Yesterday, as I was paying for a pair of new hiking shoes, the cashier was chatting with other staff about there being only 3 pay checks left before Christmas was upon us! And last night, as I was checking out the headlines on Huffington Post, I came across another mention of Christmas. This time it was a list of perfect Christmas presents for the guy in your life. There’s no getting around it, our thinking is starting to catch up with the stores who’ve all had their Christmas decoration inventory on the shelves for several weeks now. The question is, how will we manage the holiday stress that we know can be the flip side of the holiday happiness?
Family holidays equals mixed feelings….
There are all kinds of reasons that so many have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. When I was little, money was always tight. But Christmas was the one time of year that my mom did her best and pulled out all the stops and a few of the things we dreamed about, would miraculously appear beneath our Christmas tree. Much as we loved those special things, I’m sure it didn’t change my mother’s experience in the lead up to Christmas.
Obviously, I can’t know what everyone’s life is like, but there are some typical reasons for not feeling excited by the mention of ‘numbers of pay checks left before Christmas’ or ‘the perfect gift lists’. So let’s talk about them before we get on to how to actually manage holiday stress alrighty?
The need to manage holiday stress arises because of these sorts of ‘dread inducers’…
- Not enough money to buy gifts.
- You hate spending money on gifts that aren’t appreciated.
- Baking is a least favourite thing to do. And whenever you announce that you aren’t doing any this year, all the bakers in your family give you ‘that look’, as though they feel sympathy for your family.
- You dread the family gathering that goes with the holiday’s.
- Travel at this time of year is harder then usual. Unfortunately, your family (who are expecting you to show up), are far away.
- While some folks love shopping of any sort, you don’t. And to make matters worse, you have to buy for other people instead of you which makes it ten times harder.
- You’re just not that into decorating the house and even less impressed by the clean up at the other end.
Any bells ringing and clanging yet?
Did you hear in bells going off as you read through those? I’ll bet you could even come up with one or two items to add to that list. Things that are unique to you (and I’ll be the first to say how sorry I am that you’re dealing with whatever it is, on top of the usuals!)
Now that we’ve figured out all the reasons why we hear the bells of doom tolling at the mention of Christmas or holidays in general, how the hell do we manage holiday stress? As I asked that question, it gave me the idea to look it up, ‘are there more suicides at Christmas?’ Surprisingly, according to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, self-inflicted deaths don’t go up during the holidays. So I guess people are managing to hold it together somehow right?
Staying alive is great and totally desirable. But wouldn’t it be better if you could even have a good time while you’re at it? Little bit of fun maybe? And as much as I’m writing this for you, I’m also including myself as being in need of making some serious changes in how I manage holiday stress.
You see, each one of the ‘doom inducers’ that I mention, are me in spades! I kid you not. While our kids were little it was easy to let the whole momentum of Christmas and children’s programs and their Christmas Wish Lists just carry me along. But the minute they were grown and gone, my enthusiasm ground to a screeching halt. No lights outside—-okay, there were never any lights outside —but the tree got retired, the ornaments were sold at a garage sale and within a few years, I quit sending out Christmas cards. I felt like I was just done. Does that sound familiar?
So let’s quit messing around and talk about what’s needed to fix this! How’s that sound?
16 Do-able Tips to Manage Holiday Stress
#1 – Be open to changing holiday traditions.
You can outgrow even the time-honoured ones, just like a kid can outgrow their favourite t-shirt.
#2 – Rethink gift exchanges.
If there are just too many of you or money is a problem this year, forego the practise of gift exchanging. The exception to that (speaking as a grandma who remembers her own childhood), is the little kids. Ya’ gotta do for them no matter what! Life’s also about building memories and for them, presents at Christmas is a big part of what they’ll carry forward.
#3 – Consider gift-giving alternatives
Alternatives that might be more fun than the usual electronics or socks. Secret Santa but with guidelines like ‘not over $20.00’ or ‘must be the recipient’s favourite colour’. Or maybe you could have a holiday scavenger hunt and each giver/recipent, supplies one of the items that you’ll be secreting behind the vase in the library or tucked in amongst the books on the shelf….are you getting any ideas here perchance? Anyway, maybe this will fit in with the idea of changing up some traditions. What’ya think?
#4 – Plan ahead.
Can’t say this enough! The more you’ve planned it out and the sooner you get started, the more relaxed you can be through the whole season. Plan your gift list, plan your meal, plan what time you’ll start dinner, plan who’ll be there and in all of that planning, include time for holiday programs that you’re going to go to. Planning, planning, planning! I’d also suggest that for maximum effectiveness, write your plans down. If you do that, you’ll be able to check them off and be reminded of what comes next and how much is left to do.
#5 – Shop early and use a list.
The selection will be better and the list will keep you focused. Wandering around the mall is what you do for fun. But in this instance, you’re there on a mission so focus is called for. Remember the goal is for you to manage holiday stress well enough that you might even enjoy the whole experience.
#6 – Limit your exposure.
Instead of a long day spent with too many people in too small a space, how about dropping in after dinner with a Christmas basket with yummy treats that can stand in for dessert. You know, the best conversations always happen anyway, after everyone has eaten and they’re feeling happy and relaxed.
#7 – What’s the one dish that everyone loves unfailingly?
If you’ve taken up the challenge of moving to a plant based diet and the home you’re spending Christas day at, doesn’t have the same philosophy, then either eat at home before you go or better yet, take a large casserole dish of whatever has become your new favourite. That way you’ll have something more than just a bun and a coffee and even better, you’ll have something to share. And isn’t sharing a huge part of the meaning of Christmas anyway?
