When you think of the holidays are you conjuring up images of your family sitting around the table, happy and smiling as they pass round the plates of steaming holiday food to each other or maybe you picture it snowing outside while you unwrap presents that everyone loves, laughing and joking about shared family moments?
Well that is all very nice but of course there’s the reality: family members are squabbling, kids rip off the paper and barely glance at the present before moving on to the next one and someone (probably you!) is running around like a headless chicken trying to trying to please everyone.
The discrepancy between our expectations and reality can leave us disappointed and not exactly filled with the holiday spirit. That’s why we have to take time to follow some holiday stress management tips:
Tip 1: Listen To Yourself & Ask How Do I Want To Do During The Holidays?
Ask yourself what is that you (yes you, not your mom, mother-in-law, partner), want the holiday to look like. Often we are so busy making sure everyone else is happy that we end up frazzled and disappointed. When we listen to what we want it might mean that you have to ask your family to compromise. It’s okay to speak up, really it is! That way when the holiday is over, even if certain things happened that did stress you out, there will be good memories too.
Tip 2: Realize That You Just Can’t Do Everything
Holidays are largely based on traditions and when you find your partner, especially after you have your own children, there are usually two sets of family traditions shouting for your attention. I am sure there are certain traditions that stem from your childhood that you want to make sure your kids have too (the same probably goes for your partner and his family). But let’s face it, your life is already busy and your hands are full so how do you think you are going to fulfill all of those expectations of what a holiday should be like?
Sit down with your partner and discuss and choose one or two things you each want to make sure happens because it means a lot to you. Yes, one or two things, not ALL of the things you are picturing.
Let’s stop doing traditions that don’t work for us anymore just because we always have done it that way. You can’t have a meaningful holiday until you decide what it is about the holiday that makes it meaningful to you.
Tip 3: Be Realistic About Presents
Not everyone is going to love or even appreciate your gift. Also, please don’t spend January and February paying off debts for all the money you spent at Christmas. Maybe start a new tradition which caps the amount you spend on each person’s present or make family present buying just for the kids rather than all family members. Kids often want everything they see on TV for Christmas. You are not letting them down by setting limits. Adults, especially ones that only see each other once or twice a year at celebrations, are often at a loss what to buy and really how much perfume or chocolates do you really need? We all like to play Secret Santa so draw names so everyone just gets one gift but perhaps it’s safest to drop hints about what you would really like.
Tip 4: Build In Time To Stop & Relax
I can see you rolling your eyes and saying “Come on, how on earth will I be able to make time for myself when I have so much to do?” I know I am a stuck record but I’ll say it again – if you don’t look after yourself you won’t have the reserves to take care of other people! What does it look like when our reserves are low? We’re cranky, overly sensitive and generally not as happy as we want to be.
Pay attention now to what makes you feel better so it is more of a habit when the holidays come. Also, think of Thanksgiving as a testing ground for Christmas which tends to go on longer and involves present buying so probably demands more of you. See what works and what you need to tweak to take even better care of yourself.
Small breaks of downtime are probably more attainable than a day at the spa. Do something just for you every day e.g. a long shower or soak in the tub, a coffee alone at Starbucks reading a magazine for half an hour or really time doing just about anything, as long as it relaxes you.
Tip 5: Look After Yourself Physically
Don’t ignore the basics – get enough sleep and eat food that leaves you feeling good, not bloated and sluggish. I am always talking about the 80/20 diet and maybe during the holidays we can switch it to 70/30 or even 60/40. 70% of the time you eat your fruits and veggies, lean proteins and wholegrains but 30% of your food intake is whatever you fancy. You don’t want to get in to the trap of feeling deprived then overeating. Also, if you do overindulge don’t think well I’ve blown it now, I just as well eat this whole buffet table’s worth of food. Take a breath, don’t feel guilty or angry with yourself. Just start again from now (not tomorrow, Monday or January 1st!).
Tip 6: Spend Some Time With The People You Most Want To Hang Out With
Spend time with people you enjoy being with not just the people you are forced to be with. Present shopping with a friend and lunch out is far more preferable than rushing around last minute grabbing just for the sake of having something to give. Carve out some time to be with just your partner and kids to have your own little celebration and let them open their presents from you when you can pay attention to their reaction and hopefully, joy.
Tip 7. Find Someone Safe To Vent To
Holidays usually mean spending time with families and that of course means spending extended periods of time with people you love but who know how to push your emotional buttons. It’s hard to hold in hurt feelings and irritations and still be calm. This is why it is important to vent but pick the right person to vent to. Your partner may be great hearing about how your mom is so frustrating but not so great if you are criticizing his mom.
You want to choose someone who has some emotional distance from the situation, has a lot of empathy and will not bring it up against you in the future. Pick a neutral person, give them a call or even a quick text that says “Agh!!!!!” and know they will reply with “Hold in there!” Or “Anything I can do?” It’s nice to know someone has your back.
If some relationships with family members have a long history of leaving you with frustrated it can be good to get advice ahead of time and come up with a plan of how it is best to react if a difficult situation arises. Problem solve and ask yourself is it worth trying to sort this relationship out right now (on Christmas Day the answer is always no), do a calming deep breath (see my blog post Need A Simple Way To Keep Calm? for an effective way to get calm quickly) and resolve to either always ignore it or work on a way to resolve relationship difficulties it in the New Year.
Tip 8: Find The Joy
It is very easy to forget that holidays are the time to have fun. I think this is especially true for women as they are frequently the ones trying to make everything work out. But laughing is a good cure for the holiday blues. Even if it is just for 10 minutes look at something that makes you laugh. The internet is perfect for that. I don’t mean Facebook. It’s so easy to look at people’s status updates and believe they are having a better time than you but remember everyone just posts the best side of themselves so don’t compare. Instead visit YouTube, Buzzfeed, or whatever silly website you prefer and look at cute videos of kittens.
Tip 9: Insert Your Own Tip Here
You might be thinking uh oh, she’s run out of ideas and needs to find one more tip to make it a nice round 10 but that’s not it, I know that you know yourself better than anyone else in the world and so ask yourself what is the top de-stressor that works for you to reduce stress and improve your mood? It could be listening to certain music, talking to particular friend or taking a bubble bath. Hopefully you can even come up with a few things that are sure-thing favorites to lift your spirits.
Tip 10: The Most Important One!
I think that the most important stress management tip is to make sure you spend a little time each day to check in with yourself and ask whether you looked after your own emotional and physical needs at some point today.
Don’t feel guilty that you are thinking about yourself. If you look after you and take the time you need to not feel overwhelmed, cranky or stressed, the holidays (and every other day of the year) will be much happier for everyone.
For more information about strategies to improve your happiness please download my FREE booklet from the sidebar on your right called Simple Steps To Improve Your Mood.