Many things can cause us to feel stressed around this time of year, and at the top of the list is money – more than ever this year, with inflation at its highest level for decades. According to Behavioural Scientist Dr Valentina Vellania, a simple mindset shift could be the answer to reducing your Christmas stress levels, and it all starts with turning demands into ‘wishes’.
Have you ever caught yourself saying things like:
“I must cook my family a huge Christmas meal”
“I have to get all of my nephews and nieces a present”
“I should buy something to show my friends that they are important to me”
The pressure to give around Christmas is immense, but the science is clear; we get a huge boost of happiness by giving. One 2008 study published in the journal Science investigated how giving to others influences happiness. The results suggest that people expected to feel happier when spending the money on themselves, but in fact, those who spent on others reported greater happiness.
However, this happiness doesn’t need to come from physical presents. It could also come from offering your time, advice, or a listening ear to people when they need it most. In fact, a 2003 study found that people who provided practical help to friends, family or neighbours had a lower risk of dying over a 5-year period. This is thought to be because of a decrease in stress levels.
So how do we shift our mindset and language around giving?
Dr Vellani who works as a Behavioural Scientist at ZavFit, says:
“In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) there is this idea of circularity between thoughts, feelings and actions. Negative thoughts are often automatic, but we can learn how to identify them, become aware of their influence on our behaviours, and eventually replace them with more positive, functional thoughts.”
Phrases like ‘I should’ or ‘I have to’ represent an inflexible way of thinking, and can create unnecessary pressure and stress. This can lead to us seeing in the New Year with an empty wallet when things should feel new and hopeful.
By changing our thoughts to ‘I hope to be able to’, we are no longer making demands of ourselves. For example, “it would be great if I could feed 30 people a slap-up Christmas meal, but doing the same for 5 people will make it a more intimate, special occasion where I can have more meaningful conversations.”
A simple change in mindset helps you turn internal demands into ideals, so you can make the best decisions for you and your circumstances this Christmas.
Don’t be afraid to be your true self
In a world where we are all told to ‘be ourselves’, actually putting that into practice and feeling good about it is tough. The world makes it far too easy for us to conform to what we ‘should’ do, and makes us feel guilty for not giving enough of our energy and money to the festive season.
Perhaps being more uniquely ‘us’ this time of year could diminish the worries we feel throughout it, and help us remain true to our personal values during a stress-filled season.
And if the first thing that comes to mind is “what will people think?”, then consider the notion that your attitude might be the refreshing change of pace everyone around you needs, and could be a positive influence during a time when we all really need the pressure bubble to burst.
So next time you find yourself saying ‘I should’, try to change the thought to be more wishful. ‘I’d like to’ allows us to be kinder to ourselves during the festive season, relieves some of the gifting and planning stress, and could bring some real cheer back to the holidays.
We are all in the midst of a challenging time, but we can become stronger for it – both emotionally and financially – if we start to uncover the true value and joy in the season of giving.
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