A few years ago, around this time of year, I found myself behind a car whose license plate read: “IMEDIT8.” I couldn’t help but smile. I had been thinking about how stressful the holidays can get – it seems that everyone I speak with mentions in the same breath how the holidays are coming up so quickly, and how busy they will be as a result.
In the past, I found myself taking on a lot of extra responsibilities around the holidays, but for the past few years, I have made a concerted effort not to overextend myself. I do this by continually reassessing what is necessary and what isn’t, what is possible and what isn’t, what brings me joy, and what doesn't.
In addition to trying to do too many things in too short a period of time, a large source of stress around the holidays comes from our expectations (even if only subconsciously) that everything should be perfect – our family will gather in peace and love, everyone’s wishes will come true, and everyone will sing in perfect harmony. However, this is generally not the reality of the holidays. And we can become stressed striving for perfection that is neither attainable, nor even necessarily desirable.
It is important to be alert to signs that you are under too much stress, such as irritability, anxiety, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, headaches, neck pain, stomachaches, etc. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is probably time to take a breather, delegate, or drop the things that aren’t really necessary. Simplify.
There is an organization, New Dream, devoted to promoting the idea of simplifying our lives by de-emphasizing the material. Their mission is to offer resources that make it easier to live consciously and buy wisely. New Dream offers several booklets on ways to make your holidays more simple and more enjoyable. Their website also features a downloadable coupon booklet (to give to people time, experiences, and memories, instead of physical gifts), tips for a less stressful holiday season, an alternative gift registry, and much more.
Every year, I shop at an alternative gift fair in which several local nonprofit organizations offer gift cards or small items (like handmade ornaments) representing your donation. These make thoughtful gifts for the people on your list who “have everything.”
And, to help ease some of the stress, here are some ideas for holiday self care:
1) Don’t demand perfection. Instead, focus on what is most important to you, and be realistic about what you can accomplish given your time and budget. Remember, the holidays are supposed to be joyful!
2) Set boundaries around how you are willing to allocate your time. If you feel overextended, realize that you don’t have to please everyone. It’s okay to spread out your visits, or have shorter ones.
3) Take time for yourself. Make time for fun and relaxation: take a walk, play a game, read, meditate. It’s also important not to let exercise fall by the wayside. Exercise helps to reduce stress, improve sleep, and increase your energy and stamina by increasing levels of mood-enhancing, energy-promoting neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.