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Beating 'Christmas Stress'
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The festive season can be a stressful time for many different reasons. First, of course, there is the cost. According to a survey (November 2004), 37% of respondents cited the cost of Christmas as being its most stressful aspect, with 33% saying they felt under pressure to buy expensive gifts for their children and/or partner, and 73% expecting to take 6-12 months to clear their Christmas debts. Then there's the constant drain on our bodies created by the party season. December can become an 'endurance test', where one office party or social gathering follows another in an endless cycle of late nights and subsequent hangovers. However good our intentions, the added pressure from friends or colleagues can make it virtually impossible to say 'no'. And it's imperative to have a good time - yet how many of us have awoken after an office party, for example, with feelings of guilt or anxiety at what we wished we had not said or done? The festivities can be difficult for those who are single, married, lonely, sick or bereaved, but also for those who are ostensibly happy. They remind us of the passing of another year - the relentless marching of the seasons of our lives. Even if we have a partner we can be lonely or unhappy, and these feelings become magnified - putting pressure on already rocky relationships. Many can start to break up either during or immediately after the holidays - hence the dramatic increase in calls to help lines at this time of the year. And then there are the celebrations themselves. For at least 48 hours - and to some extent for the three or four hectic weeks beforehand - our world grows smaller and its boundaries more defined. We reflect on when we were small and awoke excitedly to see what presents we'd been left at the end of the bed. And this act of looking back to times of carefree innocence cannot help but be compared to how different our complicated life is now - with its often frenetic and sometimes pointless activity. Memories past and realities present. When the two meet there is often sadness. It cannot be otherwise. Like going out into the winter cold, such meetings bring an initial shock to the system emotionally and physically, until we acknowledge the changes that time brings throughout our lives, and the recognition that we have to accept those changes gracefully. I believe that Christmas past with its memories; Christmas present with its hopes, and Christmas future with its dreams yet to be realised, have to be seen perhaps a little more gently. We should not be too harsh with ourselves and with our hopes - some of which have been lost. The secret of surviving the festive season is knowing that we are all vulnerable, we all have disappointments, and it really is true that there are many who are perhaps less fortunate than ourselves. These perspectives are important, because they bring back order to the mind. Order and understanding keep us mentally on a more even keel, ready and able to ride with the waves rather than sailing into them. Christmas is, after all, a time for celebration. How sad then that we often find it so difficult to celebrate ourselves. Top 12 Festive stress tips

1. Plan the festive season well in advance - especially the cooking. 2. Try not to leave everything (especially your Christmas cards) to the last moment. Christmas should be fun - not a trial. 3. Make a list of gifts you want to buy, and get the satisfaction of ticking them off as you go.  Be sensible with your presents and don't get carried away. 4. Wrap the presents as you buy them, rather than leaving them all until Christmas Eve. 5. If you hate all the bustle and queuing, try shopping out of hours when shops are open late or even 24 hours. Focus on the pleasure your gifts will bring, rather than the hassle of buying them. 6. Make some time for yourself over Christmas. Read a book you've been meaning to read, or phone a friend you haven't spoken to for a long time. 7. Buy a relaxation tape, switch off from the festive atmosphere and think about your body and your mind. 8. At least once a day, think about all the good things in your life, instead of the 'not so good'. Hold that thought for the day and you may even catch yourself smiling! 9. If you're feeling lonely, make a phone call to a friend or even someone you don't know (such as the Samaritans who are on call 24 hours a day). 10. With the pressures of the materialistic society, remember that the best things in life are free. The scent of frost on a December morning the smoke from a log fire a walk in the park as the light fails 11. Cherish the time for reconnecting with your family. 12. Don't worry that everyone else is having a better time than you are. The chances are they're not! For more information on CSG's services including in-house & public training, stress policy, stress audit, risk assessment, attendance management, rehabilitation support, post trauma support, mediation, impartial investigations, expert  witness, nationwide employee counselling team, coaching and mentoring services, please contact us.

By Carole Spiers MIHE MISMA, Business Stress Consultant
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