Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or something in between, it is that time of year again: the holiday season. In its purest form, it can be a greatly rewarding, somewhat magical time of the year. It is a time when we are temporarily granted the opportunity to escape the normal rigors of our everyday lives, push pause and engage in everything the winter festivities have to offer.
Copious amounts of great food.
Holiday sweaters so ugly, they’re actually kind of cute—or something.
Pine and candy cane-scented everything.
Way, way too much “adult” eggnog.
Did I mention great food?
As potentially enjoyable as these things can be, the holiday season sometimes results in joy-zapping stress.
Maybe you’ve been volunteered to host your entire family for Christmas dinner in your studio apartment when you barely know how to operate your microwave. Perhaps you have far more people to buy gifts for than your bank account can comfortably accommodate. Whatever your reason for feeling overstretched and overspent, these ten tips will help you fight holiday stress.
Then you can focus on…you know, all that amazing food.
Focus On The True Purpose Of The Season
First and foremost, it is always beneficial to keep things in their proper perspective. Whether you’re observing a faith-based occasion or simply taking advantage of the opportunity to eat, drink and be merry, it is really important to stay in touch with the originally intended reasons for celebrating.
We humans have an uncanny way of adding our own little spin on things via commercialization or downright neuroticism. Before you know it, we’re seeing holiday decorations in stores four months before time. People sometimes get caught up in the frenzy of trying to find “the perfect gift”, assembling “the prettiest tablescape” or nearly blowing out a city block’s worth of electricity with blinding light displays. However, this couldn’t be further from the root of what’s truly important.
Even though we all know it isn’t about the food, gifts or decorations, secular and religious holidays are often diluted by stress-inducing rituals and traditions. Although there is nothing wrong with these aspects being apart of our celebrations, they shouldn’t distract us from the event’s true purpose.
Instead, this is actually a great time to brush up on our understanding of the history behind the holidays we celebrate and spend some time reflecting upon it. Focusing less on the “how” and more on the “why” of things can really help keep our stress in check.
Keep. Things. Simple.
When I was growing up, my mother and grandmother made the biggest to-do over holidays. However, nothing took the cake quite like Christmas. Arguably their favorite holiday (and mine), everything had to be “just so”—especially the food and decorations. We always had to have several types of cookies and two flavors of fudge, but never just fudge or just cookies. With six or more side dishes to make (from scratch mind you), they’d start cooking and baking days in advance.
Although my family’s holiday get-togethers were always epic, the preparations left the cooks of the family absolutely exhausted! Family members would often encourage them to simplify our holiday menus, but they always refused. Apparently, “it wouldn’t feel like Christmas” if we didn’t continue doing the things we’d always traditionally done. It was as though having non-homemade rolls was a crime against sweet baby Jesus! I still have no idea if they ever had the time or energy to actually enjoy our holidays back then.
One of the best things you can do to lessen your exposure to stress during the holiday season is to go back to basics. Everything does not have to pass a five-point inspection in order to be special and enjoyable. You know that saying, “Less is more”? Well, it’s totally true—in this case. If you keep your holiday plans simple and don’t fret the small details you will experience far less frustration and worry. Plus, spending less time and energy cooking, shopping for gifts and coordinating events frees you up to enjoy all of the things you’ve worked so hard to provide for everyone else.
- Instead of channeling Martha Stewart and attempting to wow your holiday guests with a 10-course meal, don’t hesitate to dial it down several notches. Try going out to a restaurant, having your event professionally catered or throwing a potluck style dinner instead.
- When it comes to gifts, there is often pressure to get something for every single person you know, but that is often easier said than done. Between the people who already have everything and those few people who always end up re-gifting the stuff you’ve given them, the entire gift giving process can be a first-class ticket to a psychiatrist’s couch. When in doubt, find out. If you have no idea what kind of gift someone would like or actually needs, simply ask. You might get lucky and find out that they don’t want anything at all. I mean, not from you anyway. That thing you got them last year was awful. Like, really awful. 😝
- Avoid having to come up with several individual gifts. Try splitting up really nice gift sets, giving out baked goods or treating a group of individuals to coffee, cocktails, the movies or a meal over the holiday season. Depending on your budget, you can get pretty creative with your gift giving and not spend a whole lot of time having to find all these little knick knacks here or there. And if your family is used to taking all day to open presents, you may want to consider exchanging one large gift instead of numerous smaller ones.
