, trip to buy your own Christmas tree, festive potluck, Christmas-themed parties… There’s lots to take in. As invitations start flooding in, it might be tempting to say ‘yes’ to everything. After all, it’s nice to feel wanted. Furthermore, having a full calendar might make you feel like your life is full of excitement as opposed to the cyclical slog through same-old-same-old that it seems to be sometimes. Fear of missing out kicks in. However, just taking control of your calendar and making time for yourself can make a huge difference to your stress levels.
If you are a big fan of the winter holidays, you probably have a bunch of traditions you follow. Some you may have inherited from your family, some may have been introduced by other people in your life. Just as we add to our traditions over a lifetime, it makes sense to occasionally prune them too. If something starts to bring you more stress and anxiety than joy, perhaps it’s time to let it go. Alternatively, you could change it slightly. For example, if each year your family members buy each other presents, you could switch to doing Secret Santa instead. Or if you host a big feast at your house for your friends, this year you could ask some of them if they would like to bring in some of the dishes.
Curb the drinking
If you’re a drinker, opportunities to get sloshed multiply during the festive season. Hence January being the most popular month for sobriety and detoxing. But if going on a month long session and then getting burnt out is not your preference, there is a different way. Choose when you drink during the holidays and make other occasions alcohol-free. A hangover can last for weeks, manifesting as a depressed mood and tiredness. Skipping on some of the drinking opportunities will result in a lighter, more relaxed winter season.
Find the quiet
The jovial side of Christmas and New Year – the music, the drinking, the gatherings – is what makes it such an in-your-face, love-it-or-hate-it affair. But whilst it is enjoyable to be in the epicentre of fun, we still need the downtime. Take some time off from the merrymaking to find the quiet side of the season. It could be a walk through a sleeping neighbourhood at night, a stop-in at a church for a candle-lit carol service or curling up on the sofa in your Christmas jumper with a mug of hot chocolate. Slowing down and taking in the holiday atmosphere will make you appreciate the whole shebang a lot more.
A lot of festive stress comes from what we tell ourselves ‘should’ happen. We should have the turkey, roast potatoes and Christmas pudding on the table or it’s not Christmas at all. We should get perfect presents for everyone or it will show we don’t care about people in our life. At midnight on NYE we should be at a location suitable to watch fireworks and ready with a bottle of champagne in hand. Hence the regular cries that ‘Christmas is cancelled’ or ‘ruined’. Because life doesn’t care for our chase of perfection. Turkey will sell out and you’ll run out of time for present shopping and at midnight on NYE you might be stuck in traffic. What will you do then? Will you despair or will you adapt and find peace within the chaos?
Christmas and New Year don’t do subtlety. The dress code is ‘over the top’, we lug full-sized trees home, there’s shine and glitter and sweet, fatty, alcoholic goodness flowing from the horn of plenty. To a degree this can be enjoyable but what if it leaves you jaded and hollow? Then perhaps it’s time to cut holiday preparations down to size. Think a mini-pudding instead of a massive centrepiece that you always struggle to finish, a decorated branch rather than a tree that will end up dumped in the street come January, small symbolic presents rather than excessive gifting. It might be daunting to downsize (‘what if it won’t feel like real Christmas?’) but you might be surprised to find that the Christmas spirit doesn’t live in stuff. Do it for sustainability and keep it up for the way it makes you feel.
There’s a lot of polarisation around the winter holidays, especially Christmas. The media and your friends will remind you that you have two options: to love it or to hate it. But that’s a false dichotomy as there’s the whole space in between. You can love ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ and hate ‘Last Christmas’, or you might eschew both for Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’. You can enjoy time with family but not the endless partying, or you might love a Christmas rave and pass on the drunk uncle’s ravings at the festive table. Keep what delights you and enriches your life, let go of the rest. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the holiday season.
None of this is new, it’s simple advice that could be summarised as ‘take a good look and decide what is important and what isnt’. However, we all forget it from time to time and December especially can put a lot of pressure on us. It’s helpful to remember that you can step back and make conscious choices about your life, which in turn results in a more rewarding holiday experience. Here at Touch of London we wish you a happy and relaxing festive season, however you choose to spend it.