It was the last Friday before Christmas. My son had already finished school for the year and I closed my laptop for the last time until January. Christmas Day was in the middle of the following week and I had booked a few work days off to get organised.
It happened so suddenly
But I felt odd. I didn’t feel the relief I normally get when I work frantically to prepare for a holiday and finally shut down my computer. Something felt off and in a matter of hours, I drove myself to A&E with a numb left arm.
By the morning, my entire left side was numb. Two days later, my entire right side went numb too. I spent Christmas in A&E departments undergoing MRIs and other tests and treatments, seeking answers. During this time I was unable to eat with a knife and fork, and needed my husband to help me out of the bath and do the buttons on my jeans. (I had lost my balance and thus the ability to shower safely).
I had gone from feeling completely healthy to feeling quite disabled in a matter of about 72 hours.
At 35, it was utterly terrifying and heart-breaking to send my four-year-old son to spend the day with friends because I could not get out of bed.
No wonder I was stressed
Since then, things have settled down a lot. I’m counting my lucky stars that although I have had relapses, none were quite as severe as this first episode. I’m so very grateful for this, but it has not gone unnoticed to me just how incredibly stressed I was in the lead up to that particular Christmas.
Thinking back, I shouldn’t be surprised at my stress levels. I worked a full time day job while being mother to a four-year-old, I committed to a daily blog on a hobby parenting magazine, I attended tons of events and was actively involved in my son’s school with all the things that involved – school Christmas cards, bringing in donations to the fair, sending in money for the reindeer run, the list goes on…
In order to never have a repeat performance of that truly horrible time, I have somewhat changed the way I approach Christmas these days. Some of those changes are quite subtle but can make a big difference and I’d love to share them with you here.
4 Tips to keep stress in check this festive season:
1. Keep a list of essentials
I find it really useful to maintain a list of everything that I need to remember. It’s obvious, but if you write it all down you can stop cramming it into your head and stop worrying that you’ll forget something. However, the key to maintaining this list is to start early and to not add things to it that are not essential.
Starting early means you can prioritise what needs doing and plan ahead by splitting tasks into smaller chunks which is gentler on your energy levels. Writing Christmas cards may be one task for example, and mailing them, another. Avoid adding too many tasks – this helps to keep the general overwhelm in check.
2. Drop the idea of ‘perfect’
What is Christmas really about for you? For me it’s spending time with my loved ones. Yes, I love presents, and nice food, and a cosy home full of lights and decorations. But truly, the time we spend together is the most important. I would honestly be happy to eat a sandwich with great company over a posh dinner on my own. The day doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to spend weeks preparing for it to be perfect. Ask yourself, will the world stop turning if you don’t find candles that match your napkins? “The less you plan for, the less that can go wrong” is my mantra!
The same goes for the decorations. A perfect tree might be a feast for the eyes, but a less perfect tree that was decorated by everyone in the household is still lovely to look at, and has also provided an opportunity to spend time together as a family. If it’s easier for you to completely leave the decorating for others to do, so be it! Let them crack on with it, forget about what you regard to be ‘the perfect look’ and put your feet up instead!
On the day, prepare a meal that won’t go wrong and will taste great. Spend time cooking together with your partner if you like. Get your kids involved in some of it. Who cares if the carrots are wonky or the kitchen is messy? If your kids are little, they will feel proud for helping and you will have spent quality time together. All of this will add up to make Christmas feel as special as possible and those are the moments everyone will remember.
Repeat after me: you don’t need to do it all yourself! And by this I don’t just mean the physical stuff. It’s the mental load too. If you are the woman in the household, chances are that you are responsible for remembering most things. The mental load of remembering to send all the cards and working out what to buy as presents take as much energy as actually doing it. So, delegate.
We have a big family and I refuse to do it all on my own, so we split the family in half. I am responsible for the one half, and my husband the other half. It’s the same with all the other aspects of Christmas. Over time I have found a way to be clear about what I need someone else to do and then I leave them to it. Don’t be tempted to micromanage, you don’t have energy for that! And you’ll find that the people in your life are perfectly capable to manage things themselves.
4. Say no
There are many events in the lead up to Christmas: work dos, school plays, Christmas fairs, the list goes on. Do you really need to meet every group of friends one last time before the big day? When did this become a thing? Why are we doing this? Christmas is not the end, life does go on afterwards!
In fact, January is usually pretty dreary, so why don’t you organise to meet your friends in January instead? Honestly, I actively say no to a lot of the social events that I can easily get out of. There are enough other things going on that I cannot get out of.
This Christmas, why not try actively prioritising your physical and mental health? Share the load of the work with others and drop the notion that everything needs to be just right. I promise you, you will be able to be more present to enjoy it for what it is. And hopefully, without any health-related incidents!
NPS-IE-NP-00151 November 2020