Happy Mind, Happy Life

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My Secret to a Stress-Less Christmas

by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee   /  December 19, 2018

Christmas should be a time of celebration and relaxation. A time to break from work, reconnect with friends and family, exchange gifts and good will. Why then, does the mere mention of the C word set off stress alarms?

I think that in this age of mass consumerism and perfectionism, we put too much pressure on ourselves to get everything ‘right’. We want to buy everyone the perfect gifts, wrap them beautifully, clean and decorate the home, prepare a bounty of food, attend carol services, nativities, drinks parties. Yet we forget that, for most of December, normal life and all its responsibilities continue. There’s still the school run, work and the household to take care of. Inevitably, preparing for Christmas becomes less of a pleasure, more of a chore.

So, short of hiring a magic elf, how can we make this year different? Well there’s a tried-and-tested solution that has worked wonders in my family.

The magic of scheduling

When you’re feeling overwhelmed with jobs to do, people to see, social events to attend, make yourself a schedule. That might sound like adding one more task to your already busy day but trust me, it will create time for you.

Think about it – if you’ve ever prepared Christmas lunch, you probably followed a schedule devised by a famous cook. Be it Gordon, Nigella, Jamie or Delia, they had you watching the clock, step by step – and sitting down to a warm, turkey dinner, right on time. So why not use that principle on other days, too?

It’s a practice my wife Vidh adopted when she was first at home with our young son. To counter rising anxiety that there weren’t enough hours in the day, she made a detailed daily schedule that accounted for every minute. ‘Wake up: 6.30, Get ready: 6.45–7.05, Breakfast: 7.05–7.25,’ all the way through until bedtime.

The result? Vidh felt more in control of her life. Each day finished with a satisfyingly ticked to-do list and she was able to enjoy time to herself, guilt free. Many top CEOs use scheduling for this reason. It helps them be more productive, while ensuring they have time to pursue hobbies as well as spend with their families.

Scheduling works because it helps you identify mindless tasks and procrastination. At times – like Christmas – when our to-do list can seem insurmountable, it helps us to prioritise and live more efficiently. It shifts us from a stress state into a thrive one.

How to schedule your day

Think about tomorrow and write down all the places you have to be or jobs you have to do at a specific time (that doctor’s appointment at 10:30am, the 4pm conference call). Then note down all the tasks you’d ideally like to get done, in order (pop to the Post Office, buy your office Secret Santa gift, order the online groceries).

Next, write down a ‘me time’ activity you’d love to spend time doing but don’t anticipate having enough hours left. It could be a yoga class, a phone catch up with an old friend, a soak in the bath.

Now diarise your entire day, from the moment you wake, including meals, travelling time, everything. Put those fixed appointments in first, then your ‘me time’ (yes, this really does come before the other tasks). Finally, schedule the remaining jobs around these, in order of priority. Those you can’t fit in, don’t forget – you can’t achieve the impossible.

If you finish tasks early, don’t automatically grab your smart phone. Have a mini-moment of calm. Take a walk, do a few minutes’ deep breathing or just linger over a cuppa and, why not, a mince pie!

People I recommend this practice to nearly always tell me it enabled them to get more things done than they’d imagined. It may seem prescriptive, but I assure you it will unexpectedly give you much more flexibility to enjoy the festive period, and feel less stressed as the holidays approach.

For more on reducing stress and feeling more productive, year round, order my book The Stress Solution: The 4 Steps to Reset Your Body, Mind, Relationships & Purpose, here.


DISCLAIMER: The content in this blog is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog or on this website.

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee MbChB, BSc (Hons), MRCP, MRCGP