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Challenge: Reducing Holiday Stress

A Tightly-Wound Woman's Guide to Keeping Your Cool at Christmas

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At present, I have five to-do lists sprawled across my desk. Writing to-do lists gives me life...but carrying them out can be overwhelming. As the lists grow and the daylight fades, my stress-level rises.

This is especially true around the holidays.

How can a tightly-wound woman keep her cool amid the planning, festivities, and demands of the holiday season?

For starters, let's remember that it is impossible and unnecessary to do all the things.

Here in the Midwest, we live for summer (well most of us husband is one of the weird ones who gets giddy for cold weather. He once took a winter camping class where he slept in an igloo all night...he was in heaven).

When summer hits we turn into crazed maniacs—trying to fit every fun thing we've ever wanted to do into the summer season. We cram our schedules to the brim with camping, ice cream, swimming, travel, BBQ's, and concerts. Then we wonder where summer went; it's over before we know it.

And I'm afraid many of us have done the same thing with Christmas. We're so excited to celebrate and desperate for something to hope in, that we often overdo it and end up exhausted, grinchy, and broke.

We stress ourselves out trying to fit every fun holiday thing into the nooks and crannies of December.

We commit to making five thousand sugar cookies for the kids' school party, we agree to singing the alto 2 part in the church choir for all three Christmas Eve services, we try to paint barn wood signs for gifts because we saw a really cool "pin" about it, all while trying to compose a Christmas letter to send to a hundred of our closest friends, assuring them we have it all together...but in reality, we feel more like we got run over by a reindeer during this "most wonderful time of the year."


Here is a handful of ideas to help you unwind and keep your cool this holiday season:

  1. Simplify: Choose a few events to participate in and say “no” to the rest or limit your involvement. Curb the guilt and give yourself and your loved ones the gift of sanity this season. Keep your holiday simple in order to minimize stress. For example, I wanted to help with a Widow’s Tea at church but I'm also directing a Christmas play. I opted to make cookies for the tea and not attend it at all. I still feel like I'm helping but am not stretching myself too thin (nor helping them stay thin with these easy and delicious Chocolate Mint Cookies).
  2. Be realistic: You only have so many hours in the day and a set number of days in the month. Yield before you say “yes” and pause before you proceed when making holiday commitments and plans. Be realistic with your time and energy level. Think through what that “yes” might mean for you and your family. Pace yourself to avoid burnout and sickness. Read this “Don’t Have To” list from Lisa Jo Baker if you need further permission to let go during the holidays.
  3. Have fun: Don’t forget to engage in activities you enjoy. Snuggle up on the couch with a good movie and some hot cocoa. Go caroling (if that’s your thing). Or drive around town and look at the lights. Holiday hype doesn’t have to be costly. Instead of stuffing your days with too many tasks and tinsel, make a list of each family member's top idea for holiday fun and try to make your way through the list this month.
  4. Get some fresh air: It’s chilly here in Michigan. I often forget to make myself go outside, just to breathe deep and get some fresh air. Sometimes you need a change of perspective and the outdoors is a great place to find it. Bundle up and go make a snow angel. Walk over to the neighbor’s house and take some of those mint cookies with you.
  5. Savor: There are wonderful flavors this time of year. Take time to sit and eat. Enjoy the sights, smells, and tastes of the season. Reflect on the birth of Christ and read the account of it in various versions of the Bible. Remember the reason for all the celebrating in the first place. Stare at the Christmas lights on the tree and let your mind rest as you make room for the Messiah.


Getting wound-up in all there is to do is a real temptation during the holidays. And I don't want my kids to remember December with dread, as their mom barked orders, cursed over a batch of failed peppermint bark, or kept them awake practicing her unimpressive alto 2 part on "Carols of the Bells."

As we choose to simplify this season (and kindly decline making five thousand cookies for the school Christmas party) we make room for more joy, more togetherness, and more love.

And isn't that what Christmas is really all about, Charlie Brown?

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