Dealing with Christmas stress

It's that time of year again, when the streets are bustling with people, each with more oversized bags than they can carry. Everyone rushing from one shop to another, busy with a long list of things to accomplish. 'It's the most wonderful time of the year' blares over the speakers from store to store. As I run around freezing one minute, sweating the next, I have to ask myself: Why doesn't it feel like it? How can I feel content when I'm stressed and under pressure to spend so much? When the holiday has come and gone, is all I've done going to be appreciated?

Numerous studies have proven that the more people pursue materialistic goals, the less content they are in their own lives. This is usually because the things we buy often fall short of our idealised expectations. When these purchases don't meet our expectations it forces us to compare what we actually have, to what we wanted to have. These comparisons are more than likely going to make us feel unhappy. As it turns out what is important for happiness is the way people perceive the world, not necessarily the circumstances they find themselves in. Instead of trying to force that holiday cheer, there are some simple things that you can do to start seeing the world through tinsel covered glasses. 

A great start to perceiving our world in a more positive way begins with gratitude. If you focus on the things you are grateful for, it will help give a better sense of self and encourage positive emotions.  Sharing those things you are grateful for with your friends and family help as well. It will strengthen bonds and further improve your mood because you're focusing on what you have, instead of complaining about what you don't. Another step to gaining a more positive outlook is setting yourself an achievable goal each day. Nothing overly ambitious, it should be genuinely achievable and try not to relate it to work. For example: ‘I will spend ten minutes meditating each day’ or ‘I will take the stairs instead of the lift’. The simple act of setting and achieving goals is a great way to improve your mood.

Gift giving can also make you feel more content, as spending money on others can increase positivity. However, around Christmas with the marketing in overdrive there is an added push to spend. This can put a damper on your new positive outlook, so let's see if we can take some of that pressure off. When it comes to gift giving I often have troubles. I want someone to get an item that is: thoughtful, useful and will enhance their life for the better. Okay, maybe the last one is going a bit far, but I do want to get something that will at least be appreciated. A study found that when it comes to the receiver, people just want what they've asked for; not necessarily what you feel will be the most thoughtful. If someone tells you they want that blue jumper, you should buy them that blue jumper. Even if it's less than you wanted to spend, even if you think it's not thoughtful enough. A thoughtful gift not asked for won't be as appreciated as a gift that they explicitly ask for.

What does this mean when it comes to our inclination to overspend during the holidays? It means we don't have to do it. Buy them that €20 jumper they’ve been raving about and don’t fret about if you’ve spent enough. Big family? Why not try secret Santa? So care and consideration is put into one big gift instead of buying many small ones. I know when it comes to kids presents we can all break the bank. Why not buy books or games that will be continuously enjoyed and not thrown aside once January arrives. Experiences also make great gifts and research has found it can be worth the cash. With experiences it's harder to make the same comparisons as we do with the objects we purchase, therefore we're less likely to be left with the sour taste of buyers remorse. Using special offer websites you can find discounts on everything from hotel breaks to horseback riding.

At the end of the day it's up to us to choose how we see our world. We can choose to focus on what we have, or what we don't have. If we spend a fortune on gifts that weren’t asked for we can only blame ourselves if it isn't appreciated. When we put our attention excessively on the goal of physical consumption and material possessions, we're missing the bigger picture. We're missing the meaning of this season and maybe that's why it doesn't feel like the most wonderful time of the year. It's not all about this rushing around and spending money. It's about spending time with friends and family and that doesn't have to cost a cent.

About the author: 

Angela Amirault is a counsellor/psychotherapist working in Dublin city center. If you would like more information feel free to contact her through her website. If you enjoyed the article and would like to read more of the same, check out her blog.

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