7 Tips For Defusing Holiday Stress

 


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KNOW THYSELF

The first key to creating a peaceful holiday season is identifying those holiday traditions that you ENJOY and those that you don’t. When you spend your precious time and energy on activities that you don’t find rewarding, you are destined to become FRUSTRATED and cranky. So go ahead and be honest with yourself before the season even starts. Make a list of every possible holiday “obligation” that you can think of. Your list might contain (but not be limited to) the following:

- send greeting cards

- bake holiday goodies

- decorate the house

- shop for gifts

- wrap gifts

- make the holiday meal

- attend church services

- go caroling

- volunteer

- visit extended family

- visit friends

- spend time with spouse

- plan family get-together

- spend time with kids

- decorate the tree

- clean house

- shop for food

- attend a concert/play

- watch holiday TV

- visit Santa

- look at lights

- host a party

- attend a party

- take a walk in nature

Now, here’s the real trick - circle those items that you absolutely enjoy doing and don’t want to miss out on this holiday season. And cross out those that you hate, despise, and dread. Be HONEST here! If you loathe baking, don’t try to convince yourself that this year you will turn into Donna Reed with a batch of homemade gingerbread. And you can get very specific if you need to. You might love visiting with your parents, but can’t stand seeing your critical Aunt Louise. That’s fine - make visiting your parents one activity and seeing Aunt Louise another. It might be a good idea to have everyone in your family make their own lists - everyone has different ideas about what activities are joyous and which ones are miserable.

FITTING IN THE JOY

Take a look at your list - which items did you circle? Did you feel so strongly about some activities that you double-circled them or put a star by the side? Those are your true priorities - and no matter what you do this season, you need to MAKE time to fit them in. Notice I didn’t say “find” time - the best way to assure that you will never get around to doing something is to say, “I’ll do it when I find a few free minutes. ” If you want to do it, SCHEDULE it into your calendar. If walking around your neighborhood with your family singing carols and looking at holiday lights is a priority, sit down together and pick an evening and have everyone block it off. It’s as simple as that.

So at the start of the season, decide ahead of time which activities on everyone’s lists are the most important. Of course, you’ll have to be realistic about what you have time for - you may only have enough room in your schedule for each person to pick three priorities instead of eight. And you may need to do a little TRADING with your loved ones - “I’ll go to Christmas Eve services with you, and in return I’d like for you to go for a nature walk on Saturday with me. ” Creating harmony in any situation is about COMPROMISING - just don’t allow yourself to bend so far that you give up all of your priorities for someone else’s. Everyone should feel that his or her needs are being met.

LET GO OF THE “HAVE TO’S”

So the big question now is “how do I fit in all of these priorities when I’ve got other chores to do?” It can seem hard to make time for caroling and roasting chestnuts and all of the good stuff when you have so many OBLIGATIONS. Those “I have to’s” will absolutely kill you! Well let me start by asking WHY you “have to”? Are you being graded on how much you accomplish during the holidays? Are you going to be judged harshly by your family, friends, and co-workers if you skip out on the cards or parties or baking this year? If they do judge you harshly, I guess you need to ask yourself why you would want to have that kind of people in your life in the first place! If you don’t want to do it, a simple NO should be sufficient – especially if you find an activity that everyone in your household has crossed off of their lists. Remember, the only things that you “have to” do in this life are pay taxes and die - putting up a Christmas tree isn’t required!

Let me share a story to illustrate. A few years ago, my husband and I had a really rough year and decided to SKIP OUT on the traditional family Christmas get-together for the first time in our lives. We chose to go on a trip by ourselves - cross-country skiing in the middle of nowhere in Colorado - instead of spending the holidays with our family. And since we were going out of town so early in December, we only put up minimal decorations and didn’t send any holiday cards. We worried and worried that we were going to OFFEND someone with our crass insensitivity - but do you know what happened? Everyone we talked to (family included) said, “Boy, I wish I had the courage to do that!” It turned out that 90% of the people we knew had considered doing the same thing at one point in time, but had never been able to walk away from the pressure of the “have to’s. ” Well, we had a marvelous time (one of our best Christmases ever), everyone loved hearing about our trip, and we now take a holiday vacation every other year.