- Never—let me repeat—never let people knock you for going the gift card, Hallmark card-stuffed-with-cash or bottle of wine route. Some people may say that these gifts are totally unoriginal and impersonal, but if a lack of imagination keeps you clinging on to your sanity, I’d say the gift was a huge success. Besides, have you ever noticed how gift card bashers always accept these so-called “crappy and uninspired” gifts? “Oh, no thank you. I really don’t want this free $20 Starbucks gift card”…said no one ever.
Know Your Limits & Stick To Them Like A Tongue On A Frozen Pole
The holiday season can be an uncommonly busy time of the year. There are countless things to do and plenty of people to see, yet each day remains a measly 24 hours. Add normal obligations such as one’s job, housework or everyday errands and you have a potential disaster in the making. All the same, this is a time when we sometimes overextend ourselves, which can place unnecessary stress on our body and mind.
From overspending on gifts and overcommitting ourselves, it is important to guard against the developments of other stressors during this already hectic and demanding time. If you are realistic about your ability to do certain things during the holidays and you are able to effectively communicate these abilities to others, you won’t find yourself falling short of anyone’s expectations—namely your own!
- When it comes to food and drink, try not to stray too far from your normal eating habits. A little indulgence can be really fun (and tasty!), but overdoing it can negatively impact your ability to feel your best. Sudden excessive exposure to rich foods full of fat, salt or sugar can cause you to become sluggish and irritable. It is especially difficult to keep up a rigorous holiday schedule if you are hungover or overstuffed with cookies. So when your dear Aunt Sally offers you a second piece of her famous red velvet cake, don’t feel bad if you need to politely decline. Your energy levels will thank you.
- Nothing can ruin a holiday like an empty wallet. Many people feel pressured to buy gifts for others at any cost, which can easily lead to overspending. If you are on a tight budget, never be afraid to be honest with people. Try to identify individuals on your list who are open to the idea of nixing gift exchanges this year (or even indefinitely). The people who truly care for you will understand your plight. And if there’s anyone who still expects something even after you’ve explained your situation…wrap up a lump of coal and call it a day.
- If the holiday season has you up to your eyeballs in event invitations, consider yourself well liked. Despite your best efforts, you may not be able to attend every function due to time constraints, other engagements or plain old exhaustion. This can lead to feelings of guilt, encouraging you to commit to more engagements than you can comfortably keep up with. Though it can be hard to decline an invitation, you may have to do so in order to make it through the season.
- So many options, so little time. One way to choose which invitations to accept is to attend events which are hosted by people you rarely get to see. You can soothe particularly disappointed hosts by sending them a nice little gift in your place or by offering to meet with them at a time that is more convenient for you. Another option is to attend the events that are closest to your home. Time not spent in traffic or gallivanting all over Timbuktu equals more time for basting the turkey. Mmm…turkey.
Maintain (Or Establish) A Good Self-Care Regimen
A significant amount of holiday-inspired stress comes from two things: changes in our normal routine and self-neglect. Now, when I say self-neglect I don’t mean that people are attending work parties reeking of high heaven because they failed to shower (at least I hope no one is doing that). Instead, I am referring to the lack of focus we can have on our own health and wellbeing during this time of year.
Much of what we do during the holidays is for other people’s benefit, which can leave us less in tune with what our personal needs and stress levels are. Many people enjoy time off from work or school during the holidays, so they tend to travel more, sleep less and eat differently. We often make room for get-togethers by pushing aside the routines we’d follow any other time of year. For some, this change of pace could be pleasantly liberating. However, you may not realize just how critical your daily habits are in helping you to manage stress until you get off track.
As I see it, the ideal way to welcome a new year is to finish the current one strong. That being said, if you have a normal self-care regimen that usually helps you feel your best, don’t stop! Try to stick to your non-holiday routine as much as possible.
If a morning cup of coffee, midday jog or nightly meditation session is what typically peps you up, don’t forget to make time to continue enjoying those things throughout the busy holiday season. On the contrary, those of us who live in a constant state of chaos throughout the year might want to take time out to quickly identify and adopt some new stress-busting habits.
- No matter how many cute holiday cartoons are on, try to get enough sleep each night. It’s initially quite easy to stay on the go and crawl into bed way too late, but it eventually catches up with you. A lack of sleep can actually exacerbate whatever stress you’re experiencing during waking hours, which can make it that much harder for you to fall asleep once you finally decide to drag yourself to bed. More sleep means less irritability. Less irritability means less trauma for little Timmy and Suzy when you realize that the toys you just bought them don’t come with batteries…or instructions.
