How to survive the Christmas rush and beyond: with brain fitness

It’s that time of year again.
The shopping malls all have their decorations up and radio jocks have been telling us since September that there are only “x” number of shopping days left until Christmas. While it’s been possible to live in a blissful state of denial so far, there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s now December, and school holidays, end of year preparations and Christmas are coming up fast.

So how do you tackle this crazy time with all it’s silliness, Jingles and Mingles? There are probably three options.

My colleague April*, approaches December with same military precision she devotes to all her work. Her to-do list is complete, colour coded for clarity. Christmas presents have all been bought, wrapped and labelled. Cards are written and in neat piles ready for posting, for family, friends and business. The dog has been booked into a kennel for while they entertain and she’s just awaiting delivery of the Christmas crackers she ordered from the States which are two days late. She has this strange calm expression on her face, which I’m never quite sure what it signifies. You might call it beatific. You could also call it smug.

The second option was taken up by my pal June* who has announced that she is about to head off overseas with her family for a six week sojourn to Dubai, Italy and Canada returning after Australia day. Lucky duck.

The third option, which is the one I seem to naturally fall into every year despite thinking that things could be different, is to assume that with 31 days in the month there is of course loads of time to get everything done. I mean we are only talking about two actual days of public holiday when everyone can sit back and relax with a nice glass of something cold and wet, stuff our faces silly with lots of good food and enjoy catching up with good friends and family. What could be easier?

The trouble with the third option is that it assumes Christmas is at the end of the month and so I’m never ready for the 25th. The Christmas letter to the ‘rellies doesn’t get sent until the New Year. That great idea for a present for Uncle Ted who is impossible to buy for, isn’t available until March and on top of that there are work tasks waiting for completion, and new projects waiting to get unpacked and developed properly to roll out in the New Year.

The human stress response to threat is well known. It’s our fight, flight or freeze reaction. Which response we adopt can vary, though you may have noticed we quite often respond to a particular threat in a certain way.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to look at how we can make Christmas, our holidays or anything different to our normal routine easier and more enjoyable, simply by adopting a Brain Fit approach.

1. Be prepared.
While I was never a boy scout (for the jolly good reason that I wasn’t a boy) taking the time out to think about “how do I want this to happen”, takes away the stress of running around like a headless chook buying three giant circles of Brie that you’ll end up eating until Easter and a pile of unwanted “spare” presents you bought in case you forgot someone.
A couple of hours put aside to think and talk over with your other half (if he’s interested or vaguely listening) helps you to clarify what you will need and to start to plan accordingly.

2. Indulge in moderation
If like me you’re wondering why last year’s cocktail dress has managed to shrink in the wardrobe and you’ve got nothing else suitable for that work event tomorrow night, it’s probably a reminder to travel light (and suck it in). There are only so many Christmas parties, drinks and meals we can go to without suffering a surfeit of greasy sausage rolls, cardboard mince pies and too much booze. So make sure you keep your exercise schedule happening, even if that means walking to your destination. Choose to alternate alcoholic drinks with aqua pura. No one will notice that that sparkling beverage is actually water. Avoid turning up hungry to an event by having a light snack before hand, which makes it easier to forego that deep fried wonton or bucket of chips.

3. Sleep easy
With so much to do and so much on, it’s easy to end up exhausted and without enough sleep. That makes surviving the next day not just a headache, but much harder to do things well to the level you know you’re capable of. We all need roughly 7-8 hours of good quality uninterrupted sleep every night for mood regulation, better memory, better decisions, greater insight and time to flush out all the trash that accumulates in our brain during the day. So, while it’s fun to party, be a Cinderella and make sure you’re up tucked in bed in reasonable time, with or without your shoes on.

4. Delegate
Being a martyr to Christmas is never much fun, no one acknowledges your martyrdom and they’ll just assume you love the role. So if it’s not what you want, don’t do it. Get someone else to. If they don’t want it to do it either perhaps this is a signal that it’s time to do things differently. While being a fiercely independent, super coping, productive and busy person is marvellous for elsewhere, there are times (like now) when it’s fine, appropriate and necessary for sanity’s sake to ask for help or delegate tasks.
The fewer choices we have to make, the more mental energy we’ll have left over to apply to those more important items, and avoid decision fatigue.

5. Chill.
This is a special time of year because it’s a wonderful time to pause and reflect on everything you have achieved and to anticipate good things to come. It’s about expressing gratitude for what you have, and for appreciating those who mean the most to you. When we are grateful, our mind can relax, we are more positive and we feel happier.
Why not treat yourself to something really nice; something you might not had time to do during the rest of the year. A massage? A retreat? A day to spent doing non-work things: a trip to an art exhibition, a trip to the country or a night away with your partner/husband/lover?

Ultimately it’s all about choice and what works for you. What you choose determines not just whether you survive the silly season, but how you can take the silliness out of it all and enjoy a truly wonderful and happy time.

* Names have been changed to protect the innocent

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