Advent Stress Buster

An article in The Daily Telegraph on November 7th 2009 stated, “This country is the most individualistic society in the world…levels of depression and anxiety among Britons are also some of the highest in the world”.
The research by Geert Hofstede a Dutch psychologist suggested that the more individualistic, the more unhappy people become. Given the fact that I believe God created us for community, with Him and our neighbour, Hofstede’s research does not surprise me. However, I the reality is that we live within these cultural norms and they will have an impact upon us whether we agree with them or not.

I think this year that Costco won my prize for the earliest sale of Christmas decorations back in early September. Certainly by early October many of the high streets were already awash with Christmas cheer. There are the must haves, must buys, must tries and nothing is a surprise! Christmas has become a time when the self-orientated materialistic world-view seems most powerfully manifested, at the same time Christmas also forces individuals to co-relate with family members on a greater level of intensity than at other time of year. It is no wonder then that the season of peace and joy can quickly become plagued by stress, anxiety and dread.

What can we do then to reduce the stress of Christmas and see its real meaning restored to us and to our families?

See the bigger picture: Stress is the result of a simple equation between resources and demands. If the quantity of resources is our stripped by the volume of demands the result is stress. The greater the deficit between the two the greater levels of stress we feel. Often at Christmas people set themselves fixed tasks that have to be completed within a certain time frame. Usually these demands are self imposed and they fall with in a harsh self-treatment of ‘Musts, Shoulds and Oughts’. Stress can be greatly reduced early on in the festive season by a simple assessment of what you are hoping to achieve this year given the resources available to you.

A person who has had a particularly relaxing and buoyant year may be ambitious in terms of the amount of people they will host or events they will participate in. However, the person with depleted resources would do well to make a much more reserved estimation of their output this year presenting their more modest plans to other family members early on in the year. Looking at the true meaning of Christ’s coming can help us to realise that extra and fixed family traditions may be nice but they don’t offer anything in comparison of God’s amazing love.

Share the load: Strangely at Christmas ‘Martyr complex’ takes over in many families. Stress is greatly increased by the pressure created through unrealistic expectations. Many people believe that they ‘should’ be able to cope with having nine people over for lunch and for wrapping 50 presents as well as cleaning the house and walking the dog. We often believe that asking for help means that we will be view as a failure and therefore many people suffer as the ‘Kitchen Martyr’ rather than inviting their guests to get their hands dirty in the washing up. The reality is that where responsibility is shared, everyone feels better and the nicest conversations often happen over the kitchen sink.

Turn down the noise: The festive period brings a huge amount of sensory over stimulation with it. With an abundance of food, TV, music, discussion and social pressures our minds can become overwhelmed and unable to process how we actually feel. Again many people feel pressure to be present with everyone all the time, this pressure usually means you are less enjoyable to be around so take a break for your own and everyone else’s sake! The best way to do this is to have some quiet time in your bedroom either napping or reading a book. Avoid putting the radio or TV on as that won’t help your wind down.

Get moving: One excellent way to reduce stress is to do some gentle exercise. Walking, running or a cycle ride for 20mins or more are enough to really help you get relief from building pressures and also often provide a healthy distraction form other household issues. Because of the intensity of Christmas week, many people shelve their usual exercise routine and stay indoor eating and drinking. This year try and commit to doing at least 20mins of something active on each of the 12 days of Christmas.

Don’t become a teenager: Very often adult siblings argue at Christmas time, particularly if their elderly parents are present. This strange phenomenon is called regression and is extremely common. We can finds ourselves acting like a 14 year old all over again. Family dynamics are always tough at Christmas as so many people are pushed together in intense close contact. One way to avoid becoming stressed or slipping into childish arguments is to take an objective view of behaviour. When you see yourself or other family members ‘acting out’ old behaviour just identify it and let it pass. This observation technique really takes the momentum out of our reactivity.

Be a worshipper: Nothing can take away our burdens like the presence of Jesus. Becoming a worshipper at Christmas is really about letting go of control and focusing completely on Him. Not only do we find that all of our own pressures fall into a healthy perspective, but He actively comes to carry our concerns and give us comfort. Matthew 11:28 says "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Happy ‘stress free’ Christmas


Will Van Der Hart, 02/12/2009
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