- Don’t skip the gym just because its the holidays! Sure, you can simply make a resolution to “workout everyday” next year (yeah right), but exercising during the holiday season has some serious benefits. Not only can a good workout help you sleep better, but it can assist you in keeping stress at bay via all of those feel-good endorphins. Besides, who doesn’t want to look their best at all of those holiday parties?
- And if preventative care just isn’t doing the trick for you, extra pampering might be in order. Treating yourself to an impromptu visit to the spa or setting aside some time to engage in your favorite hobby is a great way to recharge in between the holiday hustle and bustle. It doesn’t need to be a long drawn out process either. Sometimes fifteen solid minutes of undisturbed “me time” is all we need to destress and get back in the ring feeling reinvigorated.
Spend Time With Those Who Matter Most…
I don’t know about you, but a major part of my own self-care regimen is to socialize with people I enjoy spending time around. We joke, we laugh, we vent—it’s a great time. Best of all, it helps keep me in a good mood and remain encouraged when things would otherwise have me pulling my hair out.
Most of the year is spent toiling away with life’s mundane little activities. People are often too busy with work, school and other obligations to spend as much time with loved ones as they’d like to. However, the holiday season often serves as the official time to set everything aside and finally get together with friends and family. There’s a sharing of appreciation, food, traditions and laughter.
Sharing and togetherness is what truly makes all of the holiday celebrations so special, so it only makes sense for this to be one of the best ways to fight holiday stress. When you spend time with people you love it instantly makes you feel good. Not only is it enjoyable in the moment, but it also gives you the chance to create memories to look back on for years to come.
I’m so lucky to have had so many wonderful holidays throughout the years. Even though some of the people I spent them with are no longer in my life, I can still treasure the memories I made with them. Having the ability to so vividly recall such happy times is the best gift anyone could have given me. Not to be too corny or anything, but I seriously think its the gift that keeps on giving.
Yeah. I went there… and now I’m sorry that I don’t have enough sense to delete it. 😉
Anyhow, get out there and hunt down everyone you care about this holiday season so you can create your own stories to tell your grandkids or share on Instagram or whatever it is you folks do.
Take pictures together. Decorate trees together. Eat lots of cake and gain 3.5 million pounds together. Throw snowballs together. Clank glasses together. Laugh way too loudly together. Slip on sidewalks together. Take videos of friends slipping on sidewalks and post them to YouTube together. Become Internet-famous for slipping on sidewalks in these said videos together. Make memories together. Stress? Pfft. What stress?
…And Humor (Or Avoid) Those Who Don’t
One of the most intriguing things I have discovered about all holidays in general is how many people absolutely dread them due to having to attend an event with family members they can’t stand. I cannot tell you how many people have likened their family holiday get-togethers to something out of a horror film!
The worst part is that I too have spent many a miserable holiday with family members I wouldn’t normally spend time with for any sum of money. Knowing that I would have to sit around a table faking a smile was about as exciting as a lobotomy. I didn’t choose for circumstances to be that way and it was certainly never ideal, but this is a reality for many people. When I got older and finally realized that I could make the decision to stop being dragged to these events by my parents, the holidays became my favorite time of year.
As unfortunate and stressful a scenario as they can be, some holiday gatherings are fraught with drama, awkwardness and general discomfort due to the people who attend. From the uncle who sits at the dinner table bragging about who knows what to the cousin whose made it their life mission to annoy the heck out of you, strained family relations can completely wreck the holiday mood. If you genuinely desire to completely avoid such events and you don’t mind getting grilled by your great-uncle’s girlfriend’s older brother for not showing up to dinner at grandma’s, I’m all for it. Your family members may not agree with that decision, but sometimes it is in everyone’s better interests for you to sit some things out—even if it goes against the grain.
- Despite what someone may try to guilt you into believing, the holidays are not strictly reserved for people you share genetic material with. Even though the holiday season has traditionally focused on “family togetherness”, it sometimes seems a little disingenuous and counterproductive to force oneself to be around people you knowingly butt heads with and are dying to get away from. After all, family is whoever you love who loves you back. If you’d rather spend your holiday with people you truly vibe with and that just so happens to include your friends from fourth grade or the postman down the road, do you.
