“It’s 8 weeks to Christmas, you know” a client chimed as she left her final appointment some weeks ago. “WHAAAATTTT?” screamed my mind, “surely it can’t be?” Lists started building in my mind including one about needing to write this post. There are many things I enjoy about the festive season but it does increase my workload significantly.

For many, the festive season feels similarly stressful. In Australia where I live, end of school year events collide with family and friends’ parties and get-togethers. Shortly following Christmas, preparations for New Year and leaving for a summer vacation begin. It’s a whirlwind month of costume organization, food preparation, social events with people you rarely see and may not even like. It creates a lot of pressure from a time, financial and emotional perspective.

My 5 top tips for Christmas and the Holidays

1.Be flexible where possible. I find people who are the most overwhelmed with Christmas and the holidays are getting caught up in rigid rules. These rules are set by the individual or their broader family. Any thought about Christmas that begins with an “I should” “I have to” or “I must” or makes you feel excessively guilty and self-critical likely belongs to an inflexible rule. Consider these rules and whether they are helping you or adding to your stress.

I suggest shaping your Christmas values and choosing actions consistent with those values. For example, if you value spending time with your parents, arrange to do that in a way that also works out with other commitments such as visiting your partner’s parents. This is different to saying “I must be with my parents at lunch at exactly 12pm.” Family members can be upset by changes to family rituals but generally, if you can assure them that you still want to spend time with them and are they are not being cut-off they will adjust to these changes. When you make decisions based on your values, it can make it easier to respond to upset reactions when they occur. This is almost inevitable if there is inflexibility in your family.

2.Allow yourself to take short-cuts. Each year evaluate the level of burden and only keep on the schedule those things that are manageable. Although making Nanna’s original plum pudding that requires a two-week process to make and purchasing specialized ingredients that you source from all over the country is delicious, if you are having a particularly stressful or over-burdened year, consider swapping this out for a store bought plum pudding or asking another family member to make it.

3.Avoid over-spending. Set yourself a budget and stick to it. In some families, there is a pressure to all spend the same amount of money. This can be quite a challenge if one family has a lot more disposable income than others. Although it might feel uncomfortable, being honest about what you can spend with your family will prevent the stress of an overloaded credit card. Taking the focus of gifts and on time together can help. Kris Kringle and other ways to reduce spending allow people to participate in gift giving without sinking the financial ship. When you get stuck with expectations, remind yourself of the true meaning of Christmas which has nothing to do with gifts and excessive spending.

4.Limit time spent with family members who distress you. For many people the only time they may see a difficult relative is at Christmas. The emotional build-up to this begins well before the event. Set some boundaries for yourself such as “I will say hello and chat briefly but avoid spending lengthy amounts of time with the person. I will excuse myself after 5 minutes if I get stuck with that person.” The spirit of Christmas does not mean that you should have to tolerate toxic behavior.

5. Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to love the Christmas period. These feelings of stress are normal. Practice self-compassionate statements such as “Even though I feel stressed at Christmas, it’s understandable I feel that way when there is so much to do.”

Christmas is coming. Try these 5 tips to make this Christmas more peaceful. I hope that you enjoy some, if not all, parts of Christmas this year.

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