Ask Nicky – Can you help me reduce seasonal stress?

Every month, Nicky Forster answers questions sent in by our readers. Email yours to

Kellie Taylor, from Bletchingley, has a festive fear:

“I have a big family, and we take it in turns to host at Christmas. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and the last time I did it I ended up getting stressed about every little thing that wasn't quite right, leaving me too exhausted to enjoy anything.

This year, it’s my turn again. How can I stop worrying, and just enjoy our time together?”

This is a case of controlling the controllables. There is so much within your control that can help with the things that are out of it.

The first of these can be done before the day even begins: sleep is the number one pillar of health and has a major impact on our mood and emotions. Quite simply, the better sleep you get the night before, the better you will handle the day ahead. Alcohol affects mood, as well as our ability to cope with stress, so if you drink on the day, try to keep it to a minimum until you’ve finished the main part (usually preparing the meal!), after which you can relax.

Problems are inevitable

The more we acknowledge this, the more prepared we are to take them in our stride. A lot of day-to-day ‘problems’ are actually just hurdles, and we get past them easily enough, although they may feel like a big deal in the moment because we’re overwhelmed: emotions are high, and our resilience is low.

Psychologists often say that ‘emotions love themselves’, meaning that an emotion will keep trying to get you to act upon it, even when that’s not rational. You’re angry about one thing, and that anger urges you to find more things to get cross about. You’re sad, and suddenly you are focusing on other sad things.

You may want the day to be perfect but in truth, perfection doesn’t exist. We should seek to be the best we can be, rather than perfect.

When something goes wrong or is not as you want it, ask yourself, can I fix the issue here and now? If the answer is yes, then sort it and move on. If the answer is no, then consider whether it is really a long-term problem. In most cases, it won’t be. There will probably be no future consequences, it’s just a matter of hours, or even minutes, before you can forget all about it.

Exhale emphasised breathing

Exhales that are longer than inhales are scientifically proven to calm us. It releases oxytocin, which activates our parasympathetic nervous system, relaxing us and calming us down. As little as five slow exhales can make a huge difference to our stress levels, allowing us to think clearly about the significance of a situation.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed, remember to:

  • Fix what you can, then let go of what you can’t control
  • Ask yourself if this is really a long-term problem?
  • Take a big breath in, then a slow long breath out, five times

A final thought: these times create special memories, especially for the little ones. No small forgotten things, or something not going to plan, will affect anybody’s overall enjoyment of the day. Be proud that, this year, it is you who will be providing these memories for your family.

Enjoy your day


Nicky Forster had a professional football career spanning over 20 years, playing a total of 721 professional games and scoring 221 goals for eight teams. He represented England at U21 level, playing alongside David Beckham and Phil Neville, and also managed Brentford FC. He now spends his time as a keynote/motivational speaker, and at The Spot Wellness Centre in Godstone. 

Read how Nicky answers another question from a local resident here.

Nicky Forster

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