Everyone knows how stressful the holiday season can be. So why do we continue to handle things in the same way year after year, wondering why they aren’t working out better for the fifth time? What we should be thinking about and where we should be placing our focus is on what we can do differently instead of always doing more of the same. The following are 5 ways that you can greatly reduce or eliminate your holiday stress, and simplicity is the key ingredient to each. So what are you waiting for?
This one seems like a no-brainer, yet many people put off tasks that would take much less time and be much easier to complete if done ahead of time. The reason behind this procrastination is a lack of planning. If you expect that the right time to do something will just present itself, think again. Time will pass and one day you will look at the calendar and panic because you have not made any progress on making your lists, shopping for gifts, guest and meal preparation, and the handling of other tasks related to your holiday celebration. Then you will find yourself rushing through these tasks—spending more time, money, and energy, and praying for enough stamina and endurance to make it to the New Year with your sanity intact.
The simple solution is to schedule days and times into your calendar for gift shopping, cleaning, organizing, coordinating, meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. A lot of these things can be done well in advance, which will leave you time to exercise, take needed breaks, and even find some enjoyment in the season.
Begin by reflecting on your expectations and make sure they are realistic. Is your list for what you think MUST be included really reflective of what you want, or is it something you do by rote, year after year because that is the way it has always been done? Does everything really have the same importance or are there things you can let go of in order to focus on what is truly meaningful to you?
Make a list of all the things that you usually do to prepare for and celebrate the holiday season. Then, rank order these according to what is most meaningful to you and your family. Lastly, look over the list and decide what things can be taken out. For instance, do you really need to bake 10 different kinds of cookies, hang so many decorations, and/or attend as many functions and events as last year? If putting up a tree and having a tree trimming get-together while listening to classic holiday music is a must—put it at the top of your list and leave plenty of time to really indulge and enjoy the experience. It will be easier to do this if you aren’t squeezing it in between less meaningful tasks and obligations.
Know your limits and stick to them
Essentially this means learning to say “no” and getting comfortable with doing less. When it comes to the holidays, doing less can really translate into experiencing so much more, but you won’t know this until you try. There is no such thing as perfect, and finding short-cuts can be an absolute sanity saver.
For instance, rather than cooking the entire holiday meal yourself, why not opt for a potluck? What about drawing names for gift-giving with family members? The result is a nicer gift that the giver can put a lot of thought into as opposed to giving a lot of useless gifts that will end up in a closet or drawer or being re-gifted later on. If you are often asked to take on a lot of extra tasks for your extended family, church, or neighborhood at this time of year, learn to say no and give someone else the opportunity to step up. The world won’t end because you weren’t available.
Make your gift list early with an eye to a realistic and firm limit on spending
Never head out for a few hours of holiday shopping without a detailed list of what you will buy for each person. Doing this will not only greatly increase your stress, it will waste a lot of time and cause you to overspend and blow your budget.
The best gifts are ones that are practical and tailored to the tastes and needs of the recipient. If you are at a loss with what to get for someone, talk to the person closest to them to get ideas. Is there something they have said they would like to get for themselves or something that drew their attention and they mentioned in a conversation? Perhaps they have a particular passion, like music, art, history or reading books in a specific genre. If so, get creative and think about what you could get that they don’t already have and that fits within your budget. Maybe what someone would enjoy most is to get a massage or to be given a few hours of free childcare, provided by you. If you have fewer people to give gifts to, this will be a lot easier (see above on drawing names for gift-giving.)
Make use of time and energy-saving devices
By this, I mean things like online shopping, laser Christmas lights instead of light strings, and for some, artificial garlands, wreaths and/or a tree, to name a few possibilities. You may be a purist about your evergreens, but certainly you could be persuaded to do your lighting and accents in a way that saves a lot of time, energy, and even waste when products break and have to be frequently replaced. Using fewer items that make a bigger impact is what technology can do—and it’s often so simple and fast you will wonder what you did before you had the option.
Now imagine sitting in your comfy sweats or P.J.’s with a hot cup of tea or chocolate, a glass of wine or some other guilty pleasure—and doing your shopping online. No driving to the mall, fighting for a parking space, waiting in long lines, and/or finding that the items you wanted are out of stock or not the right color or size. Instead, you can browse through the sites of several competitors, compare prices, and even find ones that offer free shipping. While this might not work for everything on your list, it may be just right for most of what you are looking for. If you are really pressed for time, gift wrapping is an option everywhere, so all you would have to do is put the items away when they arrive and later on bring them out to place under the tree.
The best way to cut your holiday stress is to simplify your tasks, activities, plans, and celebrations. The resulting slower pace will help you to find a new stillness, one that helps you to be fully engaged in the moment, experiencing and sharing the wonders of this special season with those you love.
Toni Coleman is a licensed psychotherapist, certified relationship coach and internationally recognized dating and relationship expert and founder of consum-mate relationship coaching.