The holidays can be a wonderful time of family, fun, good tidings and joy. They can also be a time of unrealistic expectations of Norman Rockwell picture-perfect families with a Martha Stewart in every kitchen. Which leads to holiday angst and marital stress. Chances are even if Norm was still around, he wouldn’t be tapping us on the shoulder to pose for a family portrait. And the only thing many of us have in common with Martha Stewart is the cousin who had an orange jumpsuit that matched hers. Yet we still keep expecting the holiday fairy to wave a magic wand and make perfection happen. And we keep getting disappointed. Want a new ending? Change things up this year. Here are 4 ways to reduce your holiday stress.
1. Balk at tradition. If there is an obligatory holiday event that is causing you more angst than excitement, examine your reason for including it in your agenda. If your answer to self is “because we’ve always done it,” I urge you to reevaluate.
You may have heard about the lady who always cut her holiday roast in two and cooked each half in a separate pan. When asked why she did it that way year after year, she said because that’s the way her mother had always done it. Her surprised mother said: “I only did that because I didn’t have a pan big enough for the roast.”
And then there’s the people who continue to put rice paper in wedding invitations, maintaining years of tradition. In spite of the fact that the purpose of the rice paper was to blot the wet ink – a problem modern printers don’t have. So that useless piece of paper keeps falling out whenever invitations are opened – because it’s tradition.
If the tradition no longer makes sense or serves a purpose – like bringing joy – give yourself permission to omit it this year.
2. Re-think the menu. Feeling overwhelmed by your self-imposed requirement to include all the traditional dishes for each holiday meal? See number one, above. Trying to please everybody or impress with all the expected homemade dishes and already stressing about how you’ll find the time to get it all done? Edit your menu list ruthlessly. Pick two or three things on your list as ‘homemade keepers’ and make convenient trade-offs for the rest. If your plan includes made-from-scratch biscuits, your special dressing, the green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and apple pie, select the best and substitute the rest. For instance, you might do your special dressing, whip up your biscuits, and head to the grocer freezer section for a mixed vegetable steamer-bag and a holiday gift from Mrs. Smith – your choice of frozen pies. Or make the pie and the vegetable dishes you love, and pick up a couple of boxes of Stove Top Stuffing along with some heat-and-serve rolls.
If loved ones have the audacity to complain about their favorites being slashed from this year’s menu, tell them you’ll send them the recipe and leave it to them to decide whether or not it will be on the table.
3. Pare down the greetings. If getting Christmas cards written and mailed is something that causes you stress, lighten your load. Don’t send any to neighbors, co-workers, friends you see regularly, or friends/family that you know you’ll see over the holiday season. Prioritize those left on your list. Instead of trying to carve out a chunk of time to get the job done, do one or two at a time as you are able over the next few weeks. If you don’t get through the list, at least you’ve gotten the special ones out. More than once I have sent out “New Years Greetings” that looked just like Christmas cards – except they got there a week or so later.
4. Make a commitment to you. Once you’ve plotted out the absolute ‘must-dos’ and ‘love-to-dos’ on your calendar, pick a night or two during the season that is not committed and mark it off as downtime for you and your spouse. Unless there is something urgent or so fun you don’t want to miss it, treat your commitment to yourself as respectfully as you would a commitment to a loved one. Would you cancel out on them at the last minute? No, of course not. Prioritizing this commitment of downtime for you and your spouse will result in you feeling less stressed and more able to enjoy your other commitments. It also allows time for you and your spouse to stay connected during the hectic holiday season.
How do you reduce stress during the holiday season? Let us know in the comment section below.