Top tips on beat­ing fes­tive stress

Be­neath the tin­sel and bows and all the trim­mings, there’s of­ten a lot of stress in the run-up to Christ­mas. Cath Ben­nett looks at how women are cop­ing

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OOne of the ironies of De­cem­ber is that feel­ings of fes­tiv­ity are few and far be­tween. And as for peace, joy and good­will to all – who­ever wrote those car­ols has clearly never spent Christ­mas Eve fight­ing for a space in a West­field car park.

It’s not to­tally un­ex­pected that Christ­mas fea­tures on the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. The psy­cho­log­i­cal tool iden­ti­fies it along­side death and di­vorce as an event caus­ing lev­els of stress that can lead to ill­ness. But why has a merry Christ­mas be­comes less a given and more a re­mote pos­si­bil­ity? Ex­perts and sta­tis­tics alike sug­gest our fre­netic pace of life has to take a large part of the blame. The re­cent NEXT Re­port of more than 1000 Kiwi women na­tion­wide revealed 55% of us be­lieve we are busier than we’ve ever been – and that’s year round. Throw into the mix Christ­mas dead­lines, mul­ti­ple gift-buy­ing ex­pe­di­tions, a dozen drinks par­ties, the school play, a Surf Life Sav­ing fundraiser and the or­gan­i­sa­tion of a gi­ant fam­ily get-to­gether, and it’s no won­der 60% of us say there are not enough hours in the day.

Life coach and mo­ti­va­tional speaker Sarah Lau­rie warns our packed life­styles are not likely to mel­low any­time soon – “that’s just the way and pace of our world” – but she be­lieves what we can im­prove is the way we cope with it. “We have to recog­nise that the so­lu­tion to feel­ing in con­trol of things is to feel in con­trol of our­selves,” she says.

Time man­age­ment ex­pert Robyn Pearce agrees. “It’s not about not be­ing busy,” she sug­gests, adding that by their na­ture, proac­tive peo­ple are busy re­gard­less. “But it’s mak­ing sure we carve out time for our­selves.”

Which all sounds well and good, but how do you do that when you’re fac­ing a seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able mass of jobs, es­pe­cially in the silly sea­son? Both women agree plan­ning is ev­ery­thing.

“It’s about mo­men­tar­ily step­ping off the tread­mill and list­ing ev­ery­thing that needs to get done,” says Sarah, au­thor of sev­eral books in­clud­ing From Tired to In­spired. “We try to jam ev­ery­thing into this pre­cious time of ours – as if time were the mal­leable part. But we need to stop, turn our at­ten­tion to it, and think about how we man­age it.

“There is a quote that says for ev­ery minute spent

so» plan­ning, you save 10 min­utes in ex­e­cu­tion;


just 10 min­utes or­gan­is­ing our­selves can give us back more than an hour and a half in a day.”

Cre­at­ing a to-do list helps iden­tify what’s im­por­tant and what can be dealt with later.

“As women we’re very good at get­ting con­fused be­tween our pri­or­i­ties and our press­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” says Sarah. “And



when we aren’t clear on what dif­fer­en­ti­ates those we try and do it all.”


When it comes to es­tab­lish­ing pri­or­i­ties, there’s no doubt that for moth­ers, chil­dren come top of the list. In­deed, the NEXT Re­port revealed 90% agree with the state­ment: ‘When my kids tell me they love me, it makes ev­ery­thing worth­while’.

So it’s per­haps to be expected that try­ing to jug­gle ev­ery­thing so we can be at prize­giv­ing and the kindy Christ­mas party while meet­ing work dead­lines is one of De­cem­ber’s big­gest stres­sors for work­ing par­ents. And then there’s the dilemma of what to do with the kids over the end­less sum­mer hol­i­days.

Is it any sur­prise al­most three-quar­ters of work­ing mums NEXT polled feel guilty when their chil­dren need them and they are at work? Per­haps be­cause of this, 41% of those women ad­mit they’d rather be a full-time mum than work­ing.

While un­der­stand­ing the sen­ti­ment, Robyn says guilt is an un­help­ful emo­tion, and sug­gests in­stead par­ents fo­cus on what time they can give.

“Chil­dren have to learn they can’t have you 100% of the time; some­times you’re


go­ing to miss things, but as long you’re there for oth­ers, they un­der­stand,” says the mother-of-six, who ad­vises get­ting your lit­tle ones to put their events on the fam­ily cal­en­dar. “And when you have a block of time you’re ded­i­cat­ing to the chil­dren, the key is your fo­cus. You’ve got to be quite strict about it and not let the tech­nol­ogy dis­trac­tions fil­ter in, so you’re not di­lut­ing that time with iGuilt and work guilt.”

