It’s a cliché to complain that Christmas seems to start earlier every year – but some clichés are clichés for a reason! My first Christmas event was on the 2nd, and I received my first Christmas card on the 3rd. This month’s diary is laden with a string of festivities with some even spilling over into the New Year. I bet you know exactly what I mean. Even if you don’t actually celebrate Christmas you'll be lured in by tempting winter pop-up delights like ice-skating, lunches in ‘Alpine pods’ that are a long way from any mountain, special shopping evenings, not to mention endless festive lunches with colleagues and friends.
I like to spend December catching up with colleagues and friends I haven’t seen in a while. But the mix of fitting in social engagements, living up to the Christmas cheer and meeting never-ending deadlines at work makes many of us want to give up before it all begins. How do we cope with it all?
This is normally when I start to talk about resilience; but not after a young professional said to me: “If I have to attend one more 'how to build your resilience' workshop, I’ll scream! It seems, work is all about building endurance and I don’t think it’s sustainable. Why can’t life just slow down?”
So, instead of offering more resilience advice, here are 3 things any of us can do to remain sane during the festive season
1. Ask yourself: what’s the worst case-scenario?
I’m reminded of the story of the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca – credited as the father of venture capitalism – who regularly slept on the floor, ate bread and drank water to remind himself that if he lost everything, he would still be able to survive. This constant reminder of the ‘worst case scenario’ allowed him to take great risks without fear. He never stressed about investments going wrong, plans not working out, not living up to expectations.
I often think about Seneca and my own ‘worst case scenario’ to remind myself that, whatever happens, I will be fine. It may not be what I want or aim for, but my absolutely worst nightmare is probably not as grim as I make it out to be. This thought relaxes me and allows me to confront stresses in a more rational manner.
2. Incorporate pauses into your day
The great part about the festive season is that it is, in fact, festive. There are many opportunities to step sideways and enjoy the calming offering that it brings. I often find myself walking from meeting to meeting in central London, marvelling at the decorations (those who follow me on Instagram get to experience some of it with me). I’ll sometimes pop into one of the many beautiful little churches around the City for a lunchtime concert. When I drive, I often listen to classical music and follow the melody that whisks me away to another, calmer, sphere. These are things that allow me to press the ‘pause’ button and catch up with myself as a human. Like Amy Cuddy’s power poses, they rebuild my reserve and stamina to tackle the next challenge.
3. Keep your eye on the prize
Like in many other situations, it helps to prioritise. We need to understand what is most important to us this season and ensure that, whatever else might get compromised, this one thing should not. We are constantly reminded by emotionally-charged TV ads what our priorities during this season should be – like the BBC’s new Christmas ad (1) – and maybe they’re right. But even if not, it helps to identify the one thing that matters most this season and remind yourself that, no matter what else you may not achieve this year, this is the one thing that matters. For me this year – like in any other year - it’s spending time with my children. Sounds like a cliché perhaps, but I always take time off from work and friends to indulge in this one tradition. We go to the cinema, we shop together, we go ice skating, attend their school performances. No matter where we might be and no matter how much of their lives I may have missed during the year, we are always together in the winter holidays.
So if that long list of things-to-do has to give way for this one priority to succeed, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.
These are some of my coping mechanisms for the strains and stresses of the season. What are yours?
(1) BBC Christmas ad