Do you remember your first bike? It was Christmas morning in 1980. The bike, a baby blue huffy with white and blue daisies on the banana seat and it seemed to shine under the Christmas tree lights. It was hard to believe that the present of your dreams had actually arrived. You knew you’d always remember it as the best Christmas ever.
Fast forward a few, *ahem* years. It’s Christmas week, and you’re a basket case. You don’t think you’ll ever be able to finish all the cooking, shopping, the wrapping, and the decorating in time for the big day. You also have visits to make, cards to send, and donations to mail out. You are dealing with full-blown, hair on fire Christmas stress, and it shows no signs of abating.
The stress of the holiday season can be trying in the best of circumstances. But if you’re dealing with other major stressors, such as an illness or the recent death of a loved one, holiday stress can seem unbearable. Things might be so tense that you cannot enjoy any, if not all, of the holiday-related activities. You might snap at your children or your spouse, and you might find yourself unable to focus at work.
There are many causes of holiday stress. Bet you can already name a few but I took the liberty to recall some of my own past stressors. I am going to just bet to begin with, you might be striving to fulfill unrealistic expectations. You might have a perfect Kodak view of the holidays—a vision that no human being could expect to make a reality let alone maintain past the shutter flash. Your impressions of holidays might have been formed by the movies, where families that get along gather around a tree and sing Christmas carols in perfect harmony, even your uncle who can’t even hear.
Another common cause of holiday stress is having too many people on your Christmas list. You actually expect yourself to buy for not only members of your immediate family, but also for teachers, friends, distant relatives, co-workers, postal service, neighbor from when you lived in your old house. Somehow you have put it in your head that you don’t want to leave anyone out, so you create a list that even Santa Claus would find difficult to fill.
Or, what about the stressed-out host syndrome. You were having a great day of the month and feeling generous and social so you might have been elected to hold Christmas festivities at your house, and now, with it being right around the corner, you’re panicked. You’re striving to decorate the house, trim the tree, grocery shop, bake cookies, and prepare fudge. You don’t know when you’ll have time to string the lights in front of your house, or to mount the Christmas cards on the fireplace and replace your entire living room to look like Pottery Barn! Sigh.
As much as we would hate to admit it, family members might be contributing to your stress. Your children might be demanding the latest and greatest noisy flashy piece of misery, even though your budget would never accommodate them. Your spouse and kids might not even realize that the house is supposed to stay spotless, dishes unused and magazine ready which increases your share of the holiday chores. And then, your parents might be “offering” to stay a week or more at your house, creating further tension for your household.
PAUSE! Is this reality? BREATHE.
The fact is, you CAN enjoy the holidays while reducing your stress level considerably. This begins with engaging in some painless pre-holiday planning.
Make a List and Check it Twice
Write a list of your goals for the holidays. Cross off what doesn’t “need” to happen. This allows you to be mindful and reflective of the expectations you have and making it realistic. If anything, you are crossing off has an emotional pull to it consider the following questions.
What do you really want to accomplish this year?
What can you realistically do on your own, and what will you need help with?
Putting your aims in writing can help to give you some peace of mind.
Accept and Protect Your Own Agenda
It’s also important that you set your own agenda for the holidays.
Do not let other people dictate the agenda for you. In this way, you can ensure that your needs are met, before you attempt to fulfill the needs of others. Chances are, your goals are not to buy presents for everyone you’ve ever met or to get out every decoration you’ve ever owned. Rather, your goal is probably to have a safe, festive holiday where you, your family and friends can enjoy the festivities. Realizing what your true goal is, and mapping out a way to get there, can help to reduce your stress.
Not the present like under your tree but maintaining present moment awareness. It’s becoming aware of the quality and type of most of your thoughts. Most of the time we live fixated on some past moment or in anxiety of some future moment. However, through appropriate stress management techniques, you can work to ensure that you are not overwhelmed by responsibilities. Present moment awareness is so very important become only right now what is real and true. Look around, feel your breath as you inhale and exhale. If you have a difficult task to face, consider enlisting the aid of family and friends. Sharing the load can reduce your stress level remarkably. Also, you have to strike the idea that you must have the “perfect” Hallmark holiday. Instead, strive to create a holiday that’s good enough…good enough to make you smile…good enough to bring joy to your loved ones.
Give To Receive
Spend at least part of your holiday preparations doing some good for someone in need. There’s the elderly without family nearby, women and children in shelters, and food banks that are always operating to provide warm meals for the homeless. This giving will genuinely help you to cope with holiday demands. And when all else bellies up, go to a park and look at the trees and birds that have no clue it’s Christmas.
What are you looking forward to for Christmas? What are some things you could do more or better yet, less of, to make this one a little less stressful?