Saturday, December 15, 2007

The stress of holidays

I've just had an email from an online book shop headed Christmas is stressful. It recommends that we hide away in a corner to read, thus avoiding the pressure of shopping, wrapping gifts, cooking and visiting family and friends. While the idea of shutting myself away for a few days with a pile of books is appealing, I wouldn't miss the so called stress of Christmas for anything.

I've never had much time for all this stress. A Google search tells me there are 64,000,000 entries for stress: how to recognise it, how to avoid it, how to sue your employer for it etc. It seems that every pain, discomfort and irritation we encounter must be 'stress-related'. Even my 91 year old mother-in-law, who has nothing more to think about than which dress to wear, tells me daily that she is 'stressed out'.

My new-found wise friend GKC wrote about the self-induced stress of Christmas in Edwardian England:

The Christmas season is domestic; and for that reason most people now prepare for it by struggling in tramcars, standing in queues, rushing away in trains, crowding despairingly into teashops, and wondering when or whether they will ever get home. I do not know whether some of them disappear for ever in the toy department or simply lie down and die in the tea-rooms; but by the look of them, it is quite likely. Just before the great festival of the home the whole population seems to have become homeless.

He comments on the bustle of pre-Christmas shopping, imagine what he might have said about the excesses of modern spending!

Another of my new friends, this time a living one, is a priest who has come to our parish to recover after a difficult time in Sudan. He worked among Ethiopian refugees there for over twenty years before being imprisoned without charge. Looking at our Christmas preparations through his eyes is a most humbling experience. He doesn't criticise or condemn; he is amazed and amused by the difference between the people he lived among, who carried all of their possessions in a single bag and his current neighbours who worry about how many trips they will have to make to the shops to get everything they need.

Don't accept that Christmas is a stressful time, that's an advertising ploy. My recipe for a stress-free holiday: when you get tired, take a break; when you get exhausted, put your feet up and have a cup of hot chocolate; when you run out of money, stop spending; when you get too many invitations, say you can't go. No stress!


  1. put your feet up and have a cup of hot chocolate;

    Gotta love you Brits. However onerous or terrifying the burdens thrown our way, they can always be managed with the aid of a nice cup of hot something or other. Small wonder you once ruled the world. monix, if the hot chocolate doesn't work, would you counsel a couple of stiff belts of whiskey?

    Dear old GK certainly has his contrarian side and I suspect this delightful witticism stemmed from one of his bugbears. He was critical of how the Victorians replaced God with the family as their principle object of worship, and I imagine he thought they should all be at home reflecting on the Trinity or St Augustine rather than shopping for toys. (He was childless and doesn't seem to have had the happiest of marriages). I always thought he was just being curmudgeonly, but maybe he saw it as a moral pillar of sand that couldn't last on its own. Hard to fault him there.

    Regarding stress, we all vaguely sense we are living too frantically and I'm sure we are all grateful medical science is beavering away to protect us from the hazards of too much tension, usually by finding ways to force us to give up the fun stuff. But thinking cosmically, there is something just plain weird about defining stress as a general affliction one can and should be trying to remove from one's life. Talk about fighting the human condition and a recipe for resenting one's lot and all who contribute to it.

  2. Hot chocolate, whiskey, take your pick, Peter. We'd never have built the empire if we hadn't faced adventure, challenge, danger and hard work. Can you imagine the Victorian explorers and engineers saying they were too stressed to leave home?

    I know I'm quoting GK out of context and with no background knowledge - that is something I look forward to remedying with all those book tokens I'm hoping to get from my dear ones. (Hints galore if any of you are looking in!)

    Many people are put under too much pressure in the workplace these days and that should be addressed. But there is an awful lot of whingeing about the stress of modern life when it is a simple question of living beyond one's means, financially and physically. That is easily remedied with a bit of self restraint (does anyone remember what that is?)

    You've touched on a different aspect altogether with Talk about fighting the human condition and a recipe for resenting one's lot and all who contribute to it. That deserves a great deal of consideration, maybe on Diversley we sail!

  3. Having squared off with your son over Chesterton and witnessed his quite rude and uncalled for dismissals of the man's uncommon wisdom, I am absolutely revelling in the thought that he will have to give you Chesterton books for Christmas if he wants to avoid disappointing his mother and interrupting his supply of chocolate cake. Now, that's what I call stress!

  4. Where did you have the altercation with Andrew? He rarely calls by this way these days, so I had no idea he held any views on Chesterton. Perhaps I'd better do some mugging up before he comes home for Christmas!

  5. Yes to hot chocolate, to saying 'no', to saying 'yes' to less excess, M. And, as far as possible, spending time with those whose presence really does light up your life.

    PS. Just bought myself an early Christmas present of a new china teapot and china mugs. I'm starting as I mean to go on and I have a cup of Earl Grey steaming away on the desk, and scenting the room with bergamot, as I write this. (Very 'Country Living' wouldn't you say?!!!) Well, you would if you could see the flower-sprigged teapot. But I promise not to post a photo of it on the blog, otherwise you might think I've joined the domestic goddess brigade. And that would never do.

    PPS I can't think of anything sensible to say about GKC right now . . . so I'll desist.

    Toodle pip!

  6. I hope you'll be renewing that invitation to visit when you get back from India, D. I was already looking forward to meeting the dogs and seeing the oak flooring but Earl Grey from a flower-sprigged teapot might just whisk us off to Cranford! Absolutely no stress!

  7. Hot chocolate whiskey? I'm not sure if I'm disgusted or intrigued. One of my sisters claims that there's nothing that can't be improved upon by the addition of chocolate or bacon.

    For what it's worth, I'm highly resistant to the idea that our lives are more stressful than in the past, when unexpected death, crippling disease, starvation and/or destitution was much more likely to occur on any given day.

  8. I think there was an "or" between chocolate and whiskey, David, but I'm willing to try the combination!

    I fully agree with your views on modern stress, I think it is a part of the blame and victim culture that has developed. The pity of it is that, because young people are not encouraged to accept responsibility for and to work through quite minor difficulties, come the big one they are completely overwhelmed.


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