I’m a type-A personality to a tee. I have a list for everything: recipes, grocery lists, books to read, gift ideas, etc. And while my lists usually keep me motivated and on task, they tend to have the opposite effect around the holidays — they add to the mounting anxiety and stress of the season since I know there’s no way I’ll get everything done.
I don’t think I’m alone in saying there’s something about the holiday season that elevates stress levels. Maybe it’s the pressure to create the “perfect” holiday, the prospect of awkward family gatherings, or a never-ending to-do list. Regardless of the reason, stress can negatively affect your health and cause you to dread what’s supposed to be a joyful time of year. This year, I vow to slow down, ditch the lists, and find ways to enjoy the holidays, without the added stress. Here’s my plan:
Top 5 Tips for a Stress-free Holiday
- Embrace the idea that less is more. Let go of the idea of a “perfect” holiday. You don’t need to send hand calligraphed cards to each one of your Facebook friends, your house doesn’t need to be lit up like the Griswolds’, and you don’t need to make the stuffing from scratch. (Seriously, everyone loves the boxed stuff.) Resist the cultural pressure to go bigger and better every year. Oftentimes, it’s the simplest traditions that bring the most joy and are the ones that your family will remember most.
- Maintain healthy habits. Healthy habits tend to fall by the wayside during the holidays, but you’ll feel better physically and mentally if you stick to healthy habits. Enjoy holiday food in moderation, try to get enough sleep, and make sure you stay active. But be realistic: the holidays are also about enjoying yourself, so cut yourself some slack. If you can’t keep up your usual workout routine, just make sure you’re up and moving. (How about a game of flag football with your siblings?)
- Set boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to family commitments, the office White Elephant, hosting the annual cookie exchange, or other social gatherings. If flying cross-country with three kids in tow to spend the holidays with your in-laws is going to put you over the edge, be honest and say that it’s just too much this year. Propose another date when you can all meet up during a less hectic time of the year.
- Carve out time to decompress. Feeling overwhelmed? Squeeze in some downtime so you can recharge. You’ll feel better and enjoy time with the family that much more if you’ve had some alone time. If you are visiting family or having family staying with you, take advantage of the extra hands to delegate tasks (or babysitting) and volunteer to run to the grocery store (so you can visit your favorite coffee shop while you’re out), offer to take the dog for a walk, or duck out for a yoga or meditation class while everyone’s watching football.
- Practice gratitude. It’s easy to get swept up in the materialism of the season, but you lose sight of what really matters when the focus is on gifts. Donating food or volunteering at a soup kitchen, “adopting” a family in need who can’t afford to buy gifts, or spending time with a senior citizen who has no family around gives you perspective about what really matters. You’ll have a newfound appreciation for your mooch of a brother when you realize that not everyone is lucky enough to have family to celebrate the holidays with.
While no one has a completely stress-free holiday, you can minimize the amount of stress that permeates your holiday season. You have control over what you let affect you. And remember, if you’re feeling more stress than normal, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.