Christmas is a time the majority of us look forward to; but Christmas shopping on the other hand is a task we tend to dread.

Knowing what gifts to get for who is just one hurdle. Finding them at a decent price and getting them in time, amongst all the other social commitments that December brings, can bring quite considerable pressure.

Despite our best intentions to get Christmas shopping out of the way early, or break our shopping schedule down into short spurts, many of us will often end up just setting one day in December aside to get it all completed.

As most people will already know from experience, this can be a risky tactic; particularly if you choose a day just one or two weeks away from Christmas. Failure to get all the items you need might leave you scrabbling around at the last minute trying to plug gaps on your list.

The main consequence of the above on health is stress.

Christmas and the weeks leading up to it, rather than being a time to relax, instead become a great mental and physical challenge.

However, there are ways you can reduce the level of stress associated with Christmas shopping. And the less mental pressure you’re under, the easier it is to get what you need to done, so you can focus on what Christmas is all about; enjoying quality time with friends and family.

Here is our essential guide to making your Christmas shop a (relatively) stress-free experience:

Look online

Not rocket science this one.

Supporting your local high street is obviously important; busy shops help to keep communities thriving and vibrant.

But it can ease your workload, particularly during the time of year when physical shops are at their busiest, to buy what items you can online.

It’ll mean you won’t have to make as many stops at the shopping centre, and lighten your schedule. What’s more, checking online first will give you good idea when out shopping of the different prices available; so you aren’t left having to make another trip back to the same shop if you later discover the item you need is more expensive online.

Know what you need

Again, this likely isn’t a mind-blowing piece of advice you’ve never considered. However, setting out on a Christmas shop in the thick of December without any gifts in mind, to see what catches your eye, is a tactic that seldom bears good results; and can often induce stress.

It’s helpful to at least have an idea of what gifts you intend to buy for each person on your list before you leave the house. This way, you won’t be strolling around packed shops searching desperately for inspiration, and becoming more prone to feelings of stress when nothing leaps out.

Try as much as you can to have a list and an itinerary of shops to visit. It can also help to set yourself a sensible budget for each person you need to buy for, so that you aren’t searching around for gifts to even up the spend (or parting with more money than you intended to).

Approaching your Christmas shop with a plan of action in mind, but being open to considering alternative gifts in the event something does catch your eye on the way, is much more often the less stressful option.

Eat (healthily) before you shop

Chain eateries are abundant in shopping centres, as we’ve previously noted. So the temptation, when faced with a long taxing day of gift-getting, may be to leave the house on an empty stomach and eat on the go when the chance presents itself.

But it’s likely not a strategy which is going to help you stay focussed and stress-free. The longer you shop hungry, the less able you’ll be to concentrate on the task at hand, and the more prone you’ll be to feelings of lethargy and irritability. What’s more, finding somewhere to eat when you are out might well be a task in itself; December is as busy a time for restaurants and eateries as it is for shops.

Instead, it’s better to prepare something to eat at home first. This way, you’ll have more energy to deal with the shopping mission at hand, and won’t become more stressed looking for somewhere to dine out.

For a healthy breakfast to help maintain consistent energy levels throughout the day, try choosing something high in fibre, such as porridge or cereal with fruits, which releases energy slowly and keeps you feeling full for longer.

Leave a mental buffer either side

Squeezing your shipping trip into an already tight schedule can increase pressure to get all the items you need quickly. Furthermore, what you need to do after your shopping trip may serve to distract you from the task at hand, and pile on feelings of stress. Going shopping straight after a long day at work can also be tough; it’s likely that you’ll still be reeling from the day’s chores making you more prone to stress and less able to focus.

One strategy you might consider then is giving yourself a one hour window either side of your scheduled shop. During this time, try to focus on relaxing and doing as little as possible. This will give you some mental breathing space beforehand, to help you to concentrate on getting your gifts bought when the time comes; as well as some valuable winding down time afterwards, so you are less likely to carry any lingering stress with you when your shop is over.

Decide whether a shopping buddy will help

It’s crucial to know what kind of shopper you are before embarking on your Christmas shop: whether you’re someone who can better function and remain focussed shopping alone; or if you are prone to distraction without someone with you to keep you on the right track.

At any other time of year, shopping can be a great social occasion for friends to do on together. If you’re pressed for time during December however, it can pay to know the best way for to get your Christmas shopping done quickly; and save the socialising for afterwards, once all the shopping is out of the way.

So if you’re better at shopping solo, it might be less stressful to buy your Christmas gifts on your own. On the other hand, if you need some helpful friendly pressure to motivate you to make a decision and get it all done, ask a friend to come with you.