INCREASED financial stress due to gift and food expenses, time pressure to get everything done by the big day and expectations for a perfect celebration – it’s little wonder Christmas is considered one of life’s most stressful events.
Relationships Australia reported research revealed the festive season was a period of high stress for a significant number of families, not unlike divorce, moving house and changing jobs.
Here, experts share their top tips for a Christmas Day that’s merry and bright.
Bring out the best in you
Good planning and good communication with family members before the day went a long way to having a good Christmas together, according to Relationships Australia WA education services project co-ordinator Sue Aspin.
“There are always last-minute questions and stresses, so whoever’s co-ordinating the family event needs to be as calm and flexible as they can,” she said.
“They should let family members know it’s not about being stressed but about making the contribution they’d like to make and going with the flow on the day.
“Regardless of what might happen or what others might do, we have control over our responses, so we should think about the side of us we want to show and which of our values we will call on – such as patience, appreciation, kindness or generosity – if we get stressed or there is an issue with the family.”
Have realistic expectations
Ms Aspin said unmet expectations about festive celebrations were a big problem.
“Reducing your expectations that everything is going to be perfect is a good step towards having a good day,” she said.
“Instead, have a mindset that you can be flexible in your thinking and coping. Expecting that others ‘should’ behave in a certain way sets you up to be disappointed.
“Having a nice, connected time with family is really the goal.”
Think of others
Christmas could cause heightened anxiety and depression in individuals who were divorced, socially isolated or dealing with an emotional loss.
“Ensure everyone is included as Christmas can be a painful and isolating time for our neighbours and relatives,” Ms Aspin said.
“If you’re dealing with an emotional loss and want to keep it low key, it’s absolutely OK to politely and respectfully decline an invitation, or perhaps arrange to go for just part of an event.
“If you’d prefer company, let family and friends know so you have a chance at being invited or included with others. There may also be a community activity you can join in on.
“If that’s not possible, plan to do some pleasant activities on the day, like eating something special, a nice morning walk or swim, or watching a movie so you have something to look forward to.”
Cook ahead of the big event
People hosting a Christmas feast should channel their inner Santa and get helpers to take the stress out of the day by doing food preparation on Christmas Eve.
Culinary icon Maggie Beer said salad greens could be washed, spun, sealed in a herb or freezer bag and stored in the crisper, ready for tossing at the last minute.
“Also make the dessert, a pavlova, the day before using the criteria of everything in advance; even to whipping the cream, perhaps with some creme fraiche,” she said.
“If you can’t access perfectly ripe fresh fruit, look to something like dried Australian apricots you can reconstitute and cook in a beautiful syrup.
“When serving poultry, particularly a large bird like a turkey, a goose or a very large chook, have the stuffing made the day before Christmas.
“Then, cook the bird in an oven bag so it cooks long and slow whilst you have drinks with family and friends, and nothing will burn or overcook.”
The table should also be set the night before Christmas.
Fight the festive war on waste
People who want to reduce the excess of the season should not go overboard with catering for starters.
Chef Jen Petrovic and copywriter Gaby Chapman, who have launched meal planning app PlanBuyCook to reduce household food waste, stress and budget, recommended allowing 300g of protein per guest. For example, 100g each of prawns, ham and turkey or chicken was just right.
The “mumpreneurs” also suggested dressing and serving half of a salad at a time (the remainder refrigerated without dressing), giving guests leftovers in takeaway containers, and slicing and freezing leftover ham for later use in pasta carbonara or ham and cannellini bean fritters.
Leftover turkey or chicken could be used in a fresh Vietnamese-style salad on Boxing Day.
Environmental organisation Planet Ark’s 12 Dos of Christmas was designed to help people wage a festive war on waste and hence reduce the cost of celebrations.
The 12 simple steps include making gifts, buying pre-loved items or giving experiences, reusing wrapping paper and recycling replaced technological devices such as mobile phones and tablets.
Everything in moderation
It was also important to do everything in moderation on the day, including not overindulging in alcohol.
“The less we drink, the less likely we are to contribute to or cause an unnecessary argument,” Ms Aspin said.
Create happy memories
Every family was unique and put their own spin on the special holiday, so embrace the fun activities done together, relationship expert Melissa Ferrari said.
“Create new traditions and relish those tender moments to create happy memories that will last a lifetime,” she said.
Don’t forget to breathe
If stress was experienced, take steps to address it.
“Three slow deep breaths, in and out, helps the mind and body to reset,” Ms Aspin said.
Seek help if you need it
Professional support was at hand at Christmas and any time of the year it was needed.
“It’s not uncommon for people to reach out at this time of year – Christmas can be very stressful,” Ms Aspin said.
“If you need professional support, please seek it.”