Christmas is not a DAY, it’s three months in time, and psychologically, your brain undergoes a complete re-wire. Chilly weather brings about natural nesting instincts, festive lights adorn darker mornings and afternoons and feelings of charity invade our waking thoughts as we consider those less fortunate than ourselves. There are carols, there are mince pies and there is joyful acceptance of dubious mulled wine. Oh and there is also panic. MAD panic that seeps darkly into all of these good things, as we know that, amidst all of this, we will need to shop. Shop for our lives.

There are two ways you can enjoy stress-free Christmas shopping. The first way is known as ‘blind luck’. Blind luck enables you to immediately spot a perfect gift for a friend or loved one the moment you walk into a store. As you walk towards the gift, crowds part. As you walk to the till to pay, the queue evaporates. You pay swiftly, grab yourself some lunch and head back to work. Variations on this theme continue until all your shopping is done, and you can relax knowing you’re ready for the big day. Suffice to say, this first way to enjoy Christmas shopping is rare. It’s as rare as Steak Tartare.

The second way is ‘organisation’. This is a more controlled option, and one we’ll cover in a little more detail right now.

A word of warning – some of these suggestions might seem to be along the lines of teaching your grandmother the basic principles of egg-sucking – BUT there is good evidence to suggest that your stress levels can benefit from heeding our advice. Every year thousands of people are still trying to find The Perfect Gift on Christmas Eve with only minutes before the shops shut. Don’t let that weeping, broken person be you.

Write a list, check it twice

Taking an hour or so to put together a list of people to buy gifts for, is priceless time saved. List your giftees, plan your budget if necessary and check your list of friends and family to ensure you haven’t left anyone out.

Look over your list and ask yourself if any of the people on your list are there as a result of blind tradition or obligation. Ask yourself if buying these ‘obligation’ gifts brings you joy or even recognition from their part. Perhaps a couple of these people could simply do with a card this year, and you could re-direct your yuletide benevolence towards a new friend, neighbour or colleague. You might also consider giving a small gift to someone who has made your life a little brighter this year. An unexpected card and a chocolate orange from a new friend can go a long way to growing that friendship.

A thoughtful gift means everything

Now that you have your shortlist, allocate five minutes of relaxed think-time for each person. What are their personality traits and what do they like to do? Revisit any recent conversations and sift them for clues. Just five minutes for each person may well help you think of a gift that is personal and unique. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with shortbread, but you know – just saying.

Ask yourself if that person might enjoy a genuinely unusual gift. From beekeeping courses and dance classes to taxidermy and goldsmithing, if you can’t find something interesting to introduce to a friend or loved one in London, it probably doesn’t exist.

If you’re a creative, remind yourself that home-made gifts are always appreciated, so why not free your creative spirit within – and enjoy the sense of achievement that creative pursuits inevitably generate.

Attacking the high street: Timing, preparation, camouflage gear

The sad truth is that Christmas shopping is probably going to give you a headache at some point – we are not writing from a fantasy world. However, if you do need to dive headlong into the crowds, there are certain things you can do to make the process bearable.

Avoid shopping on your lunch hour or on your way home, when the streets are most crowded. Aim to allocate yourself a day or an afternoon, if you can. If this isn’t an option, aim to ‘late night shop’ – giving yourself a manageable time budget. A few light shopping evenings are better than one or two marathons.

Avoid any attempt at Christmas shopping if you’re tired, hungry, stressed or up against the clock. This is a recipe for frustration and rash decisions – your Christmas spirit will end up battered and bruised. If you must head to the Badlands of Oxford Street or similar – prepare yourself. Make sure you’ve had a light meal and feel rested and relaxed. Arm yourself with a list of shops to go to, your list of items to buy and some bags that are comfortable to carry. Also, quit while you’re ahead. There are no extra points here for endurance.

Online shopping is a rather civilised affair

With click and collect, or home delivery, you have the power to enjoy a whole new perspective on Christmas shopping. Why not make a weekend of ‘home Christmas shopping’ with a friend or partner over a few glasses of wine or an afternoon tea? After all a challenge shared is a challenge halved. Enjoy it –  turn the tables and make the whole shopping experience a civilised affair this year.

Write your lists, compare prices and retailers, click to buy, click to deliver. These days leading to Christmas can be happy days – free from heavy lifting, public transport, frustrated shoppers, hot shops, cold streets, barging and queues. There is literally nothing not to love about online shopping, as long as you give yourself time to return any items that might need it.

Online shopping also enables you to enjoy the festive streets of London as a visual experience rather than a commercial one. Enjoy being able to absorb the Christmas buzz and the shop displays without being part of the retail melee.

Finding little ways to change traditional stress patterns is like pulling a curtain back to reveal the intricate workings of a machine

There are all sorts of small ways you can make life easier on yourself as you juggle the spaces between home, family, work and play. Finding little ways to change traditional stress patterns is like pulling a curtain back to reveal the intricate workings of a machine, you’ll see how it’s put together and better yet, how to operate it to suit you.

Embrace small moments of enlightenment as you discover tiny ways to de-stress your life. Apply these tiny changes to your life and you’ll find you generate much more space for relaxation and enjoyment. As for Christmas, organise your time, plan ahead and take time to think about the individuals you truly care about. Do this, and the Christmas Spirit will flow abundantly.

PS. Don’t leave all your wrapping till the last minute 🙂

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