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Challenge: Reducing Holiday Stress

We Don't Travel to Every Holiday Gathering, and We're Not Sorry

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There was a time in my life that I loved to be on the run. Life was so uncomplicated and easy, so spontaneous and free that the hustle and bustle actually energized me.  

I loved fighting the crowds for that Black Friday deal that I had absolutely no need for, and I loved staying busy. It gave me purpose and filled my days.  

Ten years and two babies later, I find myself craving moments of stillness more than I crave a good pedicure after a long, cold winter. And that ought to tell you something.

The running around just doesn’t fill me up the way it used to. In fact, it leaves me feeling more drained than when I started.  

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned these past few years, it’s that busy does not equal happy.  

But here we are, smack dab in the middle of the single busiest time of year: the holidays. Don’t get me wrong, I’m basically the Holiday Cheermeister in the flesh. I love few things more than Christmas spirit and Yuletide carols. And yes, I just used the word “Yuletide” in a real sentence. Judge away, Scrooges.  

But the business. The constant rushing from one holiday gathering to the next. The stress of last-minute gifts to buy and road trips to make. That part has lost its sparkle.  

It’s not that I don’t enjoy spending time with the people I love most during the most wonderful time of the year. That’s actually my favorite part about the holidays, hands down.  

It’s the prep work. The packing and the hauling. The schedules to juggle and the routines to manage. It’s the fact that something as blissful as Christmas becomes a scheduling nightmare requiring all but a formal arbitration to get on the calendar. It’s the running. And it was stealing my joy.  

For years I kept on in that same old way. And it wasn’t until my first baby was born that I realized some valuable lessons that made our holiday more merry and less stressful.

  1. It’s okay (and sometimes advisable) to say ‘no.’  No doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to spend time with you or that I don’t value our relationship. No, simply means this isn’t going to work for me, it’s not what’s best for me, or it’s not possible. No is the way I can protect my time and my sanity. No isn’t personal. It just means that I’m saturated. Or your party conflicts with my kids’ bedtime. Or that I’m tired or overwhelmed. No is about me, not you.
  2. Consolidate gatherings (when you can) to create fewer hectic days.  I realize you won’t always have control over the planning. But if you have input, shoot to plan a couple of commitments on the same day. If you can hit your in-laws in the morning and your grandparents in the afternoon, you’ll create fewer days on the run.
  3. Make the most of your time.  When you get to your destinations, enjoy the time you have. Be fully present. Stay off your phone. Catch up with your loved ones and really invest in them. Utilize the time you do have, and make it count. If you do this, you won’t need to spend all day at every stop on your list. You may be short on quantity, but you’ll have quality in spades.
  4. Carve out time for your family to be still, and make those moments non-negotiable.  If you hear nothing else from me today, hear this. You have got to make your own family a priority. No one else is going to make sure that you have alone time as a family. If you want family traditions, that’s on you. You want holiday magic at your house that your kids will remember? Schedule it. As soon as we had kids in the picture, we claimed Christmas Eve. Period. No discussion, no negotiations. Christmas Eve and Christmas morning are for us and our kids. That may not be your thing. But I would encourage you to find your thing. Those quiet moments where the world stands still for a while and you’re not rushing to the next commitment are invaluable, and for me, what creates that magical feeling that Christmastime brings.
  5. Don’t limit yourself by the date on the calendar.  Remember that the holidays are just a date. It’s easy to get hung up on December 25, but it’s the time spent together that really matters. So don’t feel pressured to fit all of your gatherings into Christmas-week. Instead, utilize as much of the month as you can to make the season more enjoyable and less chaotic. If the days surrounding Christmas are getting too busy, schedule your ornament party for December 8. Who cares if it’s a little bit early?
  6. Take advantage of technology.  If you can’t (or don’t want to) make the trip, turn to your video chatting platform of choice to stay connected. Say hello, catch up with loved ones, and even get in on the gift-giving without leaving home. Just because you’re not there in person doesn’t mean you can’t create valuable moments of quality time.
  7. Don’t let the runaround overtake the reason. And if it does, refer back to rule #1.  Ultimately you can’t control it all, and some obligations are going to be what they’ve always been. But you can control how you choose to spend your time, how you react to stress, and how all of that makes you feel. Prioritize. Do what makes you happy. Enjoy as much as you can. And then do your best with the rest.

I’m not saying that if you follow these tips you’ll end up with a Hallmark-worthy Christmas. Although spending the holidays in a snowy, secluded cabin away from everything does sound pretty amazing.

What I am saying is that the holidays don’t have to make you crazy. If you’re willing to step outside of your box and adjust your expectations, I believe it’s possible to find balance among the chaos.

So here’s to all you road warriors. May your eggnog be strong and your families be understanding. And most of all, may you find true joy this year, whatever that looks like for you.

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