Creating a stress-less holiday season doesn’t require dreaming smaller, just better planning.
Christmas is such an exciting time, filled with grand intentions, joy and goodwill and a vision for the perfect holiday season. It’s also loaded with the inevitable stress triggers … too many commitments, too much shopping and preparation to do, end of year work responsibilities, crowded stores and family gatherings.
The problem is our perfect plans too often hit stumbling blocks … someone gets hung up at work, some of our favorite ornaments are broken or the Christmas tree lights are hopelessly tangled. We run out of money long before we get to the end of the gift list, or the turkey comes out dry when we have a house full of hungry guests. We never seem to find time to bake those holiday cookies we were going to share with the neighbors, there’s a part missing from the new toy, or the kids can’t stop bickering.
Planning isn’t about creating one more thing for you to do, it’s about freeing you to experience the true joy of the season.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
So many people miss out on the best of the holidays because they fall into overwhelm with too many commitments, too much too do and unrealistic expectations. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Every year we approach beginning of December with visions of the perfect holiday season. For better or worse, most people find that it rarely works out according to that vision.
We talk about the wonderful tree-decorating ceremony we’re going to have … everyone at home together with a roaring fire in the fireplace, hot cider in big ceramic mugs and our favorite Christmas tunes playing in the background as we decorate our perfect tree.
But each year something inevitably disrupts those perfect plans … someone gets hung up at work, some of our favorite ornaments are broken or the Christmas tree lights are hopelessly tangled. We run out of money long before we get to the end of the gift list, or the turkey comes out dry when we have a house full of hungry guests. We never seem to find time to bake those holiday cookies we were going to share with the neighbors, there’s a part missing from the new toy, or the kids can’t stop bickering.
Eventually we end up feeling frustrated – even a little guilty – when we can’t quite seem to measure up to the dreams we had for the holiday.
Realistic expectations aren’t about dreaming smaller, it’s about planning better …
Take heart, your tendency to take on more than you can reasonably accomplish at any one time is human nature. Most people simply fail to realize that it is far easier to think about doing something than it is to actually DO it.
The solution is fairly obvious – start early, take the time to assess your resources, break large tasks into smaller chunks, and plan for potential obstacles and challenges. Sounds straight forward … and it is. The real problem is most people choose not to begin thinking about the holidays until it’s crunch time.
Choose to make this year different for you.
Begin by making a list of all your usual (and longed-for) holiday activities:
Your list may look different, after all we each have different priorities, but this will help to get you started.
* Plenty of quality time with family.
* Shop for gifts.
* Create homemade gifts.
* Wrap, mail gifts.
* Send holiday greeting cards.
* Write an annual family holiday letter.
* Holiday baking.
* Find and decorating the perfect tree.
* Clean the house – top to bottom.
* Put up Christmas lights.
* Help with school activities.
* Help with church activities.
* Volunteer or charity work.
* Traditional holiday events (concerts, plays, festivals).
* Prepare for house guests.
* Holiday entertaining.
* Family gatherings.
* Holiday travel.
Once your list is complete, the next step is to prioritize the items from most to least important. If you think of additional activities just add them to the list. For the first couple of drafts just go with the flow – you’ll be fine tuning your list and weeding some things out as you continue through this process. For now the goal is to work toward as complete a list as possible in order to prevent unexpected surprises or disappointments during the holidays.
Once you’ve decided on your priorities, review your list again and include your expectations for each activity.
For example, next to holiday entertaining you might break this down further to dinners and parties; then how many people you would invite to each and what format (formal sit-down, pot luck, etc.) and a quick estimate on the budget. The final step to this process is arguably the most important – what is your goal or purpose for having each gathering? Why is this important to you?
Candidates for Elimination
• As you work your way through the list, if it feels annoying just having to try and figure out an expectation or purpose for any event or activity other than it sounds like a good idea, or you’ve always done it, then it is a good candidate for the elimination list.
• If there are activities on your list that you could really do without, but consider them obligations, now is the time to either find a way to change your attitude about them, or negotiate to change or remove the commitment all together.
Once you’ve finished the list to your satisfaction, highlight the top 5 most important activities remaining. You don’t have to completely eliminate the other items; it’s just that they are no longer on your priority list so – for now – they will get no more of your attention. If you can fit them in later fine, if not, then let that be okay.
Now with your new, highly focused list, it’s time to review your schedule and resources. How much time do you have available for planning and preparation? What everyday commitments do you already have that need to be considered in your planning? Are there other people in your family to whom these things are important and who would be willing to help?
Expect and plan for obstacles and challenges along the way.
Most people work hard to give their children a great Christmas simply because it’s a wonderful opportunity to show them in a special way that they are loved and wanted.
Unfortunately, without effective planning, it’s far too easy for schedules and expectations to spiral out of control, and for well-meaning intentions to become self-defeating. When this happens everyone ends up feeling stressed and grouchy, only to end up spending even less time than usual together.
This year why not focus on a single expectation for the holiday season – to create your best holiday season ever (painlessly) without having to sacrifice the spirit of the season.
One way to do this is by simplifying your plans. Cut through some of the busyness and clear the way for more relaxing time to be together and focus on the real message of the season. For example, instead of worrying about the cookies you never get around to baking, you might take your kids to the bakery and let them pick out an assortment of their favorites.
Tap into the power of humor to keep things in perspective:
When it comes to offsetting the affects of holiday stress, one of your most powerful allies against the rigidity of thinking that often accompanies upsets and all forms of stress – is a good sense of humor.
Humor can help you see yourself, and any challenging situation, with a more flexible mindset so you can avoid getting mired in negativity.
• Look for the humor around you. Find a few simple things such as photos, jokes or comic strips that make you chuckle. If there are movies that make you laugh keep them around and make time to watch them for a boost to your frame of mind. If you can’t think of any, try YouTube. I am not embarrassed to admit that there is nothing that will put a smile on my face quicker than to watch the Muppets – and there are plenty of their videos on YouTube.
• Find a way to laugh about your own situation. Even if it feels forced at first, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how your stress will begin to fade away when you can find the humor in your situation. If that notion seems outlandish, consider this. In his book, Beyond Survival, former POW Captain Gerald Coffee talks about how prisoners kept their spirits up despite the horrible conditions in their Vietnam prison by tapping on the wall of fellow prisoners and telling jokes in Morse code.
If all else fails, and you simply can’t make yourself laugh, this is one time where “fake it till you make it” actually works. Just turn the corners of your mouth up and start smiling. Even a simple smile can ease the pressure and lift your spirits – especially when others begin returning your smile.
Of course the benefits of maintaining a sense of humor reach far beyond the stress of the holidays, and include boosting your immune system, reducing stress, relaxing muscles and lowering blood pressure. So what have you got to lose?
The most important thing to remember is that there are no set rules about how holidays have to be, and by lightening up and relaxing our expectations a bit, we’re far more likely to experience the true joy of the season.
Marquita Herald is a resilient living specialist, author, publisher, and creator of the Emotionally Resilient Living website. She tells stories to inspire readers to embrace the ability we each have to create our own life experience by developing greater capacity for emotional resilience.
Her professional experience includes 20 years traveling the world on behalf of the Hawaii tourism industry, followed by a decade as an award winning life and small business coach. She is the author of 6 books and 2 new books scheduled to be published in fall, 2014.
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