Coping with all the pressures of Christmas

Stress-busting expert: Elaine Mitchell with children Tomas, nine and Rosie, four.  PICTURE: SARAH WASHBOURN
Stress-busting expert: Elaine Mitchell with children Tomas, nine and Rosie, four. PICTURE: SARAH WASHBOURN
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Peace and goodwill to all man?

Maybe – but what about the women?

Those of us juggling work, kids and Christmas shopping are feeling very un merry as December 25 looms.

Two thirds of Sheffield women are so stressed out by work pressures they have no free time to complete the Christmas chores.

Research from TK Maxx reveals local women are having to resort to using up holidays to get the shopping, cooking and cleaning done in time.

We asked readers to share their stories of stress – and the solutions that help them cope.

TK Maxx gave each of our three participants a £75 gift voucher to spend on themselves – when they have time!

HELEN Tann is 47, a single parent of three from Ecclesall. She works for the NHS and is home schooling her daughter through her GCSEs:

“If we are to believe the adverts that we sit through in between reruns of The Good Life Christmas episodes or Nigella floating around her amazing kitchen, Christmas would be perfect and glamorous.

“Trendy, attractive friends and family would arrive laden with sumptuously wrapped gifts. We would all live in beautiful houses and snow would cover the rooftops. Our homes would sport 10ft trees adorned with glass baubles, the dining room groaning with a feast and everyone happy and mucking in.

“The reality is something quite different. I had something of a growl when I first saw the wellknown supermarket ads, harassed women scurrying back and forth in winter rain children in tow, buying endless gifts and food, and forgetting the one item that necessitates another visit and many more bags.

“A wrestle with a turkey ensues, said woman armed with only a peeler and blunt knife tackles the hours of peeling, preparing, baking then wrapping and decorating; whilst male stereotype lounges in an armchair. The Woman of the House is then seen to stand back and give herself a little pat on the back for doing her job.

“But haven’t we given ourselves this job? The stress and financial pressure we put ourselves under for what is in reality, only one day is immense. I’ve already had the sweating, heart-pounding bad dream where its Christmas morning and we haven’t any presents or food and people are pouring through the door, the worst part being that I’ve forgotten to put my make-up on... nightmare.

“In past years I’ve succumbed to the pressure, thought that everything had to be perfect and the more money I spent, the better it would all be. But it never really worked that way. The stress of the day and the credit card bills in January were scary, especially as a single parent.

“So this year, with a nod to The Good Life, we’ve made gifts of spicy chutney, personalised Christmas stockings trimmed with vintage buttons and ribbon, breads and cakes; chocolates and jams. I’ve trawled TK Maxx for foodie bargains, and I’ll be putting vouchers for gardening duties and dog-walking in the toes of the Christmas stockings.

“Christmas day should be what it’s supposed to be – time spent with my children, who I’m thankful are safe and well, and my family and friends.

“We’ve had some interesting Christmas Days in the past, like the time my youngest son crept downstairs at 4.30am and opened every present under the tree (which I then spent most of the day re-wrapping to hand out that evening), or when the cat climbed up the tree leapt from the top and sent glass and baubles crashing everywhere, particularly enjoyed the year when our beloved dog dragged the turkey off the table and chewed his way through half of it before starting on the Christmas cake.

“Safe to say he left us a present later!

So it’s open house this year and I’m aiming for a stress free day. But don’t be surprised to find us in our onesies, half way down a bottle of Baileys.”

ELAINE Mitchell is a qualified life coach and stress-busting expert running her own business and also works for an outdoor pursuits shop. Aged 43, she is a married mum with children aged nine and four and lives in Westfield:

“Christmas stress? Tell me about it.

“I am working two part-time jobs, running my own business and juggling two kids.

“Shopping has been the biggest pain; doing it online would have saved time, but I’m not a fan – I like to feel and see the stuff. So present-buying has been done in snatched moments when I don’t have the kids, along with the shopping I have to do for my parents, who are both in their 80s.

“But my biggest pet hate at Christmas has to be Christmas cards. They clutter the place up and I hate writing them, especially the 25 cards for the children in my four-year-old’s preschool. Do they really need the pressure of “I’ll send you one if you send me one”?

