How to REALLY Avoid Christmas Stress

It’s commonly acknowledged that theChristmas period can be a stressful time for people.‘Christmas stress’ isusually attributed to an increase in the demands on your time and financial resources and the pressure of social and family commitments. But perhaps it is time to consider the real cause of Christmas stress – you.

Is Christmas shopping inherently challenging? Are family gatherings deliberately trying? Is cooking abig lunch involuntarily demanding? The answer is no. The thing that makes these activities stressful is you and your perceptionof them.

I am sure you’re familiar with the experience of attending a family function vowing not to let aparticular family member annoy you, or promising yourself not to get frazzled in the kitchen, or swearing to be more organised with your Christmas shopping, but how often do you manage to succeed? 

The reason your positive intentions might fail to manifest into a positive and peaceful Christmas stems from the fact that your perception of a situation, person or event is due to far more than just your conscious attitude. You may think positively but still find yourself annoyed, frazzled and racing the clock or you might just feel exhausted by the effort required to maintain your positive attitude! This is because your conscious mind is not in control of your reactions and behaviour– your subconscious mind is.

Your subconscious brain processes incoming information about a situation, person or event below your conscious awareness. Because you’re continuously bombarded with extraordinaryamounts of data from your external environment your body has developed an efficient way of managing and processing this information so that you can function optimally. The subconscious is the part of the brain with the processing capacity to handle this large amount of incoming data. It works tirelessly in the background monitoring your environment and since it is in charge of your autonomic nervous system (all automatic physical and neurological functions), it is constantly ensuring that your body readily adapts to this environment.

To give you an idea of the power of the subconscious, consider that the conscious mind has a relatively limited processing capacity, processing an average of 2,000 bits per second, it is capable of managing just a few tasks at a time. The subconscious mind however, processes an average of 4 billion bits of information per second and can handle thousands of taskssimultaneously.[i]  In addition, since the subconscious mind is in control of the body and its survival, its thoughts and instructions are understandably given priority over the conscious mind when it comes to managing perceived threats to your health and safety.

To efficiently process incoming information from the external environment the subconscious uses a database of your past experiences, beliefs and expectations. It is constantly processing information against this database of ‘programs’ and you will only become consciously aware of a feeling, reaction or impulse to act once a ‘match’ has been made.  For example, the retained memory of seeing a snake in the bushes in the past is used to rapidly ready the body for action when a similar object is noticed during a bush walk in the present. It is only after the conscious mind overrides this reaction by evaluating the object as an old tyre that the body can switch off its alert state and return to balance. Had the conscious mind been in control the person could not have perceived the potential snake (threat) in enough time to takeevasive action and survive.

While this extraordinary processing mechanism is helpful in ensuring your physical survival, it isdesigned so that past ‘programming’ determines behaviour in the present. This means that the subconscious mind has the power to keep you locked into habits and behavioural patterns which may no longer serve you. As you mature and gain more experience your beliefs and expectations naturally evolve but sometimes your subconscious‘programs’ are not updated and they cause a conflict or sabotage. 

It is this conflict or sabotage which causes stress because you are consciously trying to do something which your subconscious mind and hence your body, doesn’t believe it can do. For example, the conscious thought: “I know I can cook this Turkey to perfection”is pitted against the subconscious beliefs: “I hate cooking Turkeys” or “I can’t do anything right” and memories: “the time the Turkey was undercooked” or“the time Uncle Harry got gastro and blamed my cooking.”

So, the real reason you get stressed at Christmas is because you are operating on outdated programming, but the good news is that it is just programming and you can change it! To startchanging subconscious beliefs you need to speak its language, which is via the senses – seeing it, hearing it and feeling it. 

Here’s an exercise to help you transform any potential stressful situation:

- Take 5 minutes to sit and relax

- If you can, place your hands over your forehead to help your front brain process and program the new response

- Decide on your goal (e.g. I want to feel calm when my mother-in-law starts trying to take over the kitchen)

- Visualise how you would normally expect this scene to play out. Bring in as much context as you can. Where is it? Who else is there? What is being said? How does it feel?

- Notice how this scene feels in your body. Do you feel anxious, angry, or overwhelmed?

- Now replay the scene exactly as you imagined it except bring in the feelings that you want to feel e.g. calm, happy, relaxed. Perhaps you can even imagine that your body is floating above the scene as it plays out

- If you need to, keep replaying the scene and ensure that your new ‘goal’ feelings are embedded into the scene

- Go forth and notice how differently you feel in the situation!

Good luck! And have a very Merry Christmas!

 [1] PSYCH-K ...The Missing Peace in Your Life, Robert M Williams M.A., Myriddin Publications, USA 200