With 16 tips to choose from, the possibility of you being able to manage holiday stress just went up!
While this list may just make you think, “Ugh, more work! I can’t bear it!, you can relax. Pick and choose which tip is the most relevant to your situation. It’s not like you’re likely to need to try all of them. At least I hope you wouldn’t need to do that. If you did, maybe you need to make some other really major changes. Like which city you live in?
#8 – Lifestyle changes come in all sorts of packages.
If you’re not quite ready to ditch the Christmas tree tradition, but all of the decorating is getting a little old, maybe it’s time to downsize. Plan on a smaller tree, pick out your favourite ornaments and get rid of the rest. Or hey, maybe get rid of all of them and start with a fresh, exquisite new look! Wouldn’t that be fun?
#9 – Now if you have ‘quit-the-tree’ but you still need a bit of a Christmasy look…
Indulge in a significant holiday arrangements from the florist. Or maybe dress up the pots of a few poinsettia’s from the supermarket. This would be super simple if you just use some red and gold ribbons from Michael’s, a couple of pretty ornamental cache pots and Superstore flowers. Who knows, you might even discover a hidden talent for design.
#10 – Limit how much you drink…
Try not to get carried away with drinking whenever you join in any festivities. Nothing good ever comes from over indulgence of alcohol.
#11 – Family gatherings can be wonderful fun…
Or they can be ‘not wonderful’. Whether it’s family or friends, sometimes you just have decide to not take the bait. First off, holiday gatherings is not the time to ‘clear the air’. Secondly, some folks can’t resist so the best thing you can do in those kinds of situations is to just walk away or change the subject. Decide ahead of time to not have a spat with someone marring your memories of the day.
#12 – Try to involve yourself in a single kindness.
Just one. Doesn’t have to be a major, grand gesture. Something simple is just fine. If you’re the outgoing, gregarious type, maybe there’s someone doing a dinner for some underprivileged group that you could volunteer for. Or if you’re not comfortable with that, then simply give to one ‘holiday centric program’ like the Red Kettle program of the Salvation Army. Obviously you’re doing something good for someone else. But the glow that you’ll have from doing that is all to your benefit on every level and will go a long way toward helping you manage holiday stress.
The end result that you’re working towards is you enjoying Christmas, Diwali or Hannukah or any other holiday for that matter.
You’ve been allowing old habits and patterns to ‘make the outcome’ happen. Trouble is, sometimes they don’t serve you well. And that’s when you look for new ideas to try.
#13 – You can’t get along with everyone.
And where you know that some folks will be there who you may have had issues with, plan in advance what you will say if they bring up anything that has the potential to light your fuse. It’s easier to have the right words to say in tense moments if you’ve decided ahead of time what they will be.
#14 – Take time for yourself.
Just like you can’t drive your car without a charge or a fill-up, you can’t drive yourself without pausing the program for a bit.
#15 – Learn to say no.
In the past, I used to make myself volunteer or accepted nominations just because. I suppose it is character building to a degree, the discipline to grit your teeth and do it even if it was the last thing in the world to make you happy. But the key flaw in that thinking was the idea that I’d grow into it. You know, how people say it just takes time and then you get used to ‘stuff’? I don’t think in hindsight, that that’s always true. I wish that I’d learned to say no and stay where my strengths were. So pace yourself, be realistic about time constraints and your level of enthusiasm and decide from there.
#16 – Most importantly, decide in advance to simply be grateful for the blessings that are part of your life.
Things like family connections, that they loved you enough to spend time and money to get you that awful gift, that you have food on the table, that you get along with some of these people around the holiday dinner table, that the home you’re eating it in is warm…..the list of things to be grateful for is actually pretty much endless for most of us isn’t it?
To manage holiday stress, get real with your relationship goals and plan your reactions.
While I’m personally more familiar with the Christmas aspect of holiday stressors, I’m betting that those same issues come into millions of homes everywhere. Wherever family gathers, holidays or not. Because people are involved, you’re going to have to figure out how to manage holiday stress so that it’s the joy that you want to remember. That’s just the way it is.
You know, I also just had an interesting thought. What if the fact that you’ve pre-thought this all out, sees you arriving at that Christmas dinner, feeling so relaxed and at ease, that your good spirits is what actually defuses the situation that you might have been expecting? Who knows eh…it could happen right?
Anyway, there’s some ideas on how to manage holiday stress. If you’ve come up with some others that you think work, share away. I’m sure we’d all love to hear about what worked for you. So share your thoughts and let me know what you think. In the meantime, be safe, be kind and enjoy your day wherever you are!
As always, I will remind you that I’m not a medical doctor. However I’ve spent the last 20 years focusing on and learning to ‘grow’ my own health. And that’s what I’m sharing here. All of it based on my own experiences and also the things that I’ve learned from the real experts! Those are the researchers and doctors who’ve seen the actual patients, worked in the labs and write the medical reports and articles that are sprinkled throughout these posts.
I’ll mostly be chatting about food and nutrition and things like that I think. Although I might even share a thought or two on the random things of life that drive us all nuts. Or maybe I’ll offer up something to lighten the load that just living, can lay across our shoulders.
But always, always, always with the goal to motivate and help you find your best way to live a healthier and more peaceful life. Having said that, I also suggest strongly that you talk over any changes in your health routines, with your doctor. This would include changes to your exercise program or plans and any medications or supplements you’re taking. My goal is not to replace your doctor or other health care providers of course. More of a cheerleader and fellow traveller I guess you could say.