Every year it seems as if Christmas comes earlier and earlier. For some weeks now the shops have been full of Christmas decorations, Christmas food, Christmas decorations, even Christmas jumpers. Even for those who do not celebrate Christmas as a religious festival it seems there is no escaping the madness of the holiday season.
Magazines and TV advertisements paint a highly idealised picture of the "perfect" Christmas to which we should all aspire, a perfectly decorated home, an array of luxurious gifts beneath a beautiful tree, a smiling and beautifully dressed family enjoying a delicious and stylish Christmas dinner together. The pressure is on!
Of course here in the real world Christmas may not quite work out like that - the children are overtired and supercharged on sugar, the cat climbs the tree and destroys the decorations, the turkey turns out dry, nobody wants to play games, and there is nothing good on the telly.
Yes Christmas can be a magical time and has the potential to be full of joy, but for many it can be a stressful experience. Existing pressures such as financial insecurity or family tensions can seem even more intense at this time of year. Spare a thought too for those struggling with additional problems such as bereavement, caring for elderly or sick relatives, coping with depression, anxiety, or health issues.
So how can we avoid feeling overwhelmed? Here are my top 5 tips for how to maintain a sense of perspective, and have a calm and happy Christmas.
#1 Let go of Your Expectations
If we set ourselves unattainable goals, we are leaving ourselves open to disappointment. Try to let go of your expectations about what the "perfect" or "ideal" Christmas is. Ignore the Facebook photos showing everyone having a great time and remember the reality is heavily edited for public consumption! So what if the decorations on our tree are not perfectly colour co-ordinated. So what if we don't have the perfect free range organic three bird roast with handmade stuffing. Letting go of the need for perfection can be so liberating.
#2 Don't be Afraid to be Selfish
Find time among the festivities for the things that really make you feel good and nourish the spirit. Remember that you can't take care of others unless you take care of yourself. Taking 5 or 10 minutes away from the madness to practice some deep breathing or do some stretches can really help recharge the batteries. Even better, find the time for a hot bath or encourage everyone to go out for a walk in the fresh air.
#3 Do It Your Way
Don't like a roast dinner? Make a curry instead. Don't want to have drinks with the neighbours? Don't go. Prefer a hot chocolate to a mulled wine? Feel free. There is no law that says Christmas must be done a certain way, or that New Years Eve must involve a party. In fact it can be fun to create your own family traditions and ways of doing things that mean something to you.
#4 Give the Gift of Your Attention
Instead of getting stressed trawling the shops for that perfect gift, think of spending your time rather than your money. Your children won't care if they don't have new pyjamas and a matching Christmas duvet, but they will care if you are stressed out of your mind and unable to relax on Christmas Eve. Remember that your attention is more valuable than any gift. Spend an afternoon with your children making wonky home made mince pies. Visit a friend for a cup of tea and a chat. Help out at a local homeless shelter or dog rescue. None of these things cost money but they have enormous value and will be remembered longer than the most expensive present.
#5 Count your blessings - this may be a cliche but it really does work. Taking time to be grateful for what you have, however modest. Sometimes helping others can put our own troubles into perspective. Christmas can be a good time to think about giving something to the community, perhaps even more so if you will be alone at Christmas or do not celebrate it yourself.
#6 Be Kind to Yourself - okay so I lied, there are 6 points and not 5 but I feel this one is actually the most important. Be kind to yourself. This is even more true if you are struggling with a personal issue such as depression which can seem even more of a burden than normal. Resolve to cut yourself some slack over the holiday period, and when Christmas is over perhaps consider seeking some professional help to help you get the New Year off to a more positive start.
In the meantime, wherever you, and whatever your personal or spiritual beliefs, I wish you a calm, and happy Christmas and a very Happy New Year.