The key to managing this busy season is knowing how to avoid holiday stress before it can start. Too often, though, it sneaks up on us. One day you’re sipping cocoa and humming along with Christmas carols while wrapping gifts by the fire, and the next you’re hip-checking the little old lady who was about to reach for the last must-have toy on the shelf.
When did I turn into such a Scrooge? you start wondering. Where did my spirit of giving and joy go?
The answer is simple: in this Pinterest-ing world we live in, the pressure to create a picture-perfect holiday for our family is overwhelming. We’re urged to make DIY Christmas decor, thoughtfully handmade gifts, home-baked sweets, and treats. We’re told gifts shouldn’t just be wrapped; they should coordinate with our home decor and, if you’re really into it, should reflect a unique theme every year.
Add to this the expectation we’ll entertain guests in a spotless home, dress spectacularly while attending a full schedule of holiday parties and school performances, and come up every day with an amusing place to shove that darned Elf on a Shelf.
It’s no wonder we sometimes get a bit crazy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can create a beautiful season for your family without all of the stress. You just need to know how to avoid holiday stress.
How To Avoid Holiday Stress
Choose Your Must-Have Memories
Every family has different traditions without which it doesn’t seem like the holidays no matter what the calendar says. For some families, it’s seeing the Christmas program at church. For others, it’s letting the kids wear pajamas in the car while driving around town to look at Christmas lights. In my family, it’s playing board games in front of the tree the same night we decorate it.
Whatever is the event that your family can’t imagine the holidays without, that’s your must-have. It’s the one non-negotiable activity you need to plan around, so you’ve got enough time, energy, and enthusiasm to completely enjoy it. Put it on your calendar and do your best to keep the rest of that day clear of other activities.
Never Three In A Row
There are, of course, some social commitments you cannot get out of. The kids’ schools will have holiday programs. Maybe they’re in recitals, too. There are, of course, office parties that shouldn’t be skipped.
The rest? It’s negotiable. You do not have to attend every party you’re invited to, nor do you have to keep alive other peoples’ traditions. Just because Aunt Edna wants to host a get-together for the extended family every Christmas Eve doesn’t mean you’ve got to drive the two hours there and back, plus put up with Uncle Gerry’s offensive jokes, when you’d rather be setting out cookies and milk for Santa at your own house.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure you don’t schedule activities three nights in a row. So if you’re going to Janey’s ballet recital on Monday and Johnny’s school Christmas pageant on Tuesday, make a point to stay home on Wednesday.
Since no one else can see what’s on your calendar, it’s perfectly acceptable to decline invitations with a polite explanation that “we’re busy that evening, but we’ll be there in spirit.” Use your commitment-free night to wrap presents, play board games, or watch Christmas movies with the kids. The downtime will do you all good.
Stop Trying To Be Thoughtful
How many times have you scoured the stores and browsed the boutiques in search of the perfect gift for someone, only for it to receive a lukewarm reception?
I confess to doing this myself, having spent one year almost stalking my husband’s favorite former NFL player online. I drove three hours to show up at a publicity event and waited in a long line to get this man to write a note to my husband, along with his autograph, on a jersey that blew my gift budget. When he opened it, my husband read the inscription and said, in a very blasé voice, “Oh, that’s cool” before moving onto the next gift. It was all I could do not to scream.
It turns out, that kind of effort is a complete waste of time. No matter what the Christmas movies (and magazine articles and Pinterest) say, people don’t want thoughtful gifts. What they really appreciate is receiving the things they’ve asked for.
So don’t just have your kids make Christmas lists for Santa: ask your spouse, your in-laws, and your friends to do it, too. Or look them up on Amazon — you don’t even have to know their size since it’s already on their Wish List. Plus, you’ll have the confidence of knowing you’re giving them something they truly want.
Don’t Try To Do It All
What makes the holidays magical is the time we spend with our loved ones, not the time we spend slaving over cookies to serve them or working ourselves up over finding gift wrap that matches our home decor. Focus on the reason for the season rather than trying to impress.
• Buy pies and other sweets from a local bakery instead of making them from scratch.
• Let the mall’s gift-wrapping service make your packages look perfect for you.
• Throw one holiday party for neighbors, friends, and family rather than hosting separate events for each.
• Schedule family nights off and stay home together, so you all have a chance to slow down and still make happy memories.
• Instead of overbooking yourself, arrange a time to meet with friends and loved ones shortly after the holidays.
Make Daily “Me Time”
As a parent, it’s easy to get caught up in making Christmas fun and memorable for the kids while forgetting entirely about your personal comfort and joy. But wearing yourself out does no one any good, especially if you get so worn down that you wind up sick!
Make a point to schedule “me time” every day without fail. It doesn’t have to be anything momentous like getting a mani/pedi — though those are nice if you’ve got the time! Take a long bath by candlelight. Curl up for a half-hour with a good book and a cup of tea. Go for a long walk in the park, just you and the dog.
The important thing is to give yourself a chance to get away from everyone and enjoy some peace and quiet so you can re-energize. By giving yourself the gift of “me time,” you’ll find you’re far more able to give joy to others.
That’s the real secret to knowing how to avoid holiday stress: realizing that there’s only so much you, so much time, and so much energy to go around every day. Choose to use your time in ways that give you and your family joy, let go of the rest, and you’ll find you’ll have created the perfect holiday without all of the stress.
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