Does the thought of Christmas make you break out in a sweat? Does the sight of mince pies and Advent calendars in the shops start your mind racing even when Christmas is over two months away? It’s hard trying to juggle work, being a mum, and Christmas preparations and Christmas overwhelm and anxiety is real. But, there are three things that you can do to create an awesome Christmas and reduce your stress:
Christmas is part of the year's rhythm, like Spring, birthdays, and the start of the school year. In Spring you start to swap your winter clothes out for lighter dresses and pack your heavier coats away (although not too far away if you live in Melbourne where our seasons tend to ignore their order on the calendar). At the end of the school year, there is space for reflecting on the achievements of the year, celebrating them with concerts, displays of artwork, and reports that provide a potted summary of the blood, sweat, and tears.
And before Christmas you plan, you shop, you get swept into the rhythm of what always happens at Christmas. You may work hard to recreate the magic of your childhood Christmas, or you may work hard to ensure your family experiences the joy you never did. You want to spend quality time with your loved ones, choose the right gifts, make people happy, and create wonderful memories.
Some years it works. And other years there are tears, exhaustion, disappointment, and arguments. The drive to make this ‘the most magical time of the year’ can take its toll, and in the pressure to do everything for everyone, your needs, and your rights, can get lost.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
The drive to make this ‘the most magical time of the year’ can take its toll, and in the pressure to do everything for everyone, your needs, and your rights, can get lost."
Why does Christmas stress you out?
If you’re like me you want to enjoy Christmas and help your kids enjoy it. You want to create opportunities to sit with awe, see smiles and laughter, gather people together, and celebrate hope. But it’s easy for the joy to be sucked out of Christmas.
How does this happen? Why is Christmas bad for your mental health?
Some of the highlights of playing Christmas Bingo. Gingerbread house won't stand up. No-one wants a Santa photo. Someone ate my Advent calendar chocolates. Forgetting where you hid a present. Car Park Rage."
Christmas is particularly difficult if you have mental health difficulties, are struggling with the cost of living, or if you are consistently putting other's people's wishes ahead of your own. If you’re grieving, alone, or experienced a recent family separation, maybe this year is a particularly difficult one.
Maybe it’s time to stop doing what you’ve always done and start exploring new ways of doing things that work for everyone in the family, including you.
Sticking to what you have always done makes sense. Until it doesn’t.
The familiar is predictable and removes some of the burden of decision-making. Following the same pattern as last year can make planning easier and perhaps reduce some anxiety. However, does the pattern you follow include procrastinating, microplanning, or leaving it all to someone else to decide? Does the way you usually celebrate Christmas bring you overwhelm and exhaustion or joy?
The simplest and calmest Christmases are where you don’t stick to tradition mindlessly but combine what is most meaningful from the past with your current needs and wants.
There is power in reflecting. I invite you to take a pause now. Step back from trying to keep up with social media and the pressure to present a perfect Christmas image. Look at the expectations you are trying to live up to so that you can reduce your overwhelm and choose how you want this Christmas to be.
The simplest and calmest Christmases are where you don’t stick to tradition mindlessly but combine what is most meaningful from the past with your current needs and wants.
How to Cope with Christmas Stress
As a mother, you already have enough on your plate. You tend to carry the majority of the day-to-day mental workload. Christmas can tip you into overwhelm, even if you normally cope OK. If you do have anxiety or another mental health condition you are more prone to feeling the weight of Christmas stress.
To achieve calmness and manage your Christmas stress, let’s first look at some of the signs of Christmas stress, then dive into the three main ways of reducing your stress and making a simply awesome Christmas.
15 signs of Christmas stress
You may swing from avoidance to control, as your thoughts and feelings take up more of your mental space and lead you to old habits that have not served you well in the past. Let's get started on what you can do to create a different, calmer, more enjoyable and awesome experience this Christmas.
" By reducing demands and expectations, looking after yourself, taking the time to reflect, and mindfully being present, you are well on your way to creating an awesome Christmas that works for you and your family."
What to do to reduce Christmas Stress
Simplifying as much as possible is a great place to start. You can simplify gift giving, decorations, celebrations and expectations. Following are 6 steps to simplify Christmas expectations.
Take 10-20 minutes and connect with what you feel and what you think about all these expectations that you have created or bought into. What are the thoughts and feelings that come up when you think about Christmas? Find something to write in and listen to what you are saying to yourself. It may look something like this
Note:: If getting in touch with your feelings is difficult there can be a few reasons why that is happening. You can come back to exploring your feelings in the future either with your GP, or mental health therapist, or if this is something you would like help with you are welcome to contact me for an appointment.
