Despite the Hallmark channel’s insistence that families all love one another and that being together is all that matters, many families are fractured, busy and unable or unwilling to live in harmony during the holidays. The key to having a stress-less (notice I said less not free) holiday is all about preparation and setting boundaries. Sticking to a plan that allows for the fun parts of the season without setting the family up for failure is the best way to ensure that everyone has the best time possible, even if times aren’t perfect.
For example, we all want to have the Pinterest-perfect gingerbread houses, but sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way. But you know what? I love those times more than the picture perfect ones. Last year, my daughter and I made a gingerbread village, using a pre-made kit from Target that had 4 small gingerbread houses in it.
In my head, those little houses were going to come out perfect and ready to post on Instagram. But what we got instead were a few not so perfect homes, that we were able to laugh at and create a whole story out of it about a clumsy new construction worker that was hiding out in the town for the holidays.
When things don’t go your way, don’t get upset and storm out. No one like a party-pooper. Instead, learn to make the best of an unplanned situation. Those types of situations are still post worthy and you will probably get more likes and comments because you were being genuine about what really happened.
Let’s talk about boundaries. When our kids are small, we teach them that there are clear expectations for their behavior. As long as they behave and operate inside the boundaries, they won’t have any negative consequences. If they step outside of the boundaries, they are given a consequence and redirected back to what is acceptable. Children raised with clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries tend to be better at self-regulating, delayed gratification and adapting to their settings as adults.
Setting boundaries as an adult (and for other adults) has the same benefits. When thinking about the holidays, things like preparing a budget and sticking to it, deciding who to share the holidays with, and negotiating what activities to participate in, will create a sense of calm in a potentially anxious season. The key to making meaningful boundaries is to do it ahead of time. Prior to the season, discuss the expectations, finances and opportunities available and make clear decisions about how resources will be used. Once the decisions are made, stick to the plan.
The single best thing that can be done to prepare for holiday stress is to acknowledge that it is part of the reason for the season. It is directly tied to the expectations placed on a family that are above the usual expectations of every day living. Just because the holidays are here, does not mean there is an obligation to overextend ourselves. If you have unresolved chores, bills, family relationships that are strained or projects that are unfinished, do everything you can to get them managed before the holidays (and company) set in.
Clean your home or have a service come in and get things on track. Head to the dump, donate to the thrift store and clear out your clutter. Clean your garage, your gutters and your closets. Refill prescriptions, pre-write your holiday newsletter, clear out space for the holiday decorations to come down from the attic and make space for what you need. Start picking up baking items or other staples that you know you are going to need ahead of time. When you are at the grocery store in October, throw a couple cans of pumpkin puree or black eyed peas into the cart if you tend to make the same end-of-year dishes.
Touch base with friends and family early and set expectations that you might be busy and that you want to reach out now so you won’t feel pressured later and they won’t feel neglected.
Make certain that self-care is a part of the whole family’s lifestyle. Adequate sleep, forms of exercise and down time are important in a season that is all about hustle. Do not feel obligated to say yes to every invitation, attend a party or otherwise be involved. It’s perfectly acceptable to say no to the things that cause more stress than joy.
Stay in the moment. Remember the reason for your season. Whatever your personal reasons are for celebrating the holidays, remember to be present and enjoy everything you can about this year, because it will never be here again.
Give. The surest way to reduce stress is to freely and willingly give of yourself, your time or your resources for the benefit of others. This is different than giving out of obligation and with resentment. No matter your finances, your family dynamics or your time constraints, you can give in a meaningful way towards something that is bigger than you and will set your soul at ease.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to do less. And on that note, don’t be afraid to make it known that you are doing less. Other people might appreciate it too. They may not realize that until someone else does it, but you probably don’t need 6 different types of pie at Christmas dinner. If your family has so many traditions that it’s exhausting keeping up or following through with them, don’t be afraid to cut out the ones that you just do to move through the motions.
Enjoy your holidays and let me know what you do to keep stress-less in the comments!
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