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Dealing with the stressors of Christmas time and staying relaxed

Christmas time and the holiday season should be an occasion to relax, and grab some respite from day-to-day worries and stresses. Whilst Christmas day hopefully provides an opportunity to unwind with friends and family, the preparations and commitments which precede it can be overwhelming and stressful for some. Gift shopping, financial strains, traffic and navigating large crowds are all unique challenges and stressors which come around every holiday season. It is easy to get overwhelmed with these seasonal difficulties, and many experience increased stress and anxiety at this time of year. Staying relaxed over this period can be difficult, given the increased obligations and commitments, but there are ways to better manage stress and heightened emotions which can creep up on us as we get ready to celebrate. Effective time management and management of health and well-being are the keys to ensuring that Christmas time doesn’t become overwhelming.  
Accepting the prospect of stress

Many people feel a sense of duty or strong obligation to ensure Christmas day is a success for all concerned. With this comes considerable obligations and extra stress. Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that a certain level of stress and anxiety is almost a given at this time of the year. Whilst steps can be taken to ensure Christmas doesn’t become too overwhelming, a certain level of anxiety will likely always accompany the holiday. Having realistic   expectations and acknowledging the prospect of stress and anxiety at this time of the year is important. 
Christmas shopping and navigating crowds

According to a recent study, 60% of Australians dislike Christmas shopping. It is often viewed as an obligation or a requirement, and the cost, as well as the expectations on purchasing the perfect gift, can create unwanted stress at this time of the year. Aside from the financial strains, the number one cause of increased stress and anxiety around Christmas is the extra pressures and constraints on time, which can result from Christmas shopping and other obligations. To avoid unnecessary stress at this time of the year, it can be helpful to start this process early and finalise everything to avoid a last minute rush. As there are often many things to organise and coordinate, finding the time for Christmas shopping can be difficult. Proper time management and organisation can alleviate much of the stress and anxiety normally associated with Christmas time. Research has indicated that the vast    majority of people often have at least one day of Christmas shopping where they come home without a single purchase. This reinforces the importance of having a plan, or having a list of what must be purchased and knowing exactly what needs to be done. This can make the process more time efficient and less stressful. 
Shopping centres and grocery stores can also become challenging or overwhelming environments at this time of year, as they are swarmed by last minute shoppers. Throngs of people crowd the streets of major Australian cities and navigating these environments can be anxiety-provoking for some. Ordering presents and groceries online and having them delivered can be a less stressful alternative, as well as an effective way to save time and energy.  
Implementing healthy routines and maintaining normality

Keeping certain aspects of home life constant and maintaining usual routines can be helpful to stay relaxed and avoid stress throughout the season. Despite the interruptions which can result, simply sticking to daily routines, including exercise, can provide an element of familiarity and comfort when things become hectic or overwhelming in the lead up to Christmas. Just going for a daily walk or getting out in nature can be really beneficial when things become stressful, as it provides a great opportunity to relax and decompress. Another aspect of general well-being which can be affected at Christmas time is sleep. Ensuring that you maintain healthy levels of sleep throughout the season is vital, as sleep deprivation can result in heightened feelings of stress and anxiety. 
Whilst food and drink are a big part of Christmas festivities for most people and overindulgence is not uncommon, for many, overeating becomes a means of managing emotions and stress. Comfort eating and drinking can provide short term relief, but it is a pitfall of the holiday season which should be avoided. Doing things in moderation can be difficult given the temptations, but is an important motto to live by at this time of year.
The importance of breathing

During periods of heightened stress or anxiety, such as the busy lead up to Christmas, our ability to regulate and control our breathing can be affected. Although this physical response is often overlooked, being aware of your patterns of breathing during these stressful times is an important part of general health and well-being. Whilst it can go unnoticed, typically when an individual is experiencing stress, their pattern of breathing can change. Fast and shallow upper chest breathing can occur which can lead to hyperventilation and increased anxiety. This is a natural response when we are overwhelmed. Whether feeling stranded in a crowded public place, or feeling swamped by the long list of commitments associated with this time of the year, taking time to recognise panicked or laboured breathing which occurs in moments of stress is crucial. 
From here you can implement slower, more deliberate patterns of breathing, which can effectively reduce stress and promote relaxation. This can have a positive impact on the nervous system and actively calm your body down, resulting in deeper rest and relaxation, decreased heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. Even deep focused breathing for only 15-20 seconds can physically calm you and reset your bodily sensations after a period of heightened stress or anxiety. A helpful breathing technique is outlined below:
  • Find a relaxed or calming area which is free of distractions. Setting an alarm for 10-20 minutes can be helpful. 
  • Assume a comfortable sitting positon and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  • Gently breathe in and out through your nose, and be conscious of your chest and abdomen rising as you inhale.
  • Keep your upper chest and stomach still, allowing the diaphragm to work more efficiently.
  • Concentrate on the rate and depth of breaths and focus solely on inhalation and exhalation.
More breathing techniques: 

It has been reported that 1 in 20 people find Christmas to be more stressful than divorce or burglary. Whilst this can seem dramatic, the holiday season does present certain challenges and stressors which can become overwhelming. If unmanaged, these can severely detract from all the positives which come at Christmas time. Whilst a certain level of stress is almost unavoidable at this time of year, by implementing helpful strategies and being aware of your bodily responses to stress, Christmas time challenges can become more manageable, and you can focus on what’s really important for you at this time of year.

James – ADAVIC Volunteer

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