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 wrapping gifts by the fire, and the next you’re hip-checking some 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?
In this Pinterest-ing world in which we live, there’s enormous pressure to create a picture-perfect holiday. We’re urged to make DIY Christmas decor, thoughtfully handmade gifts, and home-baked treats. We’re told gifts shouldn’t just be wrapped; they should coordinate with our home decor, too.
Add to this the expectation we’ll entertain guests in a spotless home. That we’ll dress spectacularly while attending a full schedule of holiday parties and school performances. That somehow every day we’ll find a new 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 losing your mind. You just need to know how.
How To Avoid Holiday Stress
Choose Your Must-Have Memories
Every family has different traditions that define the holidays for them. For some, it’s attending the church’s Christmas program. For others, it’s letting the kids wear pajamas in the car while driving around to see Christmas lights. Others get out grandmother’s menorah and cherished recipe box.
Figure out 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 enjoy it thoroughly. Put it on your calendar and keep the rest of that day free.
Never Three In A Row
There are, of course, some social commitments you cannot skip. The kids’ schools will have holiday programs. Maybe they’re in recitals, too. There are also office parties which are virtually mandatory.
The rest? It’s negotiable.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure you don’t schedule activities three nights in a row. So if you’re going on Monday to Janey’s ballet recital and Tuesday to Johnny’s school pageant, plan to stay home on Wednesday night.
No one else can see what’s on your calendar, so decline invitations by explaining “we’re busy that evening, but will be there in spirit.” Use your commitment-free night to wrap presents, play board games, or watch movies with the kids. The downtime will do you all good.
Stop Trying To Be So Thoughtful
How many times have you scoured stores and browsed the boutiques in search of the perfect gift for someone, only for it to receive a lukewarm reception?
One year, I followed my husband’s favorite former NFL player online. When I heard he’d be at a publicity event, I drove three hours then waited in line to get his autograph on a jersey which blew my gift budget. When my husband opened it, he merely said “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, our loved ones don’t actually want thoughtful gifts. What they appreciate is receiving the things they’ve asked for.
So don’t have just 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 genuinely want.
Don’t Try To Do It All
Holiday magic comes from making memories together. It’s not created by slaving over cookies or 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.
• Throw one inclusive holiday party for neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family rather than hosting separate events.
• Schedule family nights home together, so you all have a chance to slow down and still make happy memories.
• Arrange a time to meet with friends and loved ones shortly after the holidays. You can still celebrate the season that way, but you’ll all feel so much less pressure.
Make Daily “Me Time”
As a parent, it’s easy to get caught up in making Christmas 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 get 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 re-energize. By giving yourself the gift of “me time,” you’ll find you’re far more able to give joy to others.
Note: This entry first appeared on Nov. 28, 2016. It has been revised and republished to help readers enjoy this holiday season.
Know Your Limits
The real secret to knowing how to avoid holiday stress is understanding you have a finite amount of time and energy each day. Choose to use your time in ways that give you and your family joy, let go of the rest, and you’ll create the perfect holiday without all of the stress.