Once you’ve named and acknowledged your thoughts and feelings it’s time to reflect on what they might be trying to tell you about what is important to you at Christmas.
Here are some simple guiding reflection questions.
After you have listed what you want and your ideal Christmas, ask everyone else in your house, and/or those you know you want to celebrate Christmas with how they would answer the same questions. It's important to listen with curiosity and openness.
Compare the lists. Circle what there is in common, and those that are doable. Can you identify what matters most to everyone? Any surprises? How do you feel about what they said? It can be enlightening to realise that you don't always know what other people are thinking and that what you perceive isn't always true. Is it time to manage expectations – we’re not going to Disneyland. Sometimes it’s helpful to prompt, why do you want to go to Disneyland – oh, you’d like to get as far away as possible from all the drama that happened last year….
Don't forget - you're after an enjoyable, awesome Christmas, not one you've got through with gritted teeth, and can't wait until Boxing Day when it's all over.
When you strip back your expectations and focus on what really matters it invites calm into your life.
It's decision time. After the brainstorming, now it’s time to make some selections that you think will work best for the people who matter most – you and your family. Depending on the age of your children and who else is involved in your Christmas planning this will look a little different. You could have a family meeting or a family group chat, or perhaps the main parts of the day are decided by one or two people. The important part is that everyone's needs (including yours) are respected. The aim is for everyone to have one non-negotiable thing they will do/have/experience at Christmas. Everything else is a bonus.
The next step in the plan is to put it in place and monitor it as you go. Mark the things that matter on your Calendar and in your diary. Be prepared to be flexible whilst keeping in mind the things that have the greatest priority. Hold your sights firmly on your North Star and hold this plan lightly in your heart. Remember what matters most.
In the past our non-negotiable items in my family have been: Christmas light looking, celebrating Christmas with all the extended family, spending Christmas Day with partner, Midnight Mass, sausage rolls at Christmas lunch, It can be amazing when you strip it right back what the thing is people most remember and care about. Celebrating with others is usually comes up as a priority, although some years having space and time to oneself on the day takes priority, particularly for members who become easily overwhelmed.
When you strip back your expectations and focus on what really matters it invites calm into your life. If you like to listen to podcasts, here is an episode where I talk about creating Christmas calm through managing expectations.
How to create awesome connections at Christmas
Mental health and well-being are strongly linked to how connected you feel to those around you. The centre of this is yourself. Following are suggestions for strengthening connections in each of the four layers of connection: connection with yourself, connecting with your family and friends, connecting with the natural world, and connecting with the transcendental.
1. Connecting with yourself.
The work you’ve just done on identifying what makes Christmas awesome for YOU, and being honest with yourself about your thoughts and feelings around Christmas was a great way of connecting with yourself.
Three other ways to connect with yourself are:
(Note: You may have found this an easy thing to do, but there may have been unexpected things that have popped up. If these reflections increased your stress or anxiety please check in with your GP, or counsellor or contact me for an appointment to help you work through it.)
2. Connecting with friends and family.
Some of the ways to connect with friends and family include:
Beyond your immediate circle of friends and family, there are several ways to connect with the broader community. These can include:
Or on a smaller scale:
Instead of the stress of juggling too many commitments at Christmas, other's find themselves feeling alone. If you’re by yourself at Christmas, there are other options to achieve this sense of connection and reduce loneliness.
3. Connection with the natural world.
Ways to connect with the natural world include:
4. Connection with transcendence.
Ways to connect with the space beyond which you can see include:
Maybe your awesome moment comes in the lull of Christmas Eve when your children are asleep (finally) presents are wrapped, and you take yourself outside and stare up at the sky.
How to Keep Up Your Self-Care at Christmas
Taking care of yourself is not selfish. It's an act of self-love.
Christmas demands can challenge your existing self-care routines, whilst also providing some unique opportunities for enhancement. All the stressors outlined earlier can undermine existing self-care routines, especially if they are newly established. And Christmas also effects the routine and habits of others around you. You may find you're down a walking buddy, that Christmas treats are suddenly in your eyeline everytime you go shopping, that your loved ones are feeling broke or isolated. It's a shifting milieu.
