Wednesday, 19 January 2022

‘Give yourself a choice this Christmas’

‘Give yourself a choice this Christmas’

IS it just me or is Christmas quite a stressful time of year, writes mindfulness expert Sarah Furness.

Let’s ignore for one second that yet again there are rumblings of Christmas being cancelled.

Even without all that, I still think Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. There are almost limitless varieties of middle-class melodramas to overcome.

I’m being deliberately cheeky here because, let’s face it, most of us still have hot running water and three meals a day to look forward to.

So in the full knowledge of my own naive sense of entitlement and privileged position as a white middle-class woman, I’ve decided to list all the things that I like to ruminate on during the festive period.

In other words, this is a safe space to share your first world problems.

Here are some of mine.

Will I look fat in my Christmas jumper because I’ve been force-fed mince pies and mulled wine for the last two weeks? (Never really liked mince pies anyway. LOVE mulled wine.)

Will my brother notice I’ve bought him the same gift five years running because, honestly, how DO you buy for the man who has everything?

Why do I have to wear a Christmas jumper anyway?

How will I survive sleeping over at my relatives who overheat their house to the point of suffocation and then open all the windows? Our poor planet! And those poor sweat-drenched duck down duvets.

But wait till you hear this. Because this one really epitomises my sense of entitlement.

I get stressed at receiving gifts. That’s right. I don’t enjoy opening presents. In fact, if I’m really honest, I find it one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

I genuinely find Christmas gift receiving a form of torture. Harder than going to war. I genuinely used to volunteer to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan so that I could avoid receiving gifts. How ungrateful is that?

My partner knows about this condition I have and he just shakes his head in amusement at this time of year when he sees the panic in my face when I get the old familiar question: “What would you like for Christmas?”

Oh please, I beg, please, please don’t get me anything. And because we live a lovely middle-class life, everyone shakes their head and then gets me something anyway. So cruel.

Why do I find it so stressful?

Well, I live in Henley and, as you know, it’s a beautiful town, especially at this time of the year. The lights are up and they are gorgeous.

And that’s before we get to the Christmas trees. Yes, I said TREES. Every hanging basket that I’ve counted — all 195 of them — has a 3ft Christmas tree in it. I mean, Henley is just magical.

And, let’s be honest, it is also quite expensive. Which means, when I moved here, I had to downsize pretty drastically. I now rent a gorgeous but tiny house. With no space. When I arrived I had to take countless trips to Oxfam with a tear-streaked six-year-old bearing boxes of toys we didn’t have room for. I gave away all the clothes that had been sulking silently in my wardrobe for several years. I just didn’t have the space for them. It was a travesty.

And therefore I definitely don’t have space for ANY MORE STUFF. Especially stuff that I didn’t ask for. Because the truth is there is a very real possibility that whatever gift I receive, I may not really like it.

But it was a gift. Therefore I must now put this unchosen item somewhere highly visible in this tiny house and reject a chosen, cherished and possibly smaller item to make room. And that, to me, is very stressful.

But why?

Why do I find all these well-intended and basically harmless inconveniences so distressing? Am I a monster? Am I the most ungrateful human who lived? Possibly. But wait.

Let’s take another look at my list of irritations.

Wearing a Christmas jumper that I don’t want to wear, receiving a gift I don’t have space for, eating more food than I need or want to, getting stuck to the leather furniture by my own sweat because the heating is on full blast.

What do all these things have in common?

Choices. Or lack of them.

Think about it. At Christmas, we STOP choosing what to wear, what to eat, what things we have in our house, the temperature of our house. We START following the rules and standards of someone else, often with no obvious benefit to ourselves. Why? Because we are addicted to people-pleasing.

It would be simply unthinkable for most of us to open a gift and then say, “Actually, no thanks, I don’t really need that.” You just wouldn’t do it, would you?

But that’s kind of the problem with Christmas. It becomes about giving away all of your choices. And that’s not actually very good for short-term or long-term wellbeing or resilience.

• Sarah Furness spent 20 years flying helicopters in the RAF. She is now a keynote speaker, executive coach and author who delivers her revolutionary training techniques through talks, workshops and coaching — oh, and through the medium of “winefulness”. For more information, visit Sarah’s website at

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