The dreaded Christmas food shop: 5 tips for a stress free experience

It’s that time of year again.

That one day that we dread above all others. The day that wakes us up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. The day that we get flashbacks to, even on sunny July afternoons.

I am of course talking about the day we do our annual Christmas food shop (not Christmas itself you scrooge!).

Now if you are anything like me then you will have been doing your best to avoid the supermarkets for the last few weeks. The few times I have been forced to venture in have confirmed my fears. They are busy. Not just ordinary busy. We’re not talking Saturday afternoon busy here. We’re talking can’t get down the Isle, screaming children, can’t find a parking space, backing up at the checkouts, fighting over frozen turkeys busy! And we’re still a week away from Christmas!

Now don’t get me wrong, usually I’m not one to moan about food shopping. In fact, as an avid cook, I actually quite enjoy it. If anyone in our household has a problem with food shopping it’s my wife Hayley. She can’t stand it! Going with her is akin to going with a small badly behaved child, she gets bored about two minutes in and starts misbehaving (I wish this was a joke).

However for some reason when I am feeling especially vulnerable, whenever my anxiety or depression is getting the better of me, suddenly this enjoyable task becomes almost impossible to perform. I think it has something to do with the time constraints of fitting it in to a busy day. I know I only have so long to do it, I know that if I forget anything I won’t have a chance to go back. I know I have to stay within our budget, and I know that if I don’t make that budget work for us then we will be hungry by the end of the month.

I also know I’ll have to physically put it all through at the checkout, and when my anxiety is particularly bad that interaction holds a whole plethora of possible embarrassments. So I start to panic. It’s gotten so bad in the past that I have physically started to shake just attempting to write a list, before I have even set foot out of the house let alone got to the shops.

So perhaps you can understand my trepidation when it comes time to do the Christmas food shop. As I have gotten older Christmas for me has become far more about the food than about presents. As I’ve said I like to cook, so the Christmas meal is something that I like to put a lot of time and effort into. This of course puts a lot of pressure on me to get the shop right.

Now this year I thought that things would be different. Hayley and I have been invited to a friends house for Christmas Dinner. Great! I don’t need to worry about it, I thought. And I didn’t. Right up to today I’ve barely given it a second thought, this is a busy time of year for us and as I’d mentally ticked it off as dealt with it has been pushed well and truly to the back of my mind. But this morning I realised that if I was going to do any kind of shopping it would have to be today, as it’s the last time I’m free this side of Christmas. So I started to think about what we might need, which is when it hit me: we might be out for Christmas dinner, but what about Breakfast? What about tea? Of course we are in for boxing day too so what about that? Suddenly my list was getting longer and longer and I felt utterly unprepared. Those familiar anxieties were creeping back in.

But I’d told myself that this year would be different, and this blog is all about finding a way to be healthy and happy, so I took a breath. If I was going to do things better this year, how was I going to do it? I came up with this plan:

1.    I won’t set foot in the supermarket until gone 8 pm. This way I can avoid the worst of the crowds but still have plenty of time to get everything done at my own pace.

2.    Go armed with a shopping list, but don’t have my heart set on any particular items. I guess what I mean here is be prepared, but be flexible. Does it really matter if we end up with honey glazed carrots instead of carrots in orange for example?

3.    Don’t go overboard. We don’t need three boxes of different types of biscuits when there is only the two of us. And after all we can only eat so much in a day or two!

4.    Accept that it will take as long as it takes. There is no need to rush. If it takes half an hour then great, if it take 3 hours so be it. Better that I do it at my own speed than rush around getting panicked. 

5.    If at all possible, enjoy it! For me planning meals and choosing recipes is usually a hobby, so why should it be any different at Christmas? It’s easy to forget what’s really important at this time of year, but amid all the hustle, bustle and stress, if I can find a quiet moment to compare the virtues of two different brands of cranberry sauce then I’m damn well going to do it!

So that’s my plan. Wish me luck! What causes you the most stress at Christmas, and what coping mechanisms have you put in place for a hassle free holiday?

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