If you struggle during the holidays, you’re not alone. Try these strategies to make your holiday season a little easier.
Tears streamed down my face as I scooped cookie dough into perfectly shaped balls to roll in sugar. In the background, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year played and all I could think was, “This doesn’t feel like the most wonderful time of the year. I feel like I’m ruining the magic.”
For days my kids had been begging me to make cookies. I finally decided that we could make cookies for Santa now, on December 1st, and freeze the cookie dough to simplify activities and save time when Christmas Eve came. While making the dough, my 6-year-old daughter dropped the measuring spoon in the mixing bowl while it was mixing. Dough splattered everywhere—our hair, our clothes, all over the counter, the ceiling was spotted, and even a closet door in the family room 15 feet away was dotted. I should have found it hilarious (it is now that I write about it…), but it was an added straw to the stress of the day, and I was frustrated.
As my daughter happily licked the dough off the mixing arm, I scooped and molded the dough, listening to the music on the bluetooth speaker and cried. The expectations for magic in the season weighed on me. Instead of feeling like a happy Christmas Elf, I was feeling like a rotten inner Grinch.
I love what most of the holiday season brings and represents, and yet I still feel discouraged at times. I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by holiday happenings. Studies show that anywhere from 45-69 percent of us are overwhelmed and stressed by one or more aspect of the season. It can come in the form of stress, anxiety, or seasonal depression. Among those who don’t view themselves as being stressed or anxious, it can be displayed through stress responses such as headaches and illness, excessive eating or drinking, or insomnia. Many parts of the season contribute to these feelings, including financial stress, relationship stress, and exhaustion from expectations for gifts and parties.
I am a mother of four children who are excited and anxiously awaiting the magic of the season. Their constant excitement, questions, and desire to do everything can weigh on me like it did while making cookies. The following techniques have helped me over the last few years to bring balance to the demands and expectations I feel, and can help us all to bring out the inner Christmas Elf.
1. Be realistic. Make a list of what is most important to you and your family. If needed, choose the top most important activities only and focus on those so you are not overburdened.
2. Spread out the fun. The holiday season is just that – a season. Not everything needs to take place on Christmas Eve or while the children are out of school. Spread out the activities – from making cookies to enjoying your favorite holiday lights – from Thanksgiving weekend to New Year’s Day. If it helps, write things on a calendar the whole family can see so they know when to expect that activity. Be flexible when needed.
3. Simplify. Not all activities need to cost money in order to create memories. Not every activity needs to be “Pinterest” perfect. Remember to soak in the energy of the moments—take photos to remember. Don’t over commit yourself. It seems to happen that multiple events or parties are scheduled the same evening. Choose one to enjoy thoroughly and don’t stress about trying to leave one early to get to the next late. Let go of a tradition or activity this year if it is too much—plan it for next year if it is something you missed.
4. Prepare early. Set a budget months in advance (if you didn’t this year, start planning for next year in January). Shop for gifts early and keep track of the gifts you purchased through the year to stay within your budget. Use calendars and reminders to prepare for activities in advance. If it’s too late, or a last minute event, then simplify as you can.
5. Take care of yourself. It can be easy to focus on everyone else this time of year, but remember your health. Eat well. Sleep. Exercise. These healthy habits will help keep your immunity up and can help keep you feeling refreshed and less stressed.
6. Forgive yourself. Be kind to yourself. When you’ve done all you can, stress still happens. Practice talking to yourself kindly and forgiving when you feel unmotivated or frustrated. Be mindful and acknowledge your feelings, write about it or talk about it, and then let it go as you forgive and move forward.
This article was contributed by Melanie Jewkes, USU Extension associate professor.