“This year, stress levels were raised significantly by our “Treegate” situation.

“We threw our 18-year-old Christmas Tree out last year and decided to get a new one in the January sales. There was a faint glimmer of recollection. We did – but remembered we didn’t get a replacement.

“To be honest, I am not too keen on having a tree up anyway; our living room is small and the dog is crazy. But after much deliberation and not much preparation I decided to go and get one last week. First shop – they were very expensive and didn’t look that great. The size we could fit in our house looked sparse to say the least.

“Next shop – worse than the one we had thrown out. Fourth shop, and by now losing the will to live – even more expensive than shop No 1.

“Fifth shop – cheap and nasty trees or expensive and tall. Time was running out; I went for two cheap and nasties at £3 each – one for the kitchen, the other for the lounge.

“The black one in the kitchen is fine. The other? To quote my son: “Epic fail.”

“But my wonderful niece has said we can use her old one. So full circle back to vintage tree it is.

MUM of two Wendy Ward, 42, from Sothall, has children aged 12 and seven. is a team leader for network marketing discount club Utility Warehouse. She works from home and is also a part-time market researcher

“Three years ago, I thought it would be a great idea to do the Christmas shopping BEFORE Christmas Eve.

“I set October as my target, hit the deadline and was feeling very smug, until in December and I found myself itching to unwrap and review my purchases.

“I did – and realised most of them were no longer suitable. The kids had changed their minds about most of the things.

“So I gave a quarter of them to different people, stuck the rest on eBay and decided that Christmas shopping HAS to be done in December, when the best stuff has been released into the shops and my kids have finally made their minds up what they want.

“So that’s what I’ve done this year, despite being really busy at work.

“I’ve been running from one thing to the next and thought I was doing really well until the day I dashed from work to my two-year-old son’s nativity.

“I got there just as he was being carried onto the stage dressed as an angel. He shouted to the room filled with parents and children: “That’s my mummy – she’s always late!” Embarrassing was not the word.

“Dressing the Christmas tree is usually a stressful time for me. I insist on doing it myself and refuse to let the kids touch it, which usually results in sulking, tantrums and hissy fits – all mine.

“So this year I handed it over to my daughter. It started promisingly, until there were too many things on the branches and it had started to look chavvy.

“I had to walk away, bite my lip and wait until 1am, when I sneaked to do a bit of redressing. It looked rather different, but the kids didn’t mention it, I didn’t mention it, hubbie didn’t mention it.

“It’s been put down to just another one of those Christmas miracles!”

WENDY Ward and Elaine Mitchell have pooled 26 years of networking experience to take over a Sheffield branch of national franchise Mums the Boss, a group providing networking opportunities in a supportive and inclusive environment for working mums.

Mums the Boss meets twice a month – the second Tuesday at Norfolk Park’s Centre in the Park 10-12pm, and the fourth Thursday at Kidz Kingdom Playcentre, Westfield, S20, 10-12pm. Each two-hour session costs £6, there’s emphasis on personal development and a specialist speaker every meeting.

Top tips for stress-free festivities

Elaine’s tips:

Cheat if you want to – frozen veg, home-made cakes for the office do, kids’ Christmas party home made by Mr Morrison. All OK.

Never apologise for not doing it all yourself. It is your holiday too.

Take time out for yourself, be it a soak in the bath or a walk in the park.

Put the Christmas music 
on and have a good old sing-song.

Don’t ask the kids for updates on their Christmas list after you’ve bought the pressies

Breathe – it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Take time to kick back, watch your kids laugh and see the enjoyment in their eyes.

Wendy’s Tips:

Write TO DO lists – one at the start of each week, then one on the evening before for the following day.

Only put five things on each list – this gives you focus and stops you getting bogged down in detail. Always do the important things first. These are usually the most difficult, so get them out of the way. Carry forward things not achieved to the next day.

Colour code appointments and tasks in your diary using highlighter pens.

Reward yourself when you achieve things – make yourself a nice coffee, give yourself a manicure or 10 minutes of snooping on Facebook.