Can good be good enough? As we gear up for the holidays, we often set the bar impossibly high for ourselves and then feel upset when our celebrations don’t live up to expectations. Before you start preparing, acknowledge that things may not go exactly as planned. It’s OK if it’s not perfect. Imperfection is healthy and normal. For some of us, it might just take a little practice. All you have to do is to be realistic:
- With yourself. Set reasonable goals. If you never get your shopping done before Christmas Eve, expecting yourself to complete it by Thanksgiving isn’t realistic; a goal of December 21 might be a better one.
- About others. People don’t change who they are just because it’s a holiday. If a relative or loved one always hovers and offers unsolicited advice, plan ahead to give them tasks so they can contribute in a helpful way.
- About the day. Despite the best-laid plans, unexpected things can occur: the oven breaks, the highway is closed, Uncle Joe is in an especially grumpy mood. Stay focused on the positives and on the things you do have control over.
Take calm-down breaks
Soon after you awake, close your eyes, take several deep breaths and meditate or just relax. Imagine yourself in a beautiful place, think of a happy memory or visualize yourself succeeding at a cherished goal.
Quieting down your mind before you begin your day can help it get off to a great start and things will flow for you. In addition, whenever you get stressed out, anxious or feel overwhelmed during the day, take quick relaxation breaks of 1 to 5 minutes to calm yourself down. Conscious, slow breathing can help you when you’re feeling frustrated waiting in line at the supermarket, post office or drug store.
Get and stay organized
Life is already busy for most people, but during the holidays it hits a new level. There are holiday parties, cookie swaps, presents to buy, cards to send, and school concerts to attend. And, along with all of that, your normal life and work responsibilities still need to be handled. With so many things going on at once, it’s easy to have something accidentally fall through the cracks.
Spend five minutes sitting down with pen and paper and do a massive brain dump. Write down every to-do that is on your mind, ingredient that needs to be bought, and event that you can’t forget to attend. Get it all in one place, and then start sorting it out. Create a grocery shopping list, present shopping list, event list, and to-do list.
Once you have your lists, find a way to store them that will be easy for you to check on a regular basis. You could put the list in your purse or wallet or choose an app to use. A few effective apps to choose from include, Evernote, Asana, and Cozi. You can even add the lists to one of these apps and share it with other members of your family to easily divvy up the responsibilities.
Make sure that you enter any important dates and reminders into your calendar. Schedule time to go shopping, bake cookies, and wrap the presents. And, don’t forget to schedule time for self-care.
Take control of your budget
If you are feeling stressed over your finances this holiday season many people can identify with you. A 2017 poll found that of those surveyed, 65% were losing sleep over their finances. And the holidays tend to bring added expenses. Here are a few ways to take control of your holiday spending:
- Create a holiday budget for presents and don’t allow yourself to go over it.
- Don’t forget the little things. Presents aren’t the only added expense this time of year. Make sure you budget for things like a Christmas tree if you buy a live one, a larger grocery budget, gift wrap, and travel if you will be visiting family.
- Start shopping early. If you wait until the last-minute you will be paying last-minute prices and have a limited selection to choose from.
- Don’t get caught up in the deals. It’s easy this time of year to overspend because you think you are getting a deal. Before you buy anything, comparison shop the price (there are apps to make it easy), make sure it’s something you need, and that you have the budget for it. “Buy 2 Get 1 free” is not a good deal if you don’t really need two of those items. And, the best deals aren’t always found on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Don’t feel bullied into having to buy.
Being mindful is simply the act of purposefully filling your mind with something positive or neutral so you don’t allow room for the negative and stressful thoughts. When your mind starts running and you feel your blood pressure starting to rise, shift your mind to something else. It could be the thought of sitting on a beautiful beach in the warm sunshine feeling the sand between your toes while you listen to the lapping waves on the shore or the happy faces of your excited children shining in the lights of the Christmas tree. It’s up to you to actively choose what works for you.
You can also use mindfulness to stay present in the current moment. For example, instead of stressing over your growing to-do list as you attend a holiday party fill your thoughts with what you are currently doing. Take in the smiling faces all around you, listen to the sounds of laughing and holiday music while smelling the freshly baked sweets. Let your senses go to work for you in helping you shift your focus from your stress to what you could be enjoying now.
Get plenty of exercise
When you’re running around during the holiday season, exercise might be the last thing on your mind. What you may not realize, however, is that being active can elevate your mood and help you cope with stress.
Exercise and other types of physical activity stimulate the production of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are brain chemicals that function as a natural painkiller. They can trigger a positive feeling in the body, boosting mood and reducing feelings of anxiety and stress.
Understandably, you might be busy and have little time for physical activity during the holidays. However, it doesn't take much time to maintain a calm mental state. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a minimum of three times each week. Find an activity that works for you and your lifestyle. You may want to consider: walking, jogging, swimming, biking, playing sports, aerobics.
Keep it simple
The holiday season is particularly stressful when you have too much on your plate. This might be the case if you're welcoming out-of-town guests and hosting family festivities. You don’t necessarily have to cancel your plans, but make sure you’re not setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to do everything yourself. Get your family involved and delegate.
For example, instead of taking on the responsibility of preparing an entire meal alone, ask everyone to bring a dish. Or, if you feel that hosting an event at your home is too much, don't feel obligated to entertain relatives and friends. Know your limitations and learn how to say “no.”
If you’re looking for how to relieve stress this holiday season, then self-care is where you need to focus. Don’t let your busy schedule break your normal routine. If you run yourself ragged, you will be too tired to enjoy the events you are working so hard for.
- Stay active. Exercise is a great way to reduce holiday stress. Look for ways to stay active whether it’s a power-walk around the mall or squeezing in a short workout in the morning. Exercise gives you an outlet for stress and releases all those mood-boosting endorphins. It can also help you get better rest at night.
- Watch what you’re eating. Loading up on sugary treats throughout the season can be difficult on your system. I’m not saying don’t allow yourself to enjoy what the season has to offer, but make sure you are getting the food your body needs as well. This also helps you avoid the sugar crash that comes with overindulging on sweets and the guilt that comes along with it.
- Schedule me-time. It’s important that you set aside time to rest during the holiday season. Plan out times to do things that help you recharge.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It’s ok to ask for help this holiday season. This could be help with your ever-growing to-do list or just help for yourself. If you are experiencing grief, depression, anger, or just going through a rough time in life you might not feel full of joy like you “think” you should. Find a trusted family member or friend that you can confide in, or, contact a therapist in your area.
Don’t allow the stress of the season to steal your joy. If you don’t accomplish everything you thought you were going to, it’s okay. We spend so much time trying to stress to children the real reason for the holidays and sometimes we need to give ourselves the same reminder.
Discover the joys of small things
During the holidays, I love baking. Cookies, breads, cakes…they all have a place in my heart, and my kitchen. Baking is one of my “Small Things.” That is, it’s a small activity that brings me a lot of joy. It’s both meditative and creative at the same time, and I make time to do it every week.
Do you have a Small Thing? A Small Thing is any small routine or activity that really makes you happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s reading the paper, assembling bouquets, working on a woodworking project, crocheting, or washing dishes; if it makes you happy, try to work more of that activity into your schedule, especially during the holidays.
Even if you’re a calm and collected person, the holiday season can still be a trying time. Your stress level can still skyrocket. These practical tips may minimize your stress and anxiety, and help you cope. However, don’t be afraid to speak with a doctor or mental health professional if you’re having a difficult time. They may help you improve your coping skills so you can get through the holiday season with a smile on your face.