- For those who plan to still attend such events (either against their will or their better judgment) there is still hope. Even though the gathering may be a little stressful, you can greatly improve your experience by shifting your perspective. For instance, it may be helpful to simply be grateful for the chance to attend the function, despite who will be in attendance. There are people out there who have no friends or family, and spend the holiday season all alone. Some of these individuals would surely jump at the chance to spend time with anyone—no matter how nasty and unkind—just as long as they weren’t alone during the holidays.
- Whether you invite some friends to tag along with you or you decide to fly solo, always do the best you can to enjoy yourself. Excessively engaging with combative or otherwise unpleasant people is bound to not only dampen your mood, but tarnish your holiday. That being said, keep a smile on your face, be prepared to laugh things off and focus on interacting with the people you do like. While you can’t prevent anyone from asking you when you’re going to get married or “whatever happened to that nice girl you were dating”, you can control your own reactions and resolve to not let their meddling (and annoying) inquiries or actions spoil your holiday spirit.
And when all else fails, there’s always wine.
Use The Time You Have Wisely
Whether you get an extended period of time off for the holidays or just a day or two, time is your best ally during the holiday season. However, if you perceive yourself not having quite enough time to achieve everything you want to you can easily start to feel overwhelmed. An effective use of time is absolutely key if you are looking to keep stress levels low while enjoying your celebrations.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate! Tasks such as cooking, decorating and shopping can be very time-consuming if you don’t have any help. Why not enlist the assistance of friends and family? Throw a tree decorating, gift wrapping or cookie exchange party to get extra help while having fun with good company. Don’t forget about the possibility of using a personal shopping app such as Amazon Now or Instacart to grab some or even all of your holiday essentials.
- Online shopping can be such a blessing. There are no lines and no crowds. Price comparisons are a snap. You can view gifts by your type of recipient and browse countless items to find both conventional and unusual gifts. With the option of having gifts mailed to you or delivered straight to your recipient, nothing could be simpler. My favorite last minute online retailer? Amazon. If you have Prime, you’re golden.
- Not looking forward to battling the tape dispenser this year? Have everything wrapped for you. Many stores still offer gift wrapping services both in-store and online for a minimal fee or even free! I like to use this service whenever I can because it spares me from having to find wrapping supplies or struggling with an oversized or oddly shaped gift. A professional wrapping job usually looks better than anything I could throw together too. With all of your gifts decorated there’s more time to check something else off of your to-do list.
- Don’t want to cook? Perhaps the only recipes you know are “creme de la raw” and “scorched con carne”. There’s a solution for that! If you’d like a great holiday meal, but don’t want to be bothered slaving away over a stove, why not go out? Some hotels and restaurants throw really beautiful (and delicious) holiday events that can accommodate your entire party—especially in larger cities. Many major restaurants and grocery stores sell full holiday meals that you can take home as well. Just heat everything up and you can have a decked out table in far less time than you could cook it yourself. Say goodbye to dishes, hot kitchens and cluttered counters.
- Every little bit helps. For those of you who still love a home cooked meal for the holidays, a great way to save time is to prepare half of your meal from scratch and buy the remaining dishes from a store or restaurant. You can also space your cooking prep (ie cutting up vegetables, thawing meats) out over a few days so there is far less to do on the actual day of the event.
Plan Ahead, But Keep Your Options Wide Open
One of the most stressful and inconvenient things about the holiday season being so busy is the fact that we aren’t the only ones who need to get things done! The streets and freeways have bumper to bumper traffic. Navigating mall parking lots are practically a declaration that you’d like to total your vehicle. The perfect gift for your sister just so happens to be completely sold out—even online. It can often be difficult to keep your cool while so many other people are trying to accomplish their holiday agendas at the very same time as you.
Then you have the issue of sudden, unexpected events throwing wrenches in your holiday plans. Maybe you’ve been invited to a party that has a formal dress code, but you only own flip-flops, jeans and Ray-Bans. Or perhaps your dinner plans unravel (or burn) before your very eyes. I actually had a Thanksgiving turkey that remained uncooked due to my oven door locking itself the day before. It refused to unlock no matter what buttons were pushed! But hey, at least there were side dishes and pie.
Life is full of surprising occurrences both good and bad, but the key to avoiding unnecessary frustration or panic is to plan ahead and expect the unexpected. Getting as many things done as soon as possible can help you be a bit more flexible and relaxed if and when a mishap suddenly rears its ugly head.
