Reducing Holiday Stress

As we slide into the holidays this year, I want to make sure to remember the lessons learned during the pandemic, wild weather events, social and political turmoil and most of all what we have collectively learned as individuals over the past year or so. I believe that one of the best things we learned is that we can survive, and even thrive, on less. I want to remember this as the shopping season is now in full swing where we are faced with inevitable lines, traffic, crowds, marketing, commercials, specials, and all of the other assailants to our systems that create a nerve racking rush to perform extravagantly with pricey gifts and too many events. It’s no wonder that feelings of anxiety, unworthiness and overwhelm take over.

I want to remember that it’s okay to show our loved ones with words of affirmation, quality time spent together, and acts of service. Often these acts of love can make a more meaningful and lasting impact than exhausting our resources with purchases and overcomplicating events. Some of the best moments of my life have been spent with people individually or in small groups playing cards, working puzzles, going on walks, hikes and sitting by the fire. 

I feel like the realities of the pandemic helped us to realize the value of experiences with those we love over gifting, elaborate and expensive meals and grinding our selves into dust. All of which is often alienating to those closest to us. My family is taking active steps together to limit the amount of gifts given by drawing names for this year, setting a cost limit, simplifying our schedule, planning experiences and spending more time together. What’s more, my adult children were the ones to suggest that we reign ourselves in. We started this last year and it was probably the best Christmas of our lives. I am so grateful to them, not to mention proud that they recognize the value in celebrating events and traditions without completely ignoring self care, self awareness and the lunacy of spending so much money to impress each other with gifts. Chances are we wouldn’t be able to name what we got last year anyway. 

Feasting is such a traditional and ancient way to celebrate and I wholeheartedly love to plan a dinner or food for the holidays. I don’t recommend giving up this tradition, but finding shortcuts, making exceptions, and dividing up the work and expense of grocery shopping, preparing, serving and cleaning is the best way to make sure that one or two people are not left with the entire responsibility. I also used to spend days making pies, cookies and candy to have ready for visitors and family. Making those things together is so much more fun and having a baking day or cookie making is a great way to extend the fun and celebration without overdoing it.

I mentioned puzzles, cards and games but also doing a craft together like making wreaths, or painting a fun decor item is another good way to do something together, while having the chance to chat and engage. On the other hand, activities that don’t cost anything are just as enjoyable. Christmas parades, tree lightings, driving around with hot cocoa while looking at neighborhood lights are highlights of our holiday season. Churches and synagogues have extra services or pageants to attend. Try game night, a scavenger hunt, Christmas movie night, pajama party/at home spa day. You can make gifts together or just make tea or hot chocolate and stargaze. Sharing experiences is a great way to spend time together without all the stress of shopping for the perfect gifts, and stressing over holiday expectations. The lesson that I am teaching myself is to focus more on the simple things while maintaining balance, and mindfulness while practicing my personal self care strategies so that I can enjoy the people around me, the blessings of being together without the constant worry that I need to outspend my time, talent or treasure.

I’ve also learned some valuable tips over the years that help me personally enjoy the holidays so much more. These include learning to say “no.” I don’t accept every invitation. I try to maintain my own personal sleep schedule and plan to not overindulge in alcohol or too much food that I know makes me feel bad. While I mentioned lots of group activities, it’s also important to take breaks from others. Make suggestions or plan activities but don’t expect everyone to attend or participate in everything. Allow others the grace to accept or decline without taking it personally. Enjoy those you are with. Also, try not to put pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday for your family. Focus on the traditions that make holidays special for you. Keep in mind that just because it’s a holiday, family problems don’t go away. If you have a hard time being around your relatives, it’s okay to set limits on your time at events and visits. By the same token, honor others needs to set boundaries as well.

What are some traditions you enjoy with your family and friends?

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