The holidays are called “the most wonderful time of the year”, but for adults they are often the most stressful. Many parents find themselves stressed out and overwhelmed from orchestrating all of the holiday magic for their children. By taking some time at the beginning of the season to make an intentional plan for how you will approach the season, you can find some peace in the happy chaos. Here are some things to consider during your holiday planning to reduce your stress while still creating a happy and joyful season for you and your family.
Create a vision for the season. Take some time to imagine what an ideal holiday season would be like. Who are you with? What are you doing? What are you feeling? What is the atmosphere - is it loud and fun or quiet and calm? Start with this vision as you are planning out activities and reviewing your to-do list. As you make decisions during the holidays you can hold up your options against this vision and see if they move you closer to your vision or further away. You can ask yourself if there are things you can change to make your reality closer to your dream. The key here is to use this exercise for inspiration, not to create an unrealistic goal to measure yourself against. Striving towards “good enough” is much less stressful than attempting perfection.
Write down everything. This is also referred to as a “brain dump”. Write down all of your to-dos, commitments and concerns down on paper. This can be overwhelming, but all of these things are swimming around in your mind or on random pieces of paper anyway. Having these thoughts collected in one place makes planning easier, helps you to see if you are overcommitted, and is the place to start making decisions that support your vision of the holiday.
Decide how you will handle all the things on your list. Once you have your list (and you might want to add to it over the days or weeks as you think of new things), review each item and ask yourself some questions to make decisions about how you will move forward. If you know it is something you will definitely do, go ahead and put it on the calendar or at the top of your to-do list. If the task seems overwhelming or stressful, ask yourself if there might be a simpler or easier way? Can you delegate the task, possibly to someone who might even enjoy it? If it is a task you hate, ask yourself why is it still on the list? Is it even necessary or could you delete it? If you decide to keep it on your list, think of ways to make it easier and more pleasant for you.
Schedule a time to talk with your partner and family. It is important once you’ve had a chance to review what you want out of the holidays to then discuss this with your partner or other involved family. Schedule some time to discuss what you both expect for the season and also to discuss any changes you might be interested in making. Consider what can make the holidays more fun and less stressful for both of you and for the whole family. Approach this discussion and especially any points of disagreement with the goal of finding win-win solutions that make everyone happy.
Make a plan for self-care. Self-care is extra important during the holidays when you have so many more demands placed on you. Good self-care helps you to be more relaxed and happy which contributes to a better holiday for everyone. Planning for self-care might include things that require planning ahead such as getting a massage, going to the gym or doing a yoga class. Self-care also includes thinking about what small acts of self-care you can do on a daily basis, such as a few minutes of deep breathing or movement, or maybe journaling or a gratitude practice. Think about when the best time of day is for you to have a few minutes to yourself to nurture your body, mind, and spirit. Don't add extra stress by trying to add something new, but do a self-care activity that you've done in the past that has been helpful, or one you do occasionally, and make a commitment to practicing it more regularly over the holidays. Also take some time to think about what self-care activities typically get neglected during the holidays for you and make plans now for how you will avoid that this year. And lastly, an important part of self-care is being nice to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if your self-care slides during this time, instead try to be loving and compassionate towards yourself.
Schedule time to connect with your partner. Like self-care, time alone as a couple can often get pushed out of the way during the holiday season. Consider scheduling a few date nights throughout the season. Date nights don’t have to be extravagant or even a night out. Date nights can simply be making a plan ahead of time to do something special after the kids are in bed, like getting take-out or enjoying a video. Also think about a committing to a daily time that you can connect and talk about your days and enjoy each other’s company.
Leave white space in your calendar. One of the most difficult things during the holidays is that your calendar gets overwhelmed with all of the things you want to do and need to do. Try to leave chunks of time throughout each week that are unscheduled, to allow for doing nothing, being spontaneous, or getting things done that have taken longer than planned. Having a little breathing room during the holidays will help to slow you down and really savor the season.
Plan ahead for stressful situations. You are probably aware of many specific things that stress you out during the holidays. When we start to have dread about particular situations (or facing difficult people) during the holiday season, we have the option to worry/fret/get angry about the situation or to make a plan to make things better this year. Making a plan will allow you stay in the present and enjoy other parts of your holiday and worry less about that one particular stressor. To shift this, think about the specific situation that stresses you out and analyze a bit why it bothers you so much - is it seeing someone you have a difficult relationship with, is it having to do something you don’t want to do, are you worrying excessively about how things will turn out, or is it just one particular aspect of the situation that bothers you? Then try to brainstorm some ideas of how to handle things differently. This could be eliminating the thing altogether, figuring out how you can help yourself respond better to the stress through imagining what you could do differently, or possibly talking with someone who could help you figure out some solutions.
Make a plan for dealing with difficult people. One of the biggest stresses at the holidays is dealing with people who we have a difficult relationship with. Rather than spending your energy worrying about or dreading the situation, think about how you can handle difficult interactions with them more positively - could you excuse yourself politely, could you try to change the conversation to something more positive or could you enlist the help of a trusted person ahead of time to help you through whatever issues arise?
Try scheduling “worry time”. If you find yourself caught up mentally in the stress, try out “worry time”. Set aside 10 minutes a day and allow yourself to worry as much as you like. You can write your worries down in a journal or even just think about them. You are not necessarily looking for solutions during this time, just getting all the emotions out. At the end of the time, take some deep breaths and relax your body and try to let the worry go, at least until your next scheduled worry time. This helps you to compartmentalize the worry so that if you find yourself worrying at other times of the day, you can remind yourself that you can worry about that later and instead focus on enjoying the present moment.
When all else fails and you find yourself completely stressed: Take some deep breaths, have a good cry if you feel like it, hide out in the bathroom for a bit, remember that this is just a season and it will pass, and most importantly show yourself some compassion. It’s natural to get stressed over the holidays, but taking some time to intentionally plan a less stressful holiday season is well worth the effort. Best wishes for a happy and relaxing holiday season.