Christmas stressed? How to thrive mentally and physically through the festive period

Liz Connor speaks to a psychologist to find out how you can make the run-up to Christmas less stressful this year

Focus on your key priorities rather than trying to do everything at once

THE weeks before Christmas can be among the busiest times of the year, and the expectations of the season can easily add to the stress. Chartered psychologist Josephine Perry shares her tricks and tips on how to mentally and physically get through December with ease.

:: Focus on one task at a time:

"From food to presents to family lunches to friendly soirees, there is a lot to do and think about at Christmas time," says Perry. "However, our brain can only fully focus on one thing at a time. Even when multi-tasking, one task happens automatically while we think about the other – meaning we don't do either to our best ability."

Perry says that if we focus on our key priorities rather than trying to do everything at once, we will have a less cluttered mind. "Between now and Christmas set time aside in the calendar for different focuses.

"Try putting your actions in the diary, and ring-fence time to research and purchase presents for individual family members, one at a time. You should do the same for food and party prep too."

:: Remind yourself how many times you've 'done' Christmas:

Every time you start to feel overwhelmed by Christmas, remember how many times you have survived and enjoyed this time of year, advises Perry.

"Providing ourselves with plenty of evidence that we have the skills to tackle the challenge ahead based on past experience will help us feel more in control of the situation."

:: Keep on top of exercise and nutrition:

"During the festive focus, exercise can slip down the priority list or totally go out the window," warns Perry. "However, it's so important to re-prioritise this.

"While it may not feel it's a productive use of our limited and precious time, it will help you to feel more focused and energised, ultimately making you more efficient."

Perry says that neuroscientists have identified strong links between aerobic exercise and cognitive clarity. "When we do vigorous exercise, our frontal executive network system in our brain experiences increased blood flow. This is the area linked with planning, focus and concentration and goal setting.

"If you can't fit in sweat-inducing exercise, walking can still be beneficial. If you have a busy working week, walking to meetings can be particularly helpful."

Make sure you're fuelling your body properly, too. "This is especially important during the festive period when we'll often be eating on the hoof, or indulging in festive delights."

:: Know your motivations:

It sounds simple, but Perry says that you should always keep in mind your personal motivations. Ask yourself, 'What am I looking forward to this Christmas?'

"Is it to simply get friends and family together in one place, is it to see the smiles on their faces when they open their presents or is it to enjoy the most delicious meal of the year?" she says.

"Everything in life is easier to cope with and enjoy when we have a clear driver. Reminding ourselves of this makes difficult days feel more manageable and keeps us motivated."

Perry believes it also works as a good sense check. "For most of us, Christmas is about being with those we love and creating happy memories.

"Simply being happy and present during the festive period is enough, which should remind us that we don't need to do everything and it's not worth being stressed out, as this will stop us from enjoying the moment."

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