I don’t know about you, but this time of the year is the start of the “silly season” for me. With my commitments at band, and church, and with family and work, the run-up to Christmas can be a torture for me and I can sometimes feel extremely overwhelmed by it all. To be completely honest, the worst time is right about now because I can see a full calendar for the next 8 weeks or so, but it hasn’t started yet and I am in a bit of no-man’s land. I can see it, but I can’t deal with it because it isn’t here yet. I get anxious thinking about how anxious I am going to be because I am too anxious to get through everything I need to get through, and I’m anxious about fitting it all in.
I have come up with a list of 10 things that have helped me in the past to get through silly season, which I hope will be of use to you too. Please feel free to add any of your own tips to mine and let’s see if we can get through to Boxing Day together in one piece.
1. Prepare – I have a tendency to leave things to the last minute, which I know is a strategy that only adds to my feelings of being overwhelmed. I have learned that when things are getting extremely busy and I feel that things are piling up one of the best ways to get a grip on things is to prepare as early as I can. We have a lot of engagements with church and band leading up to Christmas and it’s easy to lose sight of things like the necessity to eat, so to combat that I will take a day out to cook and freeze meals so that we can still eat “proper” food whilst not having to worry about the time to shop, prepare and cook them. Same goes for uniforms – making sure the laundry is done and IRONED ahead of time saves that pressure of getting ready to leave the house to do a concert.
2. Write Things Down – I think most people are the same as me in that we try so hard to keep track of every single detail about every single thing we have to remember that we wear ourselves out trying not to forget. The answer is very simple – write things down! Appointments, commitments, promises you’ve made to friends, arrangements you’ve made to take your children to things, gifts you need to buy etc. Write things down in a notebook or in your calendar so you can mentally let go of them until the time is right to take action.
3. Visualize – I went on a training course many moons ago about how to get the best out of yourself in the workplace, which I admit went straight over my head for the most part, but one of the most valuable things I learned from it was to visualise yourself carrying out certain tasks. The thinking behind it was that if you can mentally “rehearse” doing something before you actually come to do it, the chances are it will be successful first time off because you have already “seen” yourself doing it already. In terms of the workplace I think it was meaning things like visualising yourself giving a talk to a room full of colleagues, but it works for family things too. Visualising yourself getting through a particularly busy day before you actually have to go through it does actually help. Trust me.
4. Say No to Commitments and Comparisons – One of the hardest words in the English language is the word “no”. Everybody likes to be needed, and it does something to our ego when we are asked to do something or take part in something especially if it is going to help someone else. But we can let ourselves get overwhelmed with commitments, especially leading up to Christmas, simply because we can’t say “no” to requests for our time and energy. One of the reasons why it is hard to say no, is because we compare ourselves to those Supermums who can say “yes” to everything, and seemingly with a big smile on their impeccably made up faces and with apparently little effort at all. “Oh these little fairy costumes for the whole of class 3? Yes, I whipped them up on the sewing machine last night while helping Jimmy with his Maths homework and cooking a fabulous five course meal for our anniversary and giving my bedridden mother in law a bed-bath and reading her favourite Bible stories haha!” Don’t be tempted to compare yourself to them. Those women have got different lives and priorities to you and they will be equally stressing about things in their own way, and they probably look at you and marvel at your capabilities and your qualities.
5. Remember the Big Things – When it’s all getting too much for us, we tend to get bogged down in the detail of things and we lose sight of the Big Things. Does it really matter that you haven’t hand-made a dozen greetings cards for your nearest and dearest rather than buying them? Does it really matter that your child didn’t go to Jessica’s party in a new dress? Does it really matter that your turkey isn’t self-basting? Or the potatoes don’t get cooked in goose fat? Or you can’t track down any chestnuts to cook with your sprouts? Surely, what matters is that your child has a friend who thinks enough of them to invite them to her party, that your family and friends get to see you and spend some time with you rather than you spending all your time and energy in handmaking cards and gifts. And surely, SURELY, the fact that you can enjoy a Christmas dinner with your loved ones outweighs the fact that the small details might not all drop into place?? Think of the big picture and don’t worry about the small things. As the song says, let it go!!
6. Prayer/Meditation – This might sound a bit daft, especially if you are strapped for time, but it really does help. Whether you are religious or not, making time to take time out from things really does help. Personally, I pray every day and I sometimes find it hard to make time out of my day to do it properly, but when I do I find that the 15 minutes or so invested in prayer help me focus on what is important and what the big picture is. It also calms me down and allows my thoughts to stop racing around my head, which helps with things like planning and preparation. It also helps me realise and focus on the things I appreciate in my life rather than worrying about things I don’t have, or the things that are going wrong.
7. Communicate – I don’t know about you, but when I get overwhelmed and stressed with life, I stop talking. Some might say that’s a good thing (!) but seriously, this is not a good strategy. If I don’t talk to my husband or my children, or my parents or my friends, about the things that I have got on my plate, how can I expect them to guess?? If I don’t share my worries with them, how can they help? If I don’t share my plans and arrangements with them, how are they expected to be on board with me when I need them to move? I have learned over time that the best way to deal with being overwhelmed is to talk about it. Let people know you are stressed; tell them what you need help with; tell them what’s on your plate; let them help you. Best of all, by speaking things out loud they suddenly become less daunting and less stressful.
8. Give Yourself Extra Time – My husband drives a time machine. Seriously. We have a 45 minute journey to get to band, rehearsal starts at 8pm and there are roadworks on the motorway that can add up to another 15 minutes to our journey. He expects to leave the house at 7.30pm and we will get there in time. Errrrr no. It’s not going to happen is it?! I hate the gut-wrenching feeling of being late, or on the last minute. I hate the thought of letting people down by being late, and it makes me feel physically ill when we are running behind time. To combat my husband’s time-machine style driving, I tell him we are expected to be places at least half an hour earlier than we actually are. That way, he still thinks he’s driving a DeLorean, and I don’t have the tortuous journey whenever we have be places at a certain time, and I don’t have to worry about finding enough plutonium to fire up the flux capacitor. Even if you don’t have a time traveller for a husband as I do, make life easier for yourself and give yourself a bit of wriggle room when it comes timings. An extra 5 minutes ahead can make the world of difference.
9. Reduce External Stimulation – Nothing causes more stress when we’re already feeling overwhelmed than does clutter, mess and noise. Not only do we waste time hunting for things in a cluttered house, mess impacts on our ability to relax when we do get time off. TVs and radios blaring out noise doesn’t help us when we are trying to juggle our thoughts – ever noticed how much more stressful supermarket shopping is leading up to Christmas when they start blaring out pop songs and carols? Take the chance to clear out things from your house and embrace the quiet times and quiet zones when you can. It ties in with the piece of advice about prayer and meditation too.
10. Patience with Yourself and Others – Everyone at this time of the year is feeling stressed and pushed for time. The chances are that they are feeling just as overwhelmed as you but they might not be showing it. Give them a break! And more importantly, give yourself a break too. Be patient with people and be patient with yourself. Take another breath before you speak, especially if you are feeling tense. Give people another chance if they don’t jump to it straight away and don’t go off at the deep end if they get things wrong. Remember the advice about thinking about the Big Things. Is the thing you are getting impatient for really that important? Or can you wait for it? Is it really a matter of life or death, or is it simply not worth worrying about? Patience is a skill that will help when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed.