6 tips to having a stress free holiday
Friend of Ricki John Sovec: There is no denying it. It’s officially “that time of year.” Santas are ringing bells outside department stores. Parkas, gloves and scarves have come out of the back of the closet and Christmas lists have been turned in. The time is upon us when you might picture yourself preparing sumptuous holiday spreads with friends and family that would shame Martha Stewart, snuggling up on the sofa with contented kids to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as snowflakes flutter outside, and exchanging just the right gasp-inducing gifts with your loved ones amid a glittering holiday scene of familial bliss.
And as a parent, you envision sharing a magical holiday with your kids filled with laughter, sleigh rides in the snow and the nostalgia of all your childhood Christmas memories.
Of course, reality often has other ideas. Instead of holiday euphoria, you find the demands of creating the perfect holiday overwhelming. You don’t know what to get for your spouse. You race from event to event, feeling irritated at everyone for not doing enough to help out, and for not being able to read your mind and magically know what you need to have done. You may find yourself snapping at people and yelling at the kids whose normal bickering is pushing your frayed nerves to the brink. You find yourself trying so hard to make everyone else happy that you end up feeling exhausted, stressed out, unhappy, and sometimes even angry. And guess what, the kids and those around you are just as stressed out.
It’s not uncommon to feel trapped in the pressure of trying to create the perfect holiday for everyone. The hardest part of trying to create the “perfect” holiday is that when it’s all over, you find that no one had a good time—including yourself. Instead of holiday cheer, the weeks from Thanksgiving to New Years turn into a gridlock of semi-fulfilled to-do lists, running around and stress.
It doesn't have to be that way, for you, your spouse, or your kids. In fact by taking care of yourself during the holidays you can make the season a time full of fun and joy for the entire family. The hard truth is that you will probably have to choose to do less this year but the tradeoff is that you will be able to enjoy each thing more and also spend more quality time with your family.
In the spirit of the season here are a few tools for you and your family to make the holidays stress free:
Do only one thing at a time. It is so easy to get caught up in the rush to get in all the shopping, baking, and parties that you end up getting nothing done and feeling pooped out in the process. One thing at a time is really all any of us can do if we want to do that thing well.
Eat as healthy as you can. This doesn't mean you have to deprive yourself and abstain from any form of celebration. To combat holiday stress, pay better attention to your body's need for healthy food, exercise, and sleep during this intense time of year.
Simplify. Reduce the number of commitments in your life to just the essential ones. Which commitments are important to you and will infuse you with joy and happy memories? Learn to say no to the rest. Leave room for down time and fun.
Do something each day to be active— walk, hike, play a sport, go for a run, do yoga. Whatever works for you and gets the lungs pumping and the blood flowing. It doesn’t have to be grueling to reduce stress. Even taking an extra lap around the mall at a brisk pace when gift shopping can help.
Give yourself some down time. Set aside some special time that is just for you to be quiet with yourself. Take a little time off from the holiday rush and enjoy each day of this festive time of year in peace and serenity, even if it’s just stopping to read a few pages of a novel you’ve been trying to read since July.
Have some fun and laugh out loud. Too often stress will make you feel heavy and overwhelmed but a little laughter can eliminate the darkness and remind you and your family of the joy and light of the holidays. A little laughter every day helps make things less overwhelming, releases calming chemicals into your body, and will make the stress melt away.
By applying any or all of these steps to reduce holiday stress you can rediscover the simple joys of the season. Accept that things aren’t always going to go right. Let yourself laugh at the absurdity of little disasters. Look at the big picture. Instead of overextending yourself and trying to do it all, choose the treats and holiday events that are your favorites and enjoy them liberally and completely. Choose the holiday celebrations that bring you and your family joy and draw you closer together.
From my family to yours, may your season be filled with light and laughter… and an occasional gingerbread man.
John Sovec, MA, LMFT is a psychotherapist in private practice in Pasadena, California who specializes in working with teens and their families during the coming out process for LGBT teens as well as adolescent anxiety, teen depression, and school performance issues. Through his work, John helps clients to develop awareness and openness, provides practical tools for both parents and teens, and assists in building a close and supportive family connection. To learn more about John and his work, visit JohnSovec.com.