This is where fierce self-care becomes important, especially if you are prone to Christmas stress and anxiety. Self-care is so much more than bubble baths and treating yourself. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. It's an act of self-love. It encompasses everything you do to maintain and enhance your ability to function well in your day-to-day life and these actions are often talked about as healthy habits. Here's a quick overview of the five foundations of self-care.
The five foundations of self-care:
Mindfulness practices heighten your senses, and intensity your experiences, and are a gateway to awe.
Three questions to ask yourself repeatedly over Christmas
1. Is this what I need most? To avoid Christmas burnout, check in with your needs before saying yes. Does that social engagement provide connection opportunities that you are needing? Or do you have enough and need a break?
2. Will this help fill my self-care bucket or poke another hole in it? Running it past the five foundations list is a good rule of thumb. Even better if it's an activity that ticks more than one of the five foundations. Walking is great for this.
3. Is this something I know helps me? Remind yourself of the benefits of your normal routine, of your why. Prioritise the things you know work: keep walking, eating your veggies, journalling, meditating, talking with friends, doing your yoga, etc.
Opportunities to cultivate awe through mindfulness
Lean into mindfulness, which just happens to be one of the most powerful forms of self-care and takes very little time, because it is about the how of what you do, not the what. Mindfulness practices heighten your senses, and intensity your experiences, and are a gateway to awe. At Christmas mindful opportunities abound, including:
A quick reminder in any situation is to use your senses to bring you back to the moment of what is actually happening.
How simplifying, reducing expectations and prioritising activities; practicing connection and engaging in fierce self-care work together to help you make a simply awesome Christmas.
By reducing demands and expectations, looking after yourself, taking the time to reflect, and mindfully being present, you are well on your way to creating an awesome Christmas that works for you and your family. Along the way you may face some difficult challenges in letting things go, saying no, setting boundaries, maintaining self-care, and getting through the season.
If you would like support with any of this I am happy to help. Positive Young Minds is open up until the 22nd of December and then closed for Christmas Week.
By reducing demands and expectations, looking after yourself, taking the time to reflect, and mindfully being present, you are well on your way to creating an awesome Christmas that works for you and your family."
For over 17 years, I have combined research and the experience of working with 1000s of children, adolescents and parents to help them understand and manage big emotions and create calmer homes. Homes where big feelings are understood, needs are met so that Christmas can be celebrated, not dreaded.
You are welcome to book an appointment to discuss your concerns and your goals and work with me to make the change you are looking for.
PS. If you enjoyed this blog, then come over and join the Sprinkles of Wisdom for Wonderful Women Newsletter Club. You'll receive regular letters from me where I share insights, inspiration, reflections, support and do-able strategies on how you can create and integrate more calm, connection and confidence into your life without running away to Bali.
A reminder this blog is for general information and advice only. It is not designed to replace therapy in any way. For some people Christmas is not just stressful, it is also traumatic. The above advice is not meant to address Christmas trauma. If you are experiencing trauma, overwhelming Christmas anxiety, depression, or any other mental health concern please see your GP, or your mental health therapist, or see if you think I may be a good fit for you .
Are family meal times a bit of a nightmare? I can be just one more thing to add to the list of things you 'should' be doing.
Yes, creating a mealtime ritual is one way to help a family bond and bank some family social capital.
But like many things it sounds simple but can prove challenging. How does your mealtime look? Depending on the ages and stages of your family I am guessing dinner may be anywhere between 5pm and 8pm (or even later) and may be done in split shifts. One of my biggest challenges is that I tend to spread everything over the dining table throughout the day…… And then it's deciding what to cook that most people will eat....
Here are 10 things that may help you create a more positive family meal time. Take what suits you and your family and leave the rest.
This is practical mindfulness. Remember, you don’t need to do it all.
Choose one and see how it goes.
This week I practiced my strength of bravery and took on board the challenge of posting 5 vlogs in 5 days. I chose the theme of communicating with your children, and particularly teens, as this is a challenging area for many families. Mine included!
Now, these vlogs aren't perfect (as it is the first time I have done this). However, I have had feedback that the content is useful. They explore why we communicate with our children, whether our communication is parent or child centered, how we can set the scene for communication by making ourselves available, layering a conversation and how to respond when your teenager actually does talk to you!
I have posted a link to one of the videos below. You can find the five of them at
I would love if you commented on what you found useful, and what else you would like me to vlog on.
Positive Young Minds will also be running practical workshops where the ideas in the videos will be expanded on and you have the opportunity to practice some mindful communication skills. If you are interested drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family connectedness starts with you. You can be the calm one in the house.
