(10 Ways to De-stress Your Holidays)
Because the familiar story of Jesus’ birth reports that He was laid in a feeding trough because there was no room for them in the inn, I often imagine Bethlehem as being over-crowded and hectic. The inns were full of all the descendants of David returning to their hometown to be registered for the census. It had to be difficult to wind a way through the packed streets.
Though there was no room in the inn, I imagine that the serenity of the stable on that night provided the perfect contrast to the city outside. For many of us, the holidays are more like the bustling streets of Bethlehem with our overscheduled calendars, exhausted credit cards, and unrealistic expectations of happiness and perfection. So, how do we have a holiday season that is more like the peacefulness of the secluded barn than the insanity of the Bethlehem streets?
1. Plan ahead, but stay flexible – During the holidays you can avoid being overwhelmed at the last minute by planning out when to accomplish certain tasks. However, things will come up that you do not expect. Expect that and try to adjust as needed. It is okay to grieve for what you hoped things would be, but keep yourself open for what you didn’t expect.
2. Be realistic – Maybe this should be said before the previous, but the holidays don’t have to be a certain way or “just like” anything. Know what is realistic for your time and situation. Be open to changing traditions or adjusting schedules when it will rob you of your joy in the moment to insist that things be a certain way.
3. Stick to a budget – Related to realistic expectations, it can be easy to think that Christmas cannot be happy unless we have a certain number of gifts or that someone special gets just the right gift, but before shopping for gifts and food, assess what is realistic for you in your situation.
4. Learn to say no - The holidays will provide ample opportunities to attend events and parties and you will have your own baking, shopping, and other activities that you want to participate in. Prioritize these things and learn to say no (or, “I am sorry, we won’t be able to do that on that evening.”)
5. Don’t ignore yourself – Holidays often stir deep emotions as we remember lost loved ones or have to deal with unpleasant family experiences. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Allow yourself time to express those feelings by yourself or with a trusted person in your life. Don’t ignore or abandon things that you normally do to care for yourself like exercise, prayer, or adequate sleep. People often indulge in too much food or drink at this time of year, but perhaps set expectations and have a plan for that as well.
6. Pick your battles – The holidays are a time of a lot of family gatherings and kids are out of school and at home all day. With fatigue and stress, it can be easy to react to situations with quick biting words or irritable responses. Decide which things are truly worth your time in setting boundaries, enforcing consequences, or talking through. The holidays don’t last forever (it just can feel that way sometimes).
7. Take 5 (or like 15-20) - Just 15-20 minutes alone can be sufficient to refresh you. Sitting in quiet, meditating or praying, getting a massage, taking a walk, listening to music or reading a book are a few things you can do during this time. Make time for this during the Holidays.
8. Stay in the moment - The pressure we put on ourselves to get things just right, the hectic schedules we try to keep, our rush and worry can cause us to just do things just to cross them off a list and then move on the next thing. If we are thinking about where we have been or worried about where we are going, we are not able to be right where we are. Schedule yourself so that where you are, you can just be in that moment. There is such beauty in the holidays. The holidays offer opportunities for true joy and hope, but if we are checking boxes on our way to the next event, we probably won’t see it.
9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Despite your best planning and effort, you may still find yourself persistently overwhelmed, sleepless, hopeless, sad, anxious, or irritable. You may experience conflict with family or disconnect from God. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. Have a trusted friend, a staff member, or therapist (I know one of those) that you can talk to. It is ok to ask for help when you need it…really.
10. Read the list again – Go back and read this list again substituting “Life” for “The Holidays/Holidays”. The lessons pretty much still hold true.