I had the absolute pleasure of speaking to a group of warm, funny, lovely mums, just north of Zurich this week. The topic of my talk was Stress and Christmas. I thought the topic so relevant, and hopefully useful, that I decided to share it here with you.
Whilst doing the research for this article, I came across a great many articles on the Internet: Christmas and Stress is clearly a hot topic! I learnt that Christmas is so stressful that January is the busiest time for divorce lawyers (a fact, independently verified by a member of this talk’s audience whose friend is a divorce lawyer!). The websites then tried to give helpful hints about how to manage stress, which ranged from making extensive Christmas plans, lists and agendas (military campaign!!!), the import of writing cards early (not a helpful hint on December 19th!), and taking the stress off the feet by avoiding the high street and shopping on-line (so that you can bite your nails waiting for presents to arrive on time, and end up stalking your post wo/man). As Hollywood comedies show us, people, pets, and especially children, rarely keep to plans.
That Darn Cat!
It is time for Missy M to select a Christmas present she might like. After staggering between microphones, bright pink musical keyboards and a guitar, she finally settles on a meowing, fluffy, robot style cat.
“Oh goodie” says I.
Now these are mind numbingly expensive in Switzerland, so I make cunning plans to source it elsewhere. When all the plans are in place, I go to make my order, only to find that there is now a 2-3 month wait. Instantly I explode into a heap of stress. I make up stories in my head about a tearful Missy M who will be scared for life after her mother’s failure to secure a fluffy toy cat. Then the ritual mother-beating-herself-up starts. “How could I be so dumb?!” And so on and so forth.
At this point, it looks as if the stress is emanating from the cute fluffy cat. It is clear: that cat is causing me stress! Yet there is no warning label to say
“Beware! Toxic! This cat will lead to mountains of stress!“
They couldn’t sell it if it had that label, and it wouldn’t be true. It is certainly not going to give my daughter stress! It will probably make her giggle!
So if a toy cat cannot make me stressed, where is the stress coming from? It’s coming from me. I am having a lot of thinking about That Darn Cat. I have a thought about the cat “oh no! What if it doesn’t arrive in time for Xmas.” That thought triggers the release of stress chemicals in my system, and I start to feel stress. I build on that thought, constructing a story of how terrible it will be if the cat never reaches my daughter. Now, I cannot even see what is around me, I am totally caught up in the thought about the cat and the stress story. But the truth is, I have done it to myself. I have had a series of thoughts, and in have scared myself stupid.
Stress isn’t coming from Christmas, or cooking the Turkey (or whatever floats your boat at Christmas time), or what our relations say around the dinner table – it is coming from our thinking about it all. We create our own stress, which is great news!
This means we can let those stressful thoughts go, and wait for a new thought to come along. We can finally understand how we get ourselves into the ridiculous situations that we do, such as getting stressed about a toy cat!
Of course the story has a happy ending, as I have just received an email telling me the cat has safely made its way, via another supplier, to its destination. So you will be hearing Meows from our apartment this Christmas…. until Mummy hides the batteries…..