Reducing the Stress and Increasing the Joy of the Holiday Season
It hit me this year, earlier than usual, the stress surrounding the holiday season. I walked into the local World Market days before Halloween, and there was Christmas! The holiday season has become such a shopping event, that we are being presented with Christmas trees, winter clothing, and decorations while it is still warm outside. Unfortunately, this continued redefinition of the season creates undo stress.
When the holidays become about acquiring things and presenting perfection, our stress levels increase. When the holiday season takes over months rather than weeks, our joy is stretched often beyond recognition. So, how do we combat this?
First it is important to decide what we as individuals seek from this season. Certainly, as children, the holiday season was magical with sights, sounds, and tastes waited for all year long. However, as adults, we often find that the season is fraught with stress and over commitment of our time, energy, and finances. So, I would recommend taking the time to think about what you want from the holiday season.
Establish a sense of expectation and determine some goals and strategies around your holiday season. Take the time to be mindful about how you wish to spend your time and money this season. Indeed, if you are the type of person who can tolerate life on a budget, I would recommend establishing one. This can greatly reduce the after Christmas blues we so often experience.
If you are the type of person who values family at this time of year, it is never too early to start communicating about your desires and finding out what your loved ones want and need. As in most situations surrounding relationships, good communication can help you get what you want from your holiday season.
Focus on things that make you happy. One of the things that many people don't realize is that we tend to get more joy out of experiences than we do from things. So rather than picking out the perfect item to gift to your loved ones, you may find more happiness in finding ways to have meaningful experiences together. I will never forget how my mother-in-law's family used to gather together for baking days prior to the holiday season. Invariably, it was these days when the best memories seemed to be made. Years after the fact, there would be stories about the time Mom forgot the salt in her famous cookies and reminiscences about the time spent talking and rolling out dough. However, one year to the next, few of us could remember what gifts we had been given.
Focus on what the holiday means to and for you. If it is a spiritual or religious time for you, take the time to celebrate that aspect of the season for yourself. If the holiday season is a time for relaxing and recuperating from work, be mindful of allowing yourself time to do that. Remember to focus on what you want from the season. It is very easy to allow ourselves to be guided by the marketplace in regards to what the season is for. Give yourself permission to make this holiday season about you and those you love. Reassert the power to choose how you want to spend this time of your year.
Be mindful of the fact that nothing is perfect. I remember as a young child, dealing with my mother who would constantly say, "I hate Christmas." As a child this appeared blasphemous. However, as an adult, I can understand that when we become caught up in presenting a perfect holiday, we are doomed to frustration.
As adults we are allowed to define this season for ourselves. If we wish to make the holidays a season of peace and relaxation dedicated to family and friends, we can do just that. Many of us find ourselves with opportunities to celebrate with people at work and school. We can find ourselves torn to attend every church, community, family, and work event. However, when we do attend all of these events, and buy all of the associated gifts, we can find ourselves overwhelmed and resentful. Remind yourself that you can, and often should, say no. Overextending yourself makes no one happy.
Be kind to yourself. Many of us with extended families find ourselves over committed and attend events that we may rather not out of a sense of necessity. I will let you in on a little secret. Your family and friends would rather see you less if it means seeing a happy person when they are with you. So, be kind to your self. Commit to only the events you can attend with a happy heart. Take your best self with you when you attend holiday events. Please, for the sake of yourself and others, don't stretch yourself to the point where you are stressed out, overly tired, and unhappy.
Don't be that parent who worries the kids with passionate outbursts about your frustration over the season. Instead be a kind and mindful adult. Do those things that bring joy to you and those around you. Simplify the meals if you need to. No one will fault you for one less desert or one fewer side dish. Indeed, most people would prefer to eat finger foods off of paper plates with people who are happy than they would to eat a perfect meal off of the fine china with someone scowling over their dinner.
Take the time to care of yourself in this season where we so often focus our energies on others. It is only through care for yourself that you can provide a joyful presence in the lives of others.