Holiday Stress Busters

The “most wonderful time of the year” can be the most stressful for a lot of us, especially super busy caregivers. So if the holidays fill you with visions of stress and dread rather than dancing sugarplums, vow now to simplify your life. How? Greet the season with strategies that shift the focus away from rote obligation to what really matters: Your loved ones.

Holiday stressor: Overscheduling

• Preserve “me” time. Regular time to regroup, without distractions, gives you both energy and calm, making you more fun to be around. Too many people lop self-time off the list in the busy season.
• Check in with your body first, every time. Before answering an invitation or building a gingerbread house, pause to notice whether you feel excited or tense, relaxed or headachy, calm or vaguely nauseated. If you’re not good to go, don’t go forward.
• Say “yes” to the bigger gatherings. Attending events where you’ll see lots of faces in a short period may help you feel less obligated to attend lots of smaller events over successive evenings. Big parties can be exhausting, but then you’re done.

Holiday stressor: Shopping

• Creative gift giving. Have a mile-long gift list that you can’t seem to pare? Dread the jammed mall? Simplify gift giving with a little creative thinking that emphasizes people over stuff.
• Give the gift of experience. Tickets to a sporting event or arts performance, a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant, membership to a zoo or museum. Bonus: One-stop shopping. You can give the same gift to many recipients.
• Give the present of presence. Make coupons for activities you can share with an older or younger relative: shopping or fishing outings, time to read together or play cards together. Young parents might like babysitting favors. Older adults might welcome drives in the country.
• Give a handmade holiday. Agree that this year, every gift your family gives will be one the giver has made. Try burning CDs, making spaghetti sauce, baking, crafting, and so on. It’s amazing how creative even non-“handy” people can get.

Holiday stressor: Entertaining

• Spread the burden. Do you dread playing hostess, doing all that cooking, making sure your house looks “perfect”? Go easy on yourself with entertaining ideas that focus on relaxation and good cheer.
• Spread cheer to others. As a family, find a volunteer outlet that needs help and do something together: Work in a soup kitchen, deliver meals, wrap gifts, shop for needy children.
• Revive the potluck. Ask everyone to bring a holiday favorite. You supply the wine, cocoa, and gingerbread men.
• Eat out. Make eating a festive dinner out your new holiday tradition—no cleanup!

Holiday stressor: Decorating

• Go green. All those lights, all that razzle-dazzle—it takes effort, not to mention energy and resources. Downshifting to a more ecologically friendly holiday is a simple way to get a simpler look.
• Skip the lights in front of the house. Fewer watts to burn, fewer strings for you to get tangled in.
• Decorate with natural elements. Fill bowls with pinecones. Bring red berry branches and pine boughs indoors (or snip boughs from the bottom of the tree). Bonus: No hauling boxes of decorations down from the attic. When the season ends, you can just pitch everything on the compost pile.

Holiday stressor: Following tradition

• Make new memories. At the root of a lot of holiday stress: doing certain things, in a certain way, in the name of tradition. Maybe you want to please aging parents or carry on in their memory. Or maybe your focus is on creating the same traditions, so your kids will know them, too. Either way, the effort often creates more stress (for you) than bliss.
• Shift your focus. Decide to make happy memories, rather than continue traditions for tradition’s sake. The more relaxed an event, the more likely everyone will want to keep it up, making future holidays easier, too.
• Don’t assume, ask. Find out which parts of the holiday truly mean the most to your loved ones. You might be surprised by what others really like. Caroling? A special feast? Driving around to look at the lights and decorations? Keep one or two of those traditions—period—and do them up.

By Paula Spencer Scott,

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