“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” they say. Try “It’s the most stressful time of the year”! Each year around this time, I watch the stress levels of my clients increase as they try to juggle extra holiday events, complicated family scenarios, and the financial stress of gift-giving and travel. Add a layer of grief from the loss of a loved one or a charged family crisis, and the holidays become even more difficult. Here are some tips that I offer my clients for reducing stress in this season. We don’t have control over all of the things that stress us out, but we can choose what we pay attention to.
1. Set aside time in your schedule to mark the holidays in a way that you enjoy. Perhaps you are obligated to a large family gathering, but you don’t tend to enjoy it. Go to the gathering, but also set aside a time to sit around the fire with friends or to go on a special holiday date with your partner.
2. Don’t give into the pressure to buy things you and others don’t need. Make a budget for how much you’d like to spend this holiday season and don’t spend money you don’t have. Resist the temptation to rack up credit card bills, which are brutal in January and February. Instead, make it a point to be present with those you love—and keep it simple.
3. Set realistic expectations for family events. I talk to many people who are disappointed every year that their Aunt is a “Debbie Downer” at the dinner table. She just can’t stop herself from criticizing your weight or the poor quality of your corn casserole. My advice: expect Debbie to do what she does and have a plan. Maybe this time you’ll set some verbal boundaries and remind her that commenting on anyone’s weight is bad manners. Or maybe you’ll decide to laugh if off and change the subject, while reminding yourself that her comments are more about her than they are about you. Expect the usual behavior to happen at these gatherings and don’t expect for them to be positively life-changing or magical.
4. Stop feeling guilty every time you see a cause. My social media feed and my email inboxes are full of relevant and worthy causes, along with requests for donations. Instead, choose one or two causes that you genuinely care about and give your money or time to those causes throughout the year. In your small circle, make a practice of noticing when you feel a tug on the heart to help someone close by and do it.
5. Let go of keeping up with the Joneses. Let your values guide you rather than how you desire to be seen in comparison to others. So you’re the only one on the street with no Christmas lights up and you’re worried they think your a Scrooge. (Okay, that’s me.) So what! Let it go. If you love lights, you’ll get them up one of these days, and if you don’t, just forgo the whole thing! Let go of out having the most perfect cookies at the party or of pulling off the perfect family photo for your annual Christmas card. Let it go.
6. Exchange the “holiday ideal” for a meaningful holiday. You don’t have to have a Pintrest-perfect holiday meal to have an amazingly tasty and satisfying meal. Maybe your pie became a crumble or a batch of cookies had to go in the trash. The point of “holiday making” is not perfection. The point of “holiday making” is the making and the connection with others through what is made. Find meaning in your holiday season by connecting to others and connecting to the values and ideals that you hold most dear.
May you find sanity, rest, relaxation and enjoyment this holiday season.