Swap Holiday Stress for Holiday Spirit
The holiday season can be stressful for many reasons. Routines are disrupted, budgets are tight, and expectations are high. Social media shows the perfection of others' holiday pictures, projects, home decor, and goodies, and it's easy to wonder if our efforts measure up. Taking a little time to set plans on how to deal with stress can allow you to swap holiday stress for holiday spirit. Here are a few things to consider:
1. Make a budget...and stick to it
Overspending during the holidays is a common stressor. Extra travel, gifts, food, and entertaining can cost more than we imagine, and opportunities to spend money seem constant. To keep stress manageable, set a budget and stick to it. Be realistic using real prices, not ballpark figures, and look for ways to keep costs down. Trade services like babysitting or lessons rather than gifts. Use your talents to make gifts at lower cost. Consider having a pot luck dinner instead of purchasing food for a crowd. Be sure to include other spenders in your family in the decision making process so you are all on the same page.
2. Set boundaries
Other resources we may be tempted to overstretch during the holidays are time and energy. Parties, family gatherings, end of the year work responsibilities, school functions and many other obligations compete for your time and energy this time of year. Be honest with yourself and what you can handle. If going to one more party will exhaust you, tactfully decline. Be thoughtful and only commit to things that are necessary and healthy. Choose to spend time with safe and affirming people and avoid toxic ones. If you must spend time around people who are draining, limit your investment and take breaks as often as you can. People who are introverted my find all the socializing especially draining. Give yourself permission to recharge and rest.
3. Keep expectations reasonable
One of the quickest ways to increase stress is to allow moments where things don't go perfectly ruin an occasion or mood. Things rarely go perfectly, so willingness to go with the flow can be a life saver on high stress occasions. Generally speaking, expectations are only in our minds. They can be helpful when striving toward a goal, but they can also cause you to focus on the wrong parts of an experience. When the expectations are unreasonable or downright impossible, disappointment is inevitable. You can only control your own behavior, so when anyone (or anything) else is involved in making your expectations come true, there is bound to be a hiccup (or five). Especially when children, unpredictable or toxic family members, or other variables come into play, it is impossible to predict or assume a perfect outcome. Be sure to keep the real goals of an occasion or experience in mind. Communicating the importance of certain aspects of a holiday celebration to the other participants can also cut down on frustration for everyone. If your family knows from the beginning how important it is to you for everyone to sit at the table or for your tree to be decorated just so, the goal may be accomplished with less conflict, and you can avoid passive aggression. Pay attention to how you are responding to people and how those responses affect those around you. Children are especially susceptible to having something fun turn into a negative experience if the adults around them are critical or negative.
4. Ditch "Keeping up with the Joneses"
In the age of social media and Pinterest, you get to see far more of other people’s traditions and experiences than ever before. Sometimes this is great fun and we are able to see a show for what it is. Other times, you may be sucked into the alternate reality that is the internet and feel pressured to create share-worthy memories rather than sharing experiences with those we love. The idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” is not new, but it is more accessible. We see perfect family photos and perfect family meals and perfectly decorated homes, and the Elf on the Shelf getting into shenanigans. What we don’t see is the work that went into making those picture perfect things happen. We don’t see the expense (in time, money, and energy) it took to make those picture perfect moments reality. We don’t see the 5 minutes beforehand where the kids were screaming or the tree nearly fell over or the rolls were dropped on the floor or Uncle Joe yelled at grandpa. Basing expectations or experiences on what we see on social media or in the lives of others can cause intense stress. Giving up on keeping up with the Joneses or the Smiths or the Kardashians can relieve stress and free up a lot of time and energy to enjoy the people and resources you have. Trying to put on a show for others adds stress to an already stressful season, and it can also lead us to increase stressors we already discussed like overspending or setting unreasonable expectations. In order to focus on the joy and spirit of the holiday season, focus on your blessings instead of your wishes.
5. Serve others
Serving in a food bank or pantry, visiting a hospital or nursing home, shopping for an elderly or disabled neighbor, providing gifts for an angel tree or Toys for Tots, engaging in random acts of kindness like purchasing lunch or coffee for an unsuspecting stranger or raking leaves for a neighbor. These are just a few examples of simple ways to serve your community. While the obvious goal is to help those around us, these acts of service also help us to stay focused on the true spirit of the holiday season. Involving family members, especially children and teens, gives the opportunity for bonding over a positive, uplifting experience and modeling an attitude of service to others. Look for formal opportunities for service in your community ahead of time, especially if looking to serve on an actual holiday. Thanksgiving is one of the biggest volunteer days of the year, so opportunities may be limited if arrangements aren’t made in advance. Places that often have to beg for volunteers may be overrun with them. Consider when, where, and how to best serve your community.
On the flip side of this is to accept help if you are the one who needs it. This could be financial, emotional, or other help. Sometimes we allow pride or shame to dictate our willingness to accept help from others, but everyone needs help sometimes. If this is your time, accept the offered help and look for ways to pay it forward to someone else who may need it later.
6. Pause and relax
One of the most effective ways to deal with stressors, whether holiday or everyday, is to take a few moments to pause and relax. Breathe deeply. Even in the throes of a stressful moment, stop and take a few deep breaths. Aside from the obvious benefit of giving you a chance to pause in a stressful situation, it also offers lasting benefits if practiced regularly such decreased tension and pain relief. Other ways to take a moment to relax could be to take a walk, listen to (or even create) music, laugh, write in a journal, exercise, get a good night’s sleep, or just sit down and enjoy a cup of cocoa.
Focus on the Joy
Sometimes pies don’t set. Sometimes gifts don’t arrive in time. Sometimes the kids cry. Ultimately, what people remember best is how they feel. So if an experience is stressful or sad or really happy, they are more likely to remember that than they are to remember every detail of what happened. Especially with children, they will remember how funny it was the time mommy tripped on the dog and dropped the pie on the way to the table, not the fact that they didn’t get pie, if mommy can remember in the moment that it was just a pie. Focus on the joy of the holiday season, even when it is hard to find.