Lots of people struggle with holiday stress – it’s as if there’s a national competition going on for who can be the most anxious person over the never-ending details of celebrating our winter holidays. We start from the premise that perfection is possible (it’s not, no matter what the well-curated magazine covers portray). The sooner we let go of that notion of the “perfect” holiday, the more breathing space we’ll make for ourselves and others with whom we share the season.
Some of our stress may come from uncomfortable relationships – the noisy uncle who will constantly need to remind you of his political stance, his opinions about other family members or his judgments of people he prefers to deride. Or, at your holiday table, there may be a relative (or friend) who cannot manage their alcohol consumption and slips into a sad or sloppy state of inebriation in front of everyone. Finding a way to avoid their company may be your best gift to yourself, but sometimes that’s not possible.
Others of us struggle with holiday loneliness. All the messages on social media would have us believe that everyone is out having a marvelous time – all the time! And, while your intelligent brain assures you this is not likely, your emotional brain slides into a funk of believing that you’re the only one who doesn’t have a special someone for sharing popcorn while watching It’s A Wonderful Life or a date for the New Year’s Eve gathering. You’re not the only one who feels that way, please know that. And there are also some pretty cool benefits to a quiet night alone if you look for them!
Here are some tips I use every winter when the impulse to slide into holiday stress strikes. . .
- Let go of perfect! As mentioned earlier, it is an impossible thing to attain in any aspect of life, so aim for something more manageable like – pretty amazing! You and your guests will enjoy the gathering far more freely when “perfect” isn’t invited!
- Focus on being present! So many things call to us, distract us, want (or maybe even need) our attention – but the best gift you can give to yourself is the deep awareness of what’s happening RIGHT NOW, and celebrating that you’re in the midst of it. Likewise, the best gift you can give to others is your uncompromised attention to what they’re saying or sharing with you!
- Allow others to contribute! You don’t have to do it all, be it all, or have it all – you can ask for (and welcome) help from others. Start where you’re most easily frustrated – maybe that’s cooking, or decorating, or even cleaning – who can contribute to making YOUR holiday season easier, more manageable and less stressful? Ask for what you need!
- Take something off your “to-do” list! Yes, it seems an impossible thing to do, but really, there are certainly expectations you’ve made for yourself that you do not need to meet, and still the holidays will be merry & bright. Here are some “let’s not” decisions I’ve seen friends make in order to enjoy the holidays more…
- Opt-out of sending holiday cards! Instead consider New Year’s greetings or even Valentine’s Day cards – a welcome shift from the usual pressures!
- Say NO to one party! Pick the one that is the most boring, most pretentious, or the one that always runs too late into your night – and just politely say “No” and give yourself the evening off.
- Relax the menu! No one will starve if you don’t offer six side dishes with the meal or if there’s only two kinds of pies (and you bought both of them!). People gather with you for many reasons, food is only one of them – your kind company is probably the most important thing that draws them to your table!
- Wear last year’s outfit! Yes, there may be photos, but if you’ve already got a favorite holiday sweater, a great statement vest, a fabulous shirt (that feels so good when you wear it) your real friends won’t expect you to shop for new clothes just to party with them – relax and be yourself!
Any or all of these things may contribute to a more relaxed holiday season, but I have one thing more to offer…
- Connect to a cause, greater than yourself! Find a way to be charitable, in the most generous way available to you. This may be volunteering your time. or gathering stuffed animals for the community toy drive. or adopting a family that wouldn’t have a holiday dinner without your help. Whatever you choose, connecting with a purpose that brings you outside yourself is a wonderful way to acknowledge the human family – to be reminded of the truth, we really are all one.
As we move into December and its seemingly endless series of chores, I wish you time for love and light, for reflection and contemplation, for purpose and planning. You deserve the best holiday season ever – you can give that to yourself if you soften your expectations and welcome whatever comes as a wonderful gift, an opportunity for gratitude and growth!