- Have at least one semi-formal and one formal outfit in your wardrobe before the start of the holiday season. This way you are ready for whatever events pop up at the last minute and you won’t have to scramble to the mall to find something to wear. You never know when that guy who sits in the cubicle next to you is going to invite you to his holiday party—with only one day’s notice.
- Practice new recipes well before their intended date of use or have plenty of backup dishes handy. You never want your dinner guests to be guinea pigs for a meal that doesn’t turn out quite…well, edible. And even if you’re preparing recipes you’ve made a million times before, keep the number to the pizza place nearby just in case something goes horribly awry.
- Heading to the airport? Allow plenty of time to arrive and catch your flight. The holidays are notorious for crowds and serious delays getting through security. Checking in before arrival, utilizing priority boarding, only packing carry-ons and keeping abreast of potential gate changes or flight delays/cancellations can keep holiday travel meltdowns to a minimum.
- There’s fashionably late and then there’s just regular old late. Allow more time than you normally would to get from Point A to Point B by leaving for events early. Uncontrollable issues such as increased traffic and inclement weather can significantly increase travel times and stress levels.
- Have a great gift idea for that special someone? Chances are that other people think its great too. Avoid missing out on the perfect gift by shopping early and being open to purchasing online as well as in-store. It’s sometimes useful to make a mental or physical note of things people need, admire or express a desire for all throughout the year. Doing this has not only helped me select gifts my recipients truly loved, but also given me time to find them at a great price. It never hurts to have a few back-up gift ideas or gift cards on standby either. You know, just in case.
Make The Holiday Season Your Very Own
Another cause of holiday stress is the false notion that everything always has to be perfect in order for our festivities to be a success. Sometimes we look at how the bulk of society or our own family has traditionally celebrated the holidays and feel compelled to follow their example.
Although it is nice to pass traditions down from generation to generation, it can be just as fulfilling to start some traditions of your own. We all have different styles, personalities, likes and dislikes, so it can be difficult to adhere to a standard that was set by other people. However, if you strive to add your own special touch to holiday celebrations you may find that it is a far more natural process to go along with, thus reducing stress.
For instance, my personal Christmas trees are decked with glittering bows, Hello Kitty ornaments and random trinkets of Barbie pink, white and gold. Green and red simply never spoke to me. I greatly prefer to spend my holidays in faraway hotels than at home. Steak and lobster are a bit more appealing to me than a Christmas ham will ever be. My holiday plans are vastly different year to year because I am an entirely new creature each year. I like change, so the holidays are usually my favorite time of year to do something unusual and exciting.
However, there are three holiday traditions I never, ever miss: (1) I always spend Christmas Eve listening to classical Christmas music; (2) I always eat a cookie (or five) before I open my gifts on Christmas morning; and (3) I always spend New Year’s Eve listening to my most frequently played songs of the year. Though these things may seem really simple to someone else, they are things I instantly equate to holiday merriment.
Perhaps you’d like to open Christmas presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning. Maybe Chinese takeout seems like the perfect holiday meal. Spending time with family at home is a beautiful thing, but how many of you would rather spend the holidays on a tropical cruise or on a safari?
A great way to make the holiday season easier is to rewrite its rules by doing things the way you’d like to do them. Make your celebrations as unique as a snowflake by doing things you truly enjoy in locales that inspire you. Just don’t forget to invite your favorite people along for the ride! You’ll have so much fun coming up with new ways to spend this joyous time of year that you won’t have a moment to waste worrying about things that probably don’t even matter.
And Remember: It’s Only Once A Year
The funny thing about the holidays is how many people spend the majority of the year anticipating a string of events that come and go in the blink of an eye. While there are winter celebrations that last approximately a week, many of us are stressing ourselves out for holidays that only last a single day! Weeks (and sometimes months) of planning boil down to one day that ends as quickly as it began.
No matter how hectic or overwhelmed you may feel during the holiday season, take a deep breath and remind yourself of just how short-lived it truly is. Before you know it, people will return to work, kids will head back to school and stores will toss aside the current season’s holiday fare to make room on their shelves for the next bit of marketing gold (ie. Valentine’s Day). Then life will go on until next year’s holiday season.
But until this crazy time of year is well and truly over, have fun! Make the very most of this time and don’t let anything steal your opportunity to experience and share the joy that this season is best known for. Be safe, be kind and enjoy your holidays!
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