Robyn be­lieves our reliance on de­vices is a key cul­prit in our feel­ings of un­bal­ance.

NEXT’s sur­vey shows al­most three­quar­ters of us have a smart­phone – and with it the abil­ity to con­stantly be on­line. The multi-task­ing which fol­lows – play­ing with the kids while re­ply­ing to your boss’s email and tex­ting your mum – is not just ex­haust­ing; it’s in­ef­fec­tive. Re­search shows that, neu­ro­log­i­cally speak­ing, multi-task­ing is im­pos­si­ble. “We can cer­tainly jug­gle things, but no­body can ac­tu­ally hold two com­plex ideas in the brain at the same time,” says Robyn.

And skip­ping from task to task while be­ing in­ter­rupted by texts or alerts gob­bles up huge amounts of time.

“When you’ve had an in­ter­rup­tion, it takes 10-20 times the length of the in­ter­rup­tion to get back into what you were

do­ing,” con­tin­ues Robyn, whose so­lu­tion is to turn off no­ti­fi­ca­tions, and in­stead ded­i­cate a block of time to check them. “So a 30-sec­ond in­ter­rup­tion could take you 5-10 min­utes to get back into the task you were do­ing be­fore.”

It’s ironic that tech­nol­ogy which is meant to make life eas­ier has, in many ways, cre­ated more work. “We live in this world of con­ve­niences, but there is this con­stant di­chotomy that the more stuff you have, the more time you’re in­clined to spend time look­ing af­ter that stuff,” says Robyn.


Those with the abil­ity to pur­chase ‘stuff’ of­ten feel a cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­ity to give back – with the NEXT Re­port show­ing 53% of us are in­volved in un­paid work out­side the home. But with many or­gan­i­sa­tions ramp­ing up their fundrais­ers at this time of year, and most clubs and groups hav­ing events to or­gan­ise in De­cem­ber, this adds to the Christ­mas pres­sure.

Sarah says managing this comes back to be­ing clear on our pri­or­i­ties, which in turn al­lows us to eval­u­ate what we have time for.

“Then when some­one rings ask­ing us to do the char­ity col­lec­tion we can say, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve com­mit­ted to these things, but I’d love to help you in the new year.’”

That goes for any event to squeeze in be­tween now and De­cem­ber 25.

“It seems hu­man na­ture to cram ev­ery­thing in be­fore Christ­mas, but there is go­ing to be an­other week af­ter Christ­mas, and an­other af­ter that,” says Robyn, au­thor of Get­ting a Grip on Par­ent­ing Time.

Women are no­to­ri­ously bad at say­ing no, but Robyn says the abil­ity to turn some­thing down is a pow­er­ful time man­age­ment tool. Sarah agrees. “We need to learn to say ‘yes’ to us – which means say­ing no to other things,” says the mum-of-four.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help. The NEXT Re­port shows 27% of women are re­sent­ful about the amount of do­mes­tic chores they have to do – which can feel even more over­whelm­ing along­side the de­mands of Christ­mas. But how many of us get the fam­ily to do their share?

“We have got so ef­fi­cient at do­ing things, we think we might as well do them our­selves rather than waste more time try­ing to ex­plain them,” says Sarah. “But I think we need to put our hands up for help. It doesn’t have to be a neg­a­tive thing; we can po­si­tion it as be­ing a bit more in­clu­sive, for ex­am­ple, get the kids on board as ‘Santa’s helpers.’”

An­other sim­ple ap­proach is to change our lan­guage. ‘Sea­son’s greet­ings’ might be an ana­gram of ‘tense ag­gres­sions’, but there’s no need to harp on about it.

“What­ever you speak be­comes your re­al­ity – so if you say, ‘Christ­mas is com­ing up and I’m go­ing to be ex­hausted’, you can guar­an­tee you will be,” says Robyn. “But if you say to your­self and the peo­ple around you, ‘I’m go­ing to have a re­laxed time’ then you’ll change your re­sults.”

And while you might feel you don’t have time to draw breath, Sarah’s re­search has led her to con­clude cor­rect breath­ing is key to com­bat­ing the wired state many of us find our­selves in at this time. “The cor­rect breath should be the foun­da­tion for all pro­duc­tiv­ity,” she ex­plains, adding that through­out each day we should aim to pause ev­ery 90 min­utes and breathe deeply into our stom­achs for 60 sec­onds. “When we’re breath­ing cor­rectly we’re bet­ter equipped to prob­lem-solve, de­ci­sion-make, stay at ease and man­age our emo­tions.”

And if we can do that, per­haps we’ll re­dis­cover the charm that lies within Christ­mas – and con­cede it is the most won­der­ful time of the year.


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