We’re all under it – as soon as the Thanksgiving weekend is over it feels like everything moves into fast forward until Christmas! We women especially feel it, don’t we? With our long to-do lists, the pressure to make everyone’s dreams come true, and the endless preparations to make Christmas perfect, how do we minimize the stress so we don’t become Mrs. Scrooge?
Prioritize and Budget Your Resources
No one can do it all. We all have only so much time, energy, and money to spend. If we want to spend it well, we need to clarify what’s most important to us and our family this holiday season. Is it making time to go to a holiday concert or ballet? Cooking a wonderful meal? Baking cookies with your children? Spending quality time with friends and family? Shopping and beautifully wrapping all your presents?
After you’ve listed everything you’d like to do, be realistic. Do you have the resources to accomplish these things? Or are you going to stress yourself out by overextending yourself? Don’t do that.
Instead, choose the most important things from your list. Use your resources for those things. Simplify the rest or let them go.
When my children were small I wanted us to bake a birthday cake for Jesus. However, the week before Christmas was always hectic, and what seemed like a good idea now felt stressful and burdensome to accomplish. Here’s a simple solution. Instead of baking a cake, buy plain white frosted cupcakes. Get tubes of sprinkles, edible glitter, and frosting, and let the kids decorate their own “cake” for Jesus’ birthday. You can do the same with plain sugar or gingerbread cookies.
You don’t have to send Christmas cards this year with a picture of the family on them; in fact, you don’t have to send them at all. Your house doesn’t have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting. A lot of holiday stress can be avoided if we don’t put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all beautifully or perfectly. Good enough is OK.
One year we cut down a Christmas tree ourselves, got it up in the stand, and put the lights on it, but never got the ornaments on. It still looked beautiful and we all remember that as one of our best Christmases.
Pay Attention to Your Mood and Your Body
One of the ways I can tell that I’m doing too much is that my “being” is compromised by my “doing.” I’ve used up my energy resources. I’m tired and crabby. I’m short- tempered with my husband or children when they’re keeping me from accomplishing all I have to do. Something has to give, and I don’t want it to be my relationships.
Another problem with the holidays is that we tend to eat too much and skip exercise because of our busy schedule. As a result we gain weight and feel bloated and sluggish. Although I’m not suggesting you skip the wonderful foods available at holiday festivities, be mindful of how much you’re eating and what your body is telling you. Eat some fruit or a cup of vegetable soup before going to a holiday party so you’re not ravenous. You can still indulge, but you probably won’t eat as much junk.
Make Time for Quiet Prayer
I love the story in Mark 1:29-39 where Jesus was pressured by the whole town to stay and do more healing. It was during His time of quiet prayer, however, that Jesus clarified His purpose. He discerned what was best, and didn’t settle for doing what people expected from Him.
Planned times of quiet and solitude are a good balance for the hectic pace of the holidays. Guarding our quiet time helps us more fully experience His presence throughout the day.
Many of us use prayer to try to change a stressful situation. Although this is not a bad idea, prayer often doesn’t change the situation as much as it changes us. As we purposely quiet our hearts each day, the Holy Spirit has a chance to change the way we see our situation. That may be just what we need in order to better cope.
Prepare and Practice for Anticipated Difficult Family Situations
For many of us, holiday gatherings often bring up old hurts and replay family dynamics that are destructive. Don’t walk into an obviously difficult family situation without first making a plan.
Prepare yourself mentally and spiritually through prayer and practice. Imagine what difficulties you might encounter and how you want to respond to them in a godly way. Mentally rehearse your responses to difficult situations so that you handle your own reactions without regrets. You cannot change or control another person, but you can prepare yourself so that if provoked, you will not react in a sinful way.
Give some prayer and thought about how you want to go into this holiday season, so it’s a joyful time instead of a stressful one.
Leslie Vernick, DCSW, LCSW