FIND SOMEONE ELSE TO DO IT

But just because you don’t want to do it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to get done at all. And, just because it needs to be done, doesn’t mean that you have to do it (that’s the reverse corollary!) Start by sitting down with your family and compare everyone’s “wants” and “don’t wants” for the season. This is the time for a little BARGAINING. If you love baking and shopping for presents but really don’t enjoy decorating the house, see if your spouse or kids have decorating marked as a priority on their lists. At the very least, you might find someone else who feels neutral about a chore that you completely despise! The holidays are an excellent time to learn the fine art of NEGOTIATING!

And if you decide as a group that you really do want something done but no one wants to do it, consider HIRING someone else to do it for you. If you like having the house decorated but hate putting up lights and garland, find a florist or interior designer that can take on that particular chore. The same is true of many holiday “obligations. ” If you don’t like cooking, have your holiday meal catered or buy a pre-cooked meal from the local deli or eat out. If you love giving goodies to friends but don’t have time to bake, buy “homemade” cookies from the local bakery. Have a housekeeper give your home a good cleaning before your out-of-town guests arrive. In this age of convenience and SERVICE-ORIENTED businesses, I guarantee that you can find someone who is willing to do almost anything for a fee!

DON’T MAKE IT A CHORE

Unfortunately, many of us have turned the holiday season into just one more chore to be tackled. It’s as though the holidays have been transformed into an intensified “to-do list” - baking, shopping, wrapping, visiting – no wonder the holidays stress people out so badly! But it doesn’t have to be that way - it’s all about PERSPECTIVE. Do you remember when you were a kid and one of your parents introduced you to the “clean up your room” game? Maybe you rushed around trying to see how quickly you could get everything put away - or perhaps you sang and danced while you straightened up. Cleaning up was fun, until you learned to look at it as a CHORE - something to be tolerated, something that “had” to be done but wasn’t in any way enjoyable.

Holiday tasks are the same way. At our house, we turn every holiday “chore” into a PARTY. We have a house decorating party, where we invite our friends to help out, put on some Christmas music, and give everyone spiked eggnog. We take our holiday cards to the local Starbucks and spend a very pleasant afternoon listening to carols, drinking hot cocoa, and chatting as we write out our holiday greetings. We even make gift-wrapping fun (my husband and I compete to see who can get their gifts wrapped the fastest - just like when we were 6 years old!) The point is, you can make anything FUN, if you create the right mood and the right frame of mind. So think about how you can put a cheery spin on at least one “chore” this year - you might be surprised what a good time you have!

LOWER THE BAR

In a world where we seem to think that perfection can be attained if we just work hard enough, we often feel a tremendous pressure to outdo ourselves during the holidays. Each year, we want to buy more gifts (or more expensive gifts) than last year, to host the most elaborate party of the season, to make the house look more festive than any other on the block. And in the process of trying to OUTDO everyone else in the world, we end up missing out on the real meaning of the holidays. We no longer have time to spend with our loved ones, because we are on an insane quest to create the PERFECT holiday.

This year, why not be a little bit REALISTIC about your holiday? Accept right from the start that things may not go perfectly - and the harder you try to mold your holidays exactly as you had planned, the less likely they are to cooperate. And quite frankly, sometimes less is more. Instead of attending a different party full of strangers every night, why not pick two or three gatherings where you will be surrounded by people you love? Rather than planning a seven-course meal serving 75 people, wouldn’t a small potluck dinner with your 10 best friends mean more to you? Do you really need to buy dozens of gifts for your kids, or would they be happy with just a few things they really wanted? Maybe this year, it’s time to focus on the QUALITY of your experiences instead of the QUANTITY.

Ramona Creel is a Professional Organizer and the founder of http://www.OnlineOrganizing.com - a web-based one-stop shop offering everything that you need to get organized at home or at work. At OnlineOrganizing.com, you may get a referral to an organizer near you, shop for the latest organizing products, get tons of free tips, and even learn how to become a professional organizer or build your existing organizing business. And if you would like to read more articles about organizing your life or building your business, get a free subscription to the “Get Organized" and “Organized For A Living" newsletters. Please visit her website or contact Ramona directly at ramona@onlineorganizing.com for more information.

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