Thursday, 19 December 2019

How to avoid seasonal stress and have some fun

It’s that time of year again when the festive season creeps up on us and we lose ourselves in a frenzy of buying last minute gifts and tying up every single loose end at work so that we can take some time off.
Why is it that this ‘wonderful time of the year’, which should be a time for celebrating and enjoying the festive atmosphere, turns into a stressful affair? Emotional and financial worries are usually to blame for the amount of stress we undergo, causing us headaches, nausea and insomnia, which can have a detrimental effect on the heart. Research published by medical journal, BMJ, has shown that there is a higher risk of heart attacks during the Christmas period, and it’s no surprise.
Christmas can be a very expensive time of year that many of us can’t afford but it doesn’t have to be that way and there are ways we can ease the stress and the financial burden.
Cut back on spending
Although it’s considered to be a season of giving, this doesn’t mean you have to break the bank and run up huge debts in the process. Set a budget that you can afford and stick to it. If you’re feeling the pinch, family and friends will understand that you can’t afford to overspend. Also, it can be fun finding gifts that are more thoughtful than lavish. Or you could set a rule. For example, some people like to say that they will only buy four gifts for their close family members and set a structure, such as - something to wear, something you need, something you want, something to read. This can really help reset expectations at this time of year. Try making your own Christmas cards or spend more time on the wrapping and presentation – you’ll be surprised how many people love something handmade and personal.
Avoid overindulging
OK, so it can be seriously tempting to gorge on Christmas pudding or pile our plates full of ‘roasties’, all washed down with a bottle of wine, but you won’t thank yourself in a week’s time when you have to return to the ‘real world’. 
Too much drinking and overeating can leave you feeling low and lethargic, which can further increase stress levels. If you can’t resist temptation, get back on track the next day by drinking plenty of water, eating a healthy amount and by getting some exercise. It’s also a good idea to stick to your usual sleeping patterns. 
Plan in advance
Try buying gifts throughout the year or in the sales as this not only means you won’t have to leave everything until the last minute, it can also feel a little easier on the purse strings when you spread the cost over the year.
Make time for fun
Picture the scene: everyone has overeaten on Christmas Day, you all sit down to watch the television and, one by one, each of you drifts into the land of nod! To keep the atmosphere uplifted, organise some fun games and share some laughter – a great way to release endorphins, lift your mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
Go for a walk
There’s nothing more revitalising than getting outside and taking a walk in the fresh, crisp air. As well as burning off some of those excess calories you’ve consumed, walking can improve your mood and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Remember, Christmas is the ‘season to be jolly’!

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Addressing money worries at Christmas

Although it should be a happy time of the year, the festive season can be a worrying time where finances are concerned.

In the run-up to Christmas, when we're expected to be preparing for a season of fun and festivity, many of us become more anxious and stressed as the Big Day approaches. Undoubtedly, it’s an expensive time of year when money worries become even more concerning.


We’ve all the heard the phrase ‘money is power’, and a study in the Journal of Consumer Research saw participants actually salivating at the concept of money when primed to feel they lacked power. So what then of debt? How does it effect how we feel about ourselves and what is debtpression?

Many people equate money with power and success, believing it to make them appear more attractive, popular and successful to others. Conversely, not feeling able to spend can create a strong sense of powerlessness and failure, which can be highly disturbing. Debt equates to emotional pain. Indeed, debt and mental health problems often go hand in hand.

When we feel low, we spend money to make ourselves feel better. We’re bombarded by adverts telling us certain products will lead to positive emotional experiences. Spending therefore becomes habitual as it meets our deep-rooted psychological needs.

When we're in debt we often feel stressed, anxious and depressed. To cope with these feelings, many people ignore the debt and continue to spend money to make themselves feel better. In the long term this leads to more debt and the feelings of guilt and anxiety return. This becomes a vicious circle, which harms mental wellbeing and has been dubbed ‘debtpression’.

It all sounds so gloomy, but debt can have positive outcomes too, driving people to be resourceful. Many small businesses have been started in recessions as individuals become more creative in their attempts to make money. Debt can also force our hand, making us face our fears and try new things. Whatever our approach, acknowledging debt and taking action are crucial steps to avoiding debtpression.

Tips for budgeting at Christmas

It can be difficult to get to grips with our finances, especially if we already struggle to pay the bills or have the burden of debt. Even though you might prefer to stick your head in the sand and not think about your financial issues, this can lead to further stress in the long run.

Scrutinise your money situation – This will enable you to set realistic budgets that can prevent you from becoming ill with worry. Firstly, make sure the most important aspects such as paying bills are your priority. Work out how much you can afford to spend and look for ways you can cut back on costs. Most of us have things that we waste money on, for example, an unused gym membership, too many takeaway coffees, buying lunch on work days, buying books when we can borrow them from the library, etc.

Shop around – If the thought of not buying presents leaves you feeling uneasy, shop around for offers. With online shopping so easily available, you’ll find plenty of bargains. Ok, so it might be more time consuming, but it will consume less of your budget. Scour comparison sites to get the best deals as they will do a lot of the legwork for you. Money Saving Expert is another great place to find money saving tips at Christmas.

Don’t rely on credit – Tempting as it may be, unless you know that you're able to pay off your credit in full, resist borrowing as it can be a disastrous trap that could send your debt spiralling out of control.

Make a pact – Most adults, particularly those with children, will understand if you’re unable to spend a fortune on gifts. So, suggest that you only buy presents for the children – they’ll likely feel relieved themselves!

Spread the cost – There are two ways of doing this; put a set amount of money away each month throughout the year so that come December, you have a nice little pot of cash to spend. Alternatively, buy a present each month so it’s less of a shock on your purse strings.

Finally, remember that the festive season isn’t as important as your mental and physical wellbeing. Make sure you put yourself first (no matter how much of a Scrooge you feel). If you're in a situation where you can’t afford to spend any money at all, so be it. How about writing out some time tokens instead - you could wash their car, take their dog for a walk, make them a cup of tea, do a session of babysitting, get them a bunch of wild flowers - these things are free or cost next to nothing and sometimes the smallest acts of kindness are the things that matter most to people. And don’t forget, Christmas is one day of the year and it will be round again soon enough.

If issues with debt are causing you serious cause for concern and are having an impact on your health, National Debtline has lots of useful information and offers free debt advice.