Christmas. It’s the time of year that most people look forward to, however I’ve always had a rocky relationship with Christmas, which has led many of my friends to nickname me “Scrooge”! Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas Day itself, but there are a lot of aspects I could do without. I have very sound reasons for this, aside from the fact that my birthday happens to be only three days before Christmas – thanks Mam and Dad!

Firstly, I feel like Christmas starts earlier every year – I literally had Facebook friends sharing Christmas countdowns in August. AUGUST! The problem with this is that some of us put so much pressure and expectation on this one day to be the very best day of the year, and often it can’t possibly live up to those expectations. This can leave us feeling down and deflated. The other major problem I have with the Christmas build-up? Stress. In my opinion, December is one of the most stressful months of the year. Think about it: all the money, all the food, all the alcohol, all the social events we are expected to attend (and look good at!), all the planning, all the rushing around, all the worrying about presents… It sounds stressful just writing it down. Now don’t get me wrong, for some people that probably sounds marvelous, and a lot of people find the build-up to Christmas just as enjoyable as the day itself – but I bet that for the majority of people reading this, your heart is probably racing already. I used to suffer with a lot of anxiety, and it was always worse around Christmas, because I just felt such a huge amount of pressure to take part in all of these activities for an entire month.

So how do I handle the stress of Christmas?

Firstly, I manage my expectations. I realise that often, my imagination is not reality and unfortunately, life isn’t perfect. The bigger I expect Christmas to be, the more pressure there is on myself to make that happen, and the more pressure I feel, the more stressed I feel. Instead, I see Christmas as a lovely day to share with my loved ones. That way, when something inevitably doesn’t go to plan (e.g. turkey-related disasters, not enough pigs in blankets, etc.), I don’t feel deflated because it didn’t turn out like the flawless day I imagined.

Secondly, I’m kind to myself. Christmas can come with a lot of responsibilities. We feel obliged to go to every function, attend every meal out, take part in every Secret Santa, and so on. This can leave us rushed off our feet, feeling stressed, and feeling like we aren’t good enough or making enough effort if we just don’t want another turkey dinner! Be kinder to yourself, and don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Also, make sure you’re taking time out for yourself if that’s what you need.

Lastly, and most importantly, I take time to appreciate what I have. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the small, trivial details of Christmas that we forget to reflect on the meaning of the day. I’m not trying to start a religious debate, because we all have different ideas of what Christmas means. Most of us, however, agree that Christmas is about more than just the material things. Try not to get bogged down in the unimportant details, and hold onto what Christmas means to you. Also, I try to take time to remember that many people around the world, and even in our own country, won’t have a turkey with all the trimmings or lots of gifts under the tree. It’s always worth being thankful of what we do have, instead of getting caught up in focusing on everything we want.

So there you have it, I don’t hate Christmas itself, but I dislike what the Christmas period has become. It doesn’t need to be a high-stress period, all of us can take time to manage our stress and wellbeing, and make it more enjoyable in the long run.

With all that being said, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

By Bethan Jones, Valleys Steps Course Practitioner