GRACE’S CHRISTMAS MUSINGS: Give yourself a break

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I love Christmas – the whole sparkly tree, happy family, loaded table idea still thrills me, even though I stopped believing in Santa five decades ago. But I also know the holidays can be hard work, particularly for women – and that my ability even to dream of festivities is wrapped up in a whole lot of privilege, as someone who has a family (and a home) to enjoy it with.

Christmas this year will be tough for lots of women as the economic crisis bites. And that might mean we pile on the pressure to make sure our families have the best time we can possibly give them in straitened circumstances. This might be when the perfectionist in us kicks in – because there’s no festive fairy waving her magic wand to make all the hard work happen. It takes serious preparation and a lot of hard graft – particularly given the ridiculously high standards (and unrealistic expectations) we set ourselves.

We all want to get the shopping finished, the presents wrapped, the Christmas cake made and the halls decked – but will the world end if it’s not done to perfection? It’s important for us to challenge the way we think at this time of year. We know perfection doesn’t exist, but it’s so easy to fall back into harmful ways of thinking. Especially when the idea of a “perfect Christmas” is so prevalent on TV and social media.

I’m not saying this can’t be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can certainly be the most stressful. And it’s no surprise to learn that it’s women who do most of the work. It’s all the small things – and they can add up to a mountain: finding meaningful gifts for friends, family and colleagues; writing cards to let others know we’re thinking of them; worrying about parcels that haven’t arrived; shopping for food; then shopping some more. By Christmas Eve, we’re on our knees. And there’s still lunch to prep for tomorrow…

What’s the best advice I can give you? Lower your expectations. No one in your family cares if Christmas Day is not perfect – apart from you. Not everything will run smoothly. There will always be something we’ve forgotten, something that will go wrong, or someone who will fall out with someone else. None of it will matter. So just let it go.

The mental-health charity Mind has 10 commandments to reduce stress that I can really get behind. The first? Thou shalt not be perfect – so don’t even try. The rest are equally sensible. Don’t attempt to be all things to all people. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Learn to say “No”. Make time for yourself. Switch off and do nothing. It’s OK to be boring and untidy. Don’t feel guilty. And stop being your own worst enemy. All of this makes brilliant sense if you’re a perfectionist. Now I just need to learn to put it into practice!

If this past couple of years has taught us anything, it’s that we need to live in the moment. We never know what’s waiting around the corner. So give yourself a break this Christmas. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Enjoy it by thinking about what you want for a change, whether that’s more chocolate, another glass of wine – or 10 minutes lying down in a darkened room! Here at Studio10, we wish you the most imperfect of Christmases. We’d love to hear how it goes.

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