Cheer in the change
It doesn't have to be this way
I remember the year we had roasted tea towel for Christmas dinner.
At least that’s what had come out of the oven, when my mum went to check on it. She’d put it in the oven instead of the turkey. Said turkey had been left stuffed, naked and forlorn in the cold conservatory as there was no room left in the fridge, which was stuffed with all manner of desserts and sauces mum had baked and boiled over the previous weeks.
I remember her cry of despair, the frantic hair pulling that dinner would now be incalculably delayed (for these were still the pre-Nigella days of cooking the absolute arse out of a turkey for hours on end).
She was in her mid-40’s I think, in what I now know to be peri-menopause; her skin and bones flamed with enough heat to cook the turkey in the conservatory if she had just wrapped it in her arms, her mind as frazzled and fogged as the steamed up kitchen windows. Hot flushes and angry flashes combusted with the stress system that ran our home.
That’s how Christmas was approached. It was “stressful”.
Mum flustered and franticly busied herself for weeks, making lists, shopping and planning, cooking and baking and prepping until the day arrived and she was looking as strangled as the bird. We all took cover during the culmination of roasting, hot plating, shoving cooked items in a tiny oven to keep warm, gravy being sieved of lumps - the seismic challenge of getting everything on the table served hot, was a sweltering stressfest that I watched in horror. I’m not for a moment suggesting it wasn’t a highly heightened situation, women all over the world being crushed with the weight of expectation, with little or no help. But from the language to the energy, atmosphere was alight with stress, as well as the Christmas lights.
Many years later when the time came for me to produce my own Christmases, I just assumed stress was the seasonal sauce: I would compile lists in a frenzied state of stress; I would shop at an out-of-breath-paced stress; I would frantically flick through Nigella, Mary Berry and Delia Smyth recipes pulling together the ingredients of stressed success; I would wrap and tie ribbon, decorate and design Happy Family format Christmas cards, all in a state of stress, and while I enjoyed the time of year more than any other, I just assumed it was the Season of Stress, and behaved accordingly.
Here’s what I know now:
It’s possible to change.
It‘s possible to change the way you think about something.
It’s possible to change the way you react to something.
It’s possible to change the way you approach something.
You have far more agency than you think.
I grew up in a home where “stress’ was the colour scheme of our house. So I coloured my house in the same palette. Until I learned a different hue.
Ironically, it was the most stressful time of my life that cured me. Trapped in the sandwich of care between my stroke-devastated mum and three devastatingly-cute but chaotic young kids, I finally fell at the stress-stoked surprise when I found my husband was gay and he packed up the spare wine glasses and left. Single parenting is the pinnacle of stress, and I’d just peaked.
All of that meant of course, I came tumbling down and in the tailspin I somehow reset the system; I learned how to chose a way of colouring in my life that induced less stress, and I managing in ways that didn’t leave me as spent.
I slowly learned the lessons of Buddha, of psychology, of separating from my thoughts and emotions, and the holy giddy grail of choosing a different way from ways that don’t serve me.
Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful.
(Before I go on, and mistakingly give the impression I’m some zen goddess who never swears in a pique of puerile petulance, or loses her shit in spectacular fashion, let me reassure you I most certainly am not. I’m a menopausal single parent, trying to make a living, whilst ageing in an age of anti-ageing propaganda - losing my shit is sometimes my only joy.)
But I actively now decide it doesn’t have to be stressful. I can take real pleasure in planning, make really important decisions about what to actually care about (lump-free gravy is not one of them and so I buy it, pre-made, from M&S).
The key to being less stressful is not checking off lists and finding all the answers. It’s asking the right questions:
How can I make this more enjoyable?
What really matters?
What is my internal desire / ambition and what is external bullshit / expectations?
Now, I really try to care less about what people think, and more about how I feel.
I feel better when I give from a place of strength and that’s the best Christmas present we can all give ourselves.
I’m running a Frazzled to Festive webinar on the 4th December to give you some really practical tools to sleigh the stress over the next few weeks. It’s hte hour that might just save your sanity this Christmas. I’m also giving participants a New Year Revolution exercise to help make 2024 the year of more (of you). It’ll be recorded for those who can’t make it live. There is a 10% discount on webinar for my paid subscribers .. discount code below: