How did it happen? Didn’t we just get finished celebrating last year’s holidays? Perhaps you’ve still got some holiday bills you’re paying or a few ornaments and pieces that surfaced after you’d taken everything else down and hauled the decorations back into storage. I hate to admit it but I’ve STILL got a Santa Claus candle ring displayed in the front living room.
So when you’re busy the last thing you need is one more thing you need to plan for, am I right? But like it or not, the holidays roll around like clockwork – almost as if they were scheduled on a calendar. So how do you get rid of the frenzy so that you can enjoy a stress-free holiday?
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Why the holidays are stressful
We’ve all got stress in our lives – it seems to be a fact of modern day life. But when you add the holiday pressure and expectations it seems like stress can multiply. Some days, that stress can balloon up until it feels like you’re staggering beneath the weight. Holidays can be a major cause of anxiety but it is possible to take that stress down a notch or two.
Holiday stress comes at us from many different directions. For some of us, it comes from wanting to travel to see extended family. And of course, traveling means having to do the million and one things to get ready for a trip – washing clothes, packing the suitcases, and finding someone to care for pets.
Then there’s the shopping for gifts, food preparations, and late night holiday to-do tasks that never seem to end. Sound familiar?
Thanksgiving and Christmas don’t have to keep being hectic, stressful holidays. If they’ve been stressful for you in the past then it’s time to make some changes, and stop the stress before it has a chance to start this year.
After all, not only is stress not good for your health, but it’s also not good for others who deal with you when you’re stressed out! A stressed-out, frenzied mom or wife doesn’t make for a happy time for anyone else either. The holidays are meant to be savored and enjoyed, not rushed through trying to pack as much as we can into every moment and get everything just right.
How to have a stress-free holiday
1. Admit that you’ve got some unresolved or unhappy feelings about the holidays
I know, I know…everyone is supposed to love this time of year. And having some “feelings” about the holidays doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy them when they’re finally here. But you may suffer from anticipatory dread in which you’d rather be charged by a reindeer in heat than to have to put one more thing on your To Do list.
It’s okay to admit it….you’re not alone.
Let’s face it – you’re already handling too many things. Your plate is full, and while you may enjoy the holi-DAY, you may not love the extra work of the holiday SEASON. It’s a lot of work heaped on top of an already busy schedule.
You may also not enjoy the extra obligations that seem to accompany this time of year. I’ve written about the fact that I used to hate Christmas. I admit that it was a relief to hear from other women who had similar feelings.
2. Reflect on what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about the holidays last year
It wouldn’t hurt to make a list (and have your family members make one as well) so that you can see in black and white what things brought the most joy…and the most angst.
When we do this we sometimes learn that we’re doing things just because we’ve always done them rather than because they’re something we truly love. Over time the expectations of other people end up becoming the norm for us and instead of making a conscious decision whether to continue them or not, we simply keep doing them because we feel it’s expected.
You may be surprised to learn that tradition is exactly what’s keeping you from truly enjoying the holidays.
3. Evaluate whether certain activities are worth continuing or whether they need to be eliminated
Yes, doing this may annoy some people who think that everyone should love the same things they do. They’ll get over it.
Sometimes we’re surprised to learn that the things we’re stressing over aren’t really that important to others.
I’ll never forget the year I found out how unimportant the big Christmas tree was to my family. I was in graduate school and up to my eyeballs in projects and papers. However, I was doing the “mom thing” and pulling out the decorations the day after Thanksgiving so that I could begin decorating. I was getting more and more frustrated when none of my kids were willing to help. I finally had a little meltdown (okay, maybe it was a big meltdown) and told them that if they didn’t want to help then we just wouldn’t have a tree that year.
Imagine my surprise when they said that the tree wasn’t a big deal to them.
That was the year I quit putting up the humongous tree and started doing smaller, more manageable ones instead. I’ve never looked back.
Here I was stressing and obsessing because we had to have a big tree – and it wasn’t something that was a big deal to anyone else in the house. That stress, however, certainly contributed to the Scrooge syndrome I was feeling.
The moral of the story is to find out what IS important and let the other stuff go.
4. Prioritize the activities that your family has decided are the most important from the evaluation above
In case there isn’t time to do everything, you want to be sure that you do the most important things first. That way if something does have to fall by the wayside, no one (in your immediate family) is too upset. This means that you’ll need to narrow your focus and only do the things that are high on the priority list. Because when we don’t prioritize and focus, we take on too much. We try to DO to much and take on too many holiday obligations and responsibilities that then make us feel overwhelmed and stressed, and yes…frenzied.
You do not have to do everything!
5. Inform others about what you’re going to participate in and what you’re going to refrain from this year
Will there be push back when you announce that you’re refraining from some activities? Most likely. Don’t present your decision as asking for permission. State your decision calmly and firmly and don’t be swayed by arguments, no matter how persuasive they may be. You, and your family, are just as entitled to enjoy the holiday season as anyone else is.
This doesn’t mean that you’re totally abandoning others during the season. It simply means that you’re making intentional choices about what’s most important and what you choose to participate in.
6. Make a plan for what you’re going to do, cook, buy, clean, and decorate
A detailed list of what needs to be done is crucial to a stress free holiday. In fact, a thorough, well-organized list helps you make sure that nothing falls through the cracks. Knowing that you’ve thought about everything gives you peace of mind that you’re not going to discover any unpleasant last minute surprises.
You’ll want to make an initial list of everything and then group the items into categories. Next, rewrite your list with items listed under the major categories:
- Things to buy
- Things to cook
- Things to clean
- Things to decorate
- People to visit
- Activities to attend
You may have other categories as well depending on your family’s needs. Whether your list is on paper or digital, it’s an essential first step for getting everything done.
7. Schedule all of the tasks you’ve decided to do.
Now that you’re got a list – and face it, even Santa has a list – it’s time to schedule those activities on your calendar.
The list by itself will only get you so far. A list combined with a calendar – now that’s how you’ll really stay on top of things.
Some items need to be delegated and assigned to other family members. Make sure they know they’re expected to help. It’s not just Mom’s job to prepare for the holidays alone. It’s a family event and everyone has a part to play.
Putting tasks on the calendar also lets you know if you’ve got more things to do than can possibly get done. It’s easy at this time of year to pretend time magically expands. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. There are still only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 30/31 days in a month. If you can’t schedule things on your calendar then you truly do not have enough time to get them done. This is your very clear sign that some things needs to be let go or that expectations need to be scaled back.
It’s also good to go ahead and get family visits on your calendar as well. Allowing time to see the important people keeps you from rushing around at the last minute trying to cram months worth of visiting loved ones into a few days. Know ahead of time who you’ll visit, on what day and what time you should leave. Making a list takes some of the spontaneity out of it, but it also helps you enjoy a stress-free holiday too while not ignoring anyone!
8. Make a budget for spending on gifts, food, and entertaining
Finances can be a cause for concern and frenzy at any time of the year. But when it comes to the holidays, we often feel that frenzy increase.
It increases because we want to provide nice things for those we love. We want to be able to make people happy with our gift choices and we’d like to play Santa and make their wishes come true.
And that’s great…if there’s been a plan throughout the year to be able to pay for it. It’s when there hasn’t been a plan – and a budget – that money stress kicks in as we begin to worry how we’re going to pay for all those gifts, meals, and entertainment.
People overspend because they want to give to others. But without a spending plan you’ll spend most of the next year regretting your holiday generosity. Or worse, you’ll end up dreading the next holiday because you’re still paying for the last one.
9. Withdraw and give yourself the gift of time
The holidays are busy and stressful and since you’re most likely captaining the holiday ship you need to be at your best. You’ll enjoy the holidays much more if you’re rested and relaxed (as much as possible!). You don’t want to turn in to a Tim Burton version of Mrs. Claus nor do you want to be the Grinch.
Finally, when the holidays are over spend some more time evaluating and reflecting. As your family grows and changes your needs are going to change as well. The things that are important to young kids won’t be important to teens. As your own parents age your plans involving them will change as well. Things will also be different when you’re the parent who’s sharing your adult children with in-laws. Holidays are more about enjoying time spent with loved ones than it is about following traditions which may no longer suit your needs. Don’t be afraid to admit that the time has come to let something go or that something needs to be altered for the next year.
Spend your time and energy on what matters to you and your family and let go of the things that don’t. There’s no such thing as a perfect holiday. If your family doesn’t care if you make every party you’re invited to, then don’t go.
This organizer from The Container Store is my favorite way to organize gift wrapping supplies. I use the top drawer to hold scissors, tape, and gift tags. The other drawers hold tissue paper, gift sacks, flattened gift boxes, ribbons, and bows. I like that I can keep the tubes of wrapping paper right on the sides. When it’s time for a wrapping session I simply roll it out to where I’m working. It’s so much more organized than having supplies all over the place!
I’m also a big proponent of using a calendar. This one has places for you to schedule tasks AND to assign tasks to certain family members. No more excuses that, “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that!”