By Benjamin Goodin
The holidays are meant to be a time of celebration, togetherness, and relaxation; however, many find that it’s not just the surfeit of sweet, seasonal treats that make you feel overstuffed in December. While all the shopping, family time, and feasting sounds like the perfect escape from the work day routine, more often than not, Americans find that holiday festivities and preparing themselves for all that expected joy is a source of major stress.
Although the spirit of the season is meant to be sharing and caring, the devil is often in the details. Extra stress compounds when we rush to check all of our mandatory holiday check boxes: shopping, decoration, feast preparation, travel, visiting and hosting relatives, office parties, and extra social engagements quickly compound into a crushing press of festive headaches.
For some, the pressure of increased responsibilities is multiplied by the desire to have the perfect holiday: dress the turkey just like grandma did, hang the yard lights like dad, trim the tree just like mom, make sure the in-laws have nothing to criticize, and make sure the kids have the most magical holiday yet — it’s enough to give the most organized person fits!
It’s not only the added commitments and pressure either; the normal concerns from daily life don’t magically vanish in a spray of tinsel and fresh snow at the turning of December. In fact, your regular routines may be causing you more stress than normal, what with shoehorning new commitments into your already disrupted schedule. Even your well-established routine that normally lets you fly through the day can become a thorny tangle of annoyances when you’re trying to balance so much bliss.
So, how do you have Aunt Edith’s fruitcake and eat it too? A happy holiday and less-stressed new year can be yours with some careful planning and managing of your expectations.
Make your list
Start with a list of your prospective obligations for the season; there are at least few things that you can readily depend on each year. Scoop together everyone’s non-negotiable dates, like the mandatory office party and the kids’ winter play. Give yourself some leeway on planning by figuring out who has hosting duties for family get-togethers early on in the season. This will give hosts and travelers plenty of time to gather supplies, make travel plans, and score early-bird discounts on early bookings for accommodations and travel rates.
If you know that you will be on hosting duty for guests or occasions, this is the perfect opportunity to take stock of your supplies and your needs, this way, you can plan ahead of time and won’t be short handed when the event happens.
Check it twice
One of the biggest stressors of the season comes from when we try to pack in so much joy and tradition into our holidays that they become a hurried mess of near-missed engagements and frazzled meet-ups. The holidays may be magical, but they can’t give you extra hours in a day. Making a point to keep your regular daily routine as intact as possible can go a long way toward not having your bells jingled too hard. You will probably have to pick and choose your special engagements carefully; there’s only so many hours in a day to attend those holiday meet-ups, and you’ll want to savor the experience instead of being rushed to the next engagement. Learning your limits and when to politely turn down an invitation can help you keep your head on straight a little longer through the holidays. It’s tempting to want to say “yes” to all of the celebrations and parties, but “no” is a powerful protector of your sanity when it comes to being overbooked. Whatever your holiday engagements, make sure to pencil in a little you time on the calendar; having personal time for a workout, a hot bath, or little time to indulge in a novel can do a lot to keep your spirits merry and bright.
Yes, tradition and the holidays are nearly synonymous for most of us — most of the foods we eat and things we do during this season are predicated mostly on nostalgia and household tradition. These conventions may very well be the reason you enjoy the season so much, but if we’re being honest, many of them are just as much of a headache as they are pleasing. Creating some change in your holiday routines might cause a little friction with die-hard traditionalists but can go a long way in making celebrations easier for everyone to enjoy with less stress. Hosting the big meal this year? Why not call in the elves and make the feast a family potluck? Is the whole clan gathering for an extended holiday? Plan kid-specific activities and have the adults take turns being the chaperone. Does shopping for each and every family member require more time and money than you have to give? A family-wide secret Santa, blind gift exchange, or present drawing can save everyone time and money, not to mention anxiety.
Peace on Earth
Let’s admit it; we don’t always get along with family members, and being in close proximity for a few days can agitate differences. Political, social, and lifestyle variances are bound to be a problem when there’s a crowd, and there is always the chance that you simply find one another annoying. Maybe your cousin is notoriously intolerant, perhaps Great Aunt Ruth is a nitpicker, or possibly there is a middle-school-aged problem child in the family — however hard it can be to keep the peace, you’re all still family and friends after the table is cleared. To make sure it stays that way, you may want to take extra time and assign seating at big meals to avoid known toxic interactions between family members. You certainly can’t control every interaction in the household, so it may be worth while to sit down with the family leaders and hash out a “no politics, no sports, or no history” policy that can be disseminated to family units to maintain civility. Even if you can’t stop your uncle from pushing conspiracy theories while you carve the ham, set the tone by doing your best to keep you and your own immediate family’s tone civil and polite — it’s the spirit of the season, after all.
Adjust the picture
Above all else, the most important thing you can change to keep your spirits merry during the holiday season is your expectations. There’s a lot of pressure to do everything perfectly and reproduce the nostalgia, joy, and magic of Christmases past. Stop trying so hard to best your (or a familial rival’s) past holidays. Do what you can the best way you know how and nothing more. Less pressure means more time and peace of mind to soak in your holiday bliss — that’s a gift that is always the right size and color.
Back to Top