As I write this, it is a little under 5 weeks till Christmas. I am struck by the fact that some people start ‘gearing up’ and ‘girding their loins’ for Christmas two or even three months before December 25th. How crazy is that? How can we get ourselves wound up and in a state of stress for two to three months, all for the sake of one day. We completely forget ‘the reason for the season’ – joy, peace and love. And for those of us who follow the Christian faith, celebrating the gift of Christ. For those who do not follow this faith, the values of joy, peace and love are a part of all major religious traditions and are values of importance to many people with no interest at all in religion.
And as a person who can get pretty stressed out over Christmas, my challenge to myself, and to you if you care to join me, is this: how can we start to ‘unwind’, de-tress, gear down and generally ‘de-frag’ each and every day in the lead up to December 25th .
To me “De-fragging” is about clearing our metal ram, slowing down, relaxing and letting go. And relaxing and letting go are important pre-requisites for experiencing joy, peace and love. To quote the cartoonist Michael Leunig: “We cannot love at speed”.
So, am I suggesting you should plan to be less productive and get less done? Not at all. In fact, ironically, ‘slowing down’ from ‘rushing-ness’ can result in us becoming more efficient and able to get more done in the time we have available. How so? A very positive ‘chicken-and-egg’ dynamic is available here if we choose to tap into. If we are able to intentionally adopt a stance of calmness, gratitude, peace, joy and love and move away from stress and frustration and rushing-ness, it is possible to regain a sense of perspective and from this sense of perspective to be able to think more strategically and creatively and come up with better solutions to problems. On the other hand, if we are caught in what I think of as ‘fight-flight physiology dynamics’ – a greater tendency towards stress, worry, hypervigilance for what is going wrong (a.k.a. negative thinking), black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking, tunnel vision, and creating worse case scenarios in our heads, we are unable to get things into perspective and think strategically.
And research suggests that attitudes such as gratitude and awe will help us to become less stressed and anxious, thus reducing the ‘fight-flight physiology dynamics’ I mentioned above.
So, if you were to intentionally choose to adopt the qualities of joy, peace and love and develop these over the coming five weeks, not only might you have a more enjoyable lead up to December 25th, but you are likely to find that you are less stressed and more able to think clearly and creatively.
And what if you were to take a two-pronged approach? Firstly, intentionally choosing one or two positive qualities, such as joy, peace and love to focus on each day. And secondly, creating plans for Christmas that allow joy, peace and love to predominate over perfection and duty. Imagine how things could be if you were able to loosen up on your expectations of yourself about the perfect gifts you want to give, the perfect house and garden you want to welcome visitors into and the perfect meals you wish to serve. And perhaps there are other ways you could relax your expectations to make Christmas less stressful , and more enjoyable.
On the practical planning side of things you will find many blogs with helpful ideas. Suggestions commonly include
- If you are hosting a Christmas meal, can you make it ‘pot luck’ or ask specific family members to contribute a dish. Or pitch in together to prepare the meal, but with a shared intention to bring as much joy, peace and love to the process. Without this shared intention, ‘help’ in the kitchen can be a source of huge pressure and tension, where tension is high and tempers are frayed.
- If possible, agree with family about gift-giving. Whether that be a price limit, going in together to buy gifts or agreeing to only give second-hand items. If this isn’t possible, work out your own limits in terms of price and the amount of effort you are willing to make around gift-giving. Remind yourself that in a month’s time, or possibly even a week’s time, your choice of gifts is quite likely to be already forgotten.
But stepping back again from practical strategies to a great ‘defrag’ strategy…
Adopt ‘good enough’ as your motto. Gifts only have to be ‘good enough’, not perfect. Cooking only has to be ‘good enough’, housework and garden maintenance only have to be ‘good enough’. After all, all of these things are in the service of having a wonderful day with people we care about so it’s helpful to move the focus to that end goal. While it seems almost universal to worry about what others think of us, learning to live lightly with these thoughts and fears is hugely liberating. Perhaps now is ‘as good a time as any’ to start on the journey of being less concerned about not meeting other people’s expectations. And as you are probably aware – oftentimes others don’t hold such expectations of us, we just imagine they do. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to really embrace or play with the idea that “What other people think of you is none of your business”.
So, how about challenging yourself to defrag your Christmas, in preparation for defragging your holidays, in preparation for defragging the coming year. Of course, I encourage you to only challenge yourself in a ‘good enough’ kind of way! Make it a light challenge. Add in some fun. Focus on making it a joyous challenge, in the service of creating a joyous occasion filled with lots of appreciation and gratitude for all the small wonders in life.