Christmas is upon us and, with it, the annual snowstorm of seasonal stress. It is an unfortunate fact that a time of the year that is, in theory, supposed to bring sweetness and joy can be an endless source of tension, frustration and unhappiness.
This is the case regardless of circumstances. There are presents to wrap (assuming you've already carved out time to actually buy your presents which, be honest, you haven't). Perhaps you have volunteered to make a Christmas pudding or bake a Christmas cake. You may be visiting family over the next fortnight - which can involve treading on eggshells and not upsetting delicate sensibilities.
And that's before we even get started on the big picture. The end of year is a period of reflection: maybe you've lost a loved one in the past 12 months, making Christmas a bittersweet time. In taking stock, you might conclude you are not living the life you wished. Or perhaps you've simply left it too late to order a free-range turkey and are freaking out because you don't know what do to.
Alas, there is no straightforward solution to these problems. On the other hand, you needn't feel helpless. We each have it in our power to make our daily existence a little less stressful. It's just a case of knowing how and where to start and accepting you can't solve all of your problems in a single day. Here are some tips to begin with.
At Christmas especially, some things are more important than others. So be wary of stretching yourself too thin. There is a limit to how many Christmas get togethers you can attend, the quantity of shopping you can pack into a single week. Christmas is a nominally a church holiday - but there's no need to become a martyr.
Through most of the year, being anti-social is not a sin. At Christmas, however, wallflowers may feel as if they are becoming pariahs. But the truth is life is too short to be continually living up to the expectations of others. If you don't want to go to the office party, politely decline and stay at home. All that hooey about 'networking' and 'team-building' is just that - do you truly believe your promotion chances will suffer because nobody saw you lurching all over the dance floor, four sheets to the wind, in mid-December?
Keep your gift giving under control. If there is a tradition in your family of buying presents for nieces and nephews, you'll probably have to go along with it. However, if such a tradition does not exist and you really don't have the time (or the cash) why bring extra stress on yourself? Similarly, you should err towards common sense - in the long run, if you splash on an over-the-top-present, you'll remember the gratuitous expense a lot more than the recipient will their shiny gift. You do not want your generosity to sour into resentfulness.
If you take on all the Christmas chores, don't be surprised if the rest of your family/friends leave you to it. Cooking, cleaning, baking, wrapping - the more you volunteer, the more work will pile up. Make it clear to your nearest and dearest that they are expected to pitch in too. And if they don't well... they'll just have to pray that those potato croquets will cook themselves.
In December 'rush hour' is a 14-hour, seven-day-a-week affair. It takes 20 minutes to get to the cash machine, 40 minutes to escape the multi-storey carpark, an infinity to reach the counter at Starbucks. For some of us, this is what we call 'bustle' and is, in fact, one of the joys of Christmas. For others it is hell incarnate. To avoid such unpleasantness spend a few moments planning ahead: if you do have to visit a shopping centre, do so early in the morning. Ensure you have plenty of cash when you hit town. Have your coffee at home. A little foresight will work wonders as you seek to side-step the Christmas crush.
Few families escape a Christmas flare-up. All it takes, it seems, is some tinsel, a turkey dinner and half a kilo of Quality Street, and you've regressed to the person you were aged 12. So if you and your father have the same row about the same subject every Christmas, make a mental note to avoid the topic completely. In such circumstances, the temptation to bicker never fully dissipates - but you can resolve to take the higher ground and be an agent for peace.
You want to watch the Dr Who Christmas Special, everyone else wants to sing-along to Frozen. Even if you press the point and get your way, are you really going to enjoy yourself? Try to be gracious and let the majority have their way. You'll feel much happier and less stressed (and will anyone notice if you are sneakily watching Dr Who on your iPad? They will not).
In Ireland it is normally acceptable to arrive 15 to 20 minutes late for social engagements. At Christmas, however, people have a lot on and your tardiness can cause problems where it normally would not. Just to make life easier for everyone, try to be on time. And if you can't, pay others the courtesy of letting them know in advance. Think how grateful you will be when shown the same compliment.
If you have a delicate piece of news to convey to friends or colleagues, perhaps Christmas isn't quite the time. Everyone is anxious enough as it is - this, assuredly, is not the time for curve-balls. Your frankness may blow up in your face - causing stress to you as well as to the recipient of your 'news'.
Picture postcard Christmases only exist in the movies. In the real world, there will be unpleasant surprises, people who let you down, gifts that are not received with the grace that they should be. Accept this going in and the disappointments will be so much easier to shoulder.
Few of us are getting any richer so be careful how you spend - it's best to set out a budget before you embark on your gift-buying spree and abide by it.
If you have a healthy lifestyle the rest of the year, do not throw it all away at Christmas. Continue with your regular exercise regime and dietary habits. As you are only human, you'll probably eat and drink more than you ought to - but, by maintaining the structure of your normal life, you'll ensure no long-term harm or self-loathing is caused.
If it feels like it's all getting too much then it probably IS all getting too much. Step back from the chaos where possible: go for a long walk, throw on your favourite movie, call a dear friend. That all-important task will still be there in the morning, after you've had a chance to relax and restore some context to your life.
Just as it is harmful to harbour unrealistically sunny expectations going into Christmas, it helps not to expect the sky to fall in either. No matter how tough you think Christmas will be, you will make it through - just as you've made it through all the Christmases that went before. And, remember: it is only a one single day after all.
We can be too fussy when shopping for a loved one. Remember, they'll appreciate your kind thoughts more than the specifics of whatever you have bought. So do not push yourself to distraction looking for the perfect present. As we should all know by now such a thing does not exist.
Health & Wellbeing
Clement Freud, a British politician, broadcaster and grandson of Sigmund Freud, observed in 1964 that, “If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking, and loving, you don’t actually live longer; it just seems longer.”
It is as well that Anglican priests don't have to take a vow of poverty. Among other ordination promises, they must pledge to try and fashion their lives according to the way of Christ, to be diligent in prayer and study, and to strive to be an instrument of God's peace.
Ageing - it happens to us all, no matter how much we wish this was not the case. The good news is that we can take ownership of the process of growing older by looking after our bodies and minds. That isn't to say you can rustle up the fountain of youth in your kitchen. However, by living sensibly and with an understanding of your body's limits, it is possible to keep at bay the very worst ravages of time.
It takes time to eat well - time being something few of us possess in abundance nowadays. A generation ago, a home-cooked meal was part of our everyday routine. In 2014, 'home cooked' increasingly means peeling the plastic covering off and slamming a container in the microwave.