Stop wishing for the perfect life, the perfect children, and perfect home. If you find your inner voice saying things that include words like 'should' and 'it's not fair', 'if only' this is an indication that you are experiencing distorted thinking. Distorted thinking is one of the underlying causes of depression. If you are having these types of thoughts, chances are you are not feeling very happy. If you are not feeling happy and positive, it is unlikely your family is happy either.
Start with where you are. One way to move forward is to practice ABOLD approach.
A: Awareness. Notice the thoughts you are having e.g.. 'I wish my child would just do as they are told'.
B: Breathe. Take 3 deep breaths.
O: Own your thought or feeling. 'Isn't that interesting. I'm having the thought again that I wish my child would just do as they are told'.
L: Let it go. You are not your thought. Often just acknowledging your thought will create a sense of release. Otherwise there are a range of techniques you can practice. The following are just a couple of suggestions. Imagine putting that thought into an envelope and posting it or shaping into a balloon and releasing it. Or imagine the thought in big letters and then shrinking it down so it fits in the palm of your hand.
D: Do something. Ground yourself in the here and now. Sip water, wriggle your toes, hug your child, go for a walk. Reclaim yourself and the situation for how it actually is.
Having worked with 1000s of children, adolescents and parents for over 17 years, Positive Young Minds offers private consultations where you can talk about your parenting challenges and your own self-care needs.
Together creating calm, connection and confidence.
I have spoken a number of times about being BOLD and taking on new challenges. Well, this week we had a new addition to our family. Depending on the family member I can see Neil bringing out different strengths in all of us, including zest, teamwork, love of learning, perspective. curiosity and appreciation of beauty and excellence.
His name is Neil and he is a guide dog. We have taken on raising him for about the next 12 months before he is handed over (after a bit more intensive training) to his new owner.
It is interesting to observe the comments and behaviours of my other family members. I have heard the sentence, "if this is what it's like to have kids, I don't want any" a couple of times. Sounds like this child may be developing a bit of perspective.
As a 'new mum' I have woken up in the middle of the night thinking - 'I have heard the dog. I wonder if he's OK'. Then I remember he is a dog and not a newborn I need to feed, change, console. However, there is a similarity with the doubts about whether I am doing the right thing, and the different bits of advice you get from everyone. Also the constant knowledge that even when he is asleep I need to be alert to his next needs.
As puppy raisers we have someone on the end of the line we can call, we have a manual and there are scheduled training sessions, there is a puppy raiser Facebook page. There are also five of us in the family to share the responsibility. I can't help compare this with the limited support I had when bringing home my first baby (thank you to those who were there for me at the time - it was super appreciated). I wasn't even part of Facebook then!
Having at least one person to support you is so important for your mental health. It's one of the reasons Positive Young Minds exists, to be a friendly, accessible form of support. Don't hesitate to contact me at email@example.com if you would like to connect.
Do your children like each? How do you feel when they fight and argue? As a mother I feel it is important that when my children grow up they will be there for each other. That when one is stuck or upset they can pick up the phone or whatever is the most appropriate form of communication in 10+ years time, and know the person on the other end will be there for them. Or when they have wonderful news they do the same. That when they have something to celebrate they can do so with each other. That together they have a supportive community. Because if they can’t do this, why do we create families?
Wow, this a lot of expectation to put on children who are still growing up and developing their communication and interaction skills.
When I stop and look at my thinking behind these expectations I can hear thoughts like “My children should get on.” If they don’t get on now, they will not have anything to do with each other in the future”. “I am a terrible mother (and psychologist) because I can’t make my children like each other”.
Does thinking like this make me feel good? Does it support me in my goal of creating the best family I can? No, of course not. These are examples of distorted/unhelpful thinking. If I keep thinking like this I’m going to lose my optimism and hope.
There are many types of distorted thinking.. Noticing them may not change the fact that my children are arguing, but it gives me space to take a breath and make some decisions about how I want to react (or not react to the situation). This will vary depending on the age of the siblings, the issue, location, history, individual temperament, parenting philosophy etc. As a parent when you are able to notice and pause it gives you a chance to tap into your own parenting wisdom.
* These articles are provided by Kim Ross, Psychologist for general information and education . They are not designed to be used for therapy.. If you are experiencing stress please contact your GP or mental health professional.
Kim Ross is an Online Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds and Private Practice Sustainability.