The Stress of Christmas

When December rolls around (sometimes even before), do you find yourself agitated, quick-tempered and prone to outbursts at the drop of a hat?

You may not even realise it, but the stress of Christmas could be what’s creating that situation.

So, what is it about Christmas that causes us so much stress and what is happening inside the brain when it happens?

 

The stress of Christmas – common causes

There are several factors that could be creating that silly season stress:

Deadlines 

That Christmas close date is looming.  You have until the 23rd of December (or maybe sooner) to get everything finished.  You don’t normally have trouble managing your workload, but the days are flying by, and people are taking their time to get back to you which is only slowing you down.

Your usually ‘ordered mind’ is now cluttered and chaotic and you are having trouble staying focused.  You are normally even-tempered, but you find yourself crying at silly things or snapping at people for no real reason.

Overwhelm 

There are not enough hours in the day, especially at Christmas.  There are presents to buy and wrap, decorations to put up, parties to organise, friends to catch up with, school concerts to attend, school holidays to navigate and more.  Do you find yourself starting early or working late just to keep your head above water?  Do you feel like you are bombarded with unnecessary jobs which you feel you must complete?  Overwhelm can be extremely stressful and Christmas can really add to an already full plate.

Work Pressures 

Not only are those deadlines looming, but it’s also now your job to organise the Christmas party.  Here you were, thinking that someone else had that under control but they didn’t and now it’s fallen on you to organise something last minute!  As if that wasn’t enough, one of your top team members has called in sick with a doctor’s certificate for a week off on stress leave.  Someone must pick up the slack and guess who is the only one who knows how to complete her work…YOU!  It’s enough to make you want to scream.

Family Pressures 

Earlier in the year, you volunteered to host Christmas lunch and the whole family is coming to your place on Christmas Day.  Now you are regretting it.  When will you do the food shopping?  Will your brother-in-law be there, drinking too much and making a fool of himself?  The pool needs cleaning, the house is a disaster zone because the kids have been home on school holidays and nobody tries to help you and even if they do, it’s not to your standard.  You probably feel like running away!

 

What is happening inside the brain when the stress of Christmas builds up?

While most of these situations are happening externally to you, there is an internal reaction happening in your brain causing your thoughts, feelings, emotions and in particular, your behaviours to change.

Most people don’t realise how dramatically the stress of Christmas can affect them until they take the time to gain insight into how the brain works.

Let me use the Triune Brain to demonstrate:

 

 

Triune Brain Image

When we experience stress, our brain will register the stress in the emotional/impulsive region of the brain.  This region reacts very quickly to engage the survival or automatic region and therefore we respond to the stress in a reactive manner.  The Smart Brain which is responsible for thinking and decision-making is slower to engage so your behaviour is not thought out and can often be unhelpful or irrational.  That’s why when you’ve got a to-do list a mile long and someone comes to ask you to do something else for them, you may be inclined to yell or be rude – your brain is on autopilot and has reverted to survival instincts.  This is otherwise known as Sympathetic mode or the Flight or Fight response. You can read more about this in my free “Brain Basics” ebook.

 

How to deal with the stress of Christmas

It’s important not to let the stress of Christmas take its toll on you as it can cause you some long-term problems not only for your health but your relationships too.

Practicing mindfulness is the first step.  Being aware of what you are thinking and feeling and what is causing you to think and feel that way will allow you to identify more easily when you are stressed.

Finding something that works for you to allow your body to get out of sympathetic mode is the next step.  Breathe, meditate, exercise, eat well etc.

For more tips on dealing with stress, check out my previous article about Chronic Stress here.

Summary

If you are beginning to feel the stress of Christmas, it’s not too late to change things and bring back your festive cheer.

On the 15th of December 2022, I’m hosting a FREE event called “Brain Prep for the Christmas Break” where we will talk more about the neuroscience behind the stress of Christmas and I’ll give you some easy action steps you can take to prepare yourself the remainder of the silly season and continue to use every day.  Click here to register your attendance and receive the Zoom links.

If I don’t see you at the event, I wish you a very happy, healthy Christmas break and a prosperous New Year.

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