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What can we do to stop our unrealistic expectations taking the joy out of Christmas? Maureen Rice reveals the secrets to enjoying a magical – yet stress-free – festive season this year...

1. Communicate

Have an honest conversation with everyone about what kind of Christmas you really want, says psychotherapist Anna Mathur. 'Is it to be lazy? To have lots of family time? Or to be more sustainable?' Patty Cruz-Fouchard is a professional organiser, and says that creating this vision together is essential. 'Everything else stems from this; it gives your planning a 'why'.'

2. Co-create

‘Delgating doesn't work,’ says executive coach and speaker May Busch, ‘as it still assumes that you are the ‘manager.’ Instead, co-create Christmas with your family. ‘Ask everyone what is the one thing they most love? For my daughter, it’s a big tree. So, she takes care of getting and decorating it.' When people put themselves in charge of a part of Christmas they enjoy, they are more likely to actually do the task ahead.

3. Budget time and money 

Patty Cruz-Fouchard from simpleandorganised.com says that planning is the key to calm:

Start early, and give yourself more time than you need (at least four to six weeks ahead).

Block out chunks of time for gift shopping, food ordering, wrapping and everything else, then add blocks of time for yourself to take breaks. 'You can then see at a glance how much you have to do and what is realistically achievable.'

Break tasks down into smaller chunks – instead of doing all your shopping over a few intense days, start early, order online, and give shopping an hour or two at a time.

Don’t make a list of everything you want and add up how much it costs. Set yourself a budget first, then make a list that fits the budget, not the other way around. 

4. Cancel

If you really going to have a happy Christmas, something has to give. 'Go back to your family vision,' says Anna Mathur. 'Ask yourself, is this taking us closer to that Christmas or further away? If it's further away, cancel it.'

5. Compromise 

If some things remain that don’t fit your vision, but you feel you can’t cancel, learn to say: 'Yes, but...',' says Anna Mathur. 'Yes, we’ll go to your parents, but we’ll just stay for the day, not overnight'; 'Yes, I’ll bring dessert, but I’ll pick it up from Sainsbury’s, not make it from scratch.'

6. The answer to everything...

'If you suffer from people-pleasing, you probably say “yes” automatically when someone asks you to do something,' says Anna Mathur. Instead, train yourself to have a new response for every request – even the ones you want to do: 'Let me have a think about that and get back to you'. It’s not no, but it’s not yes. It allows you to take a step back, think about your vision, and make an appropriate reply.

 

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