The holidays are the perfect storm for stress, according to Mara Glatzel, MSW, a coach who helps women cultivate the lives they deserve. Thanks to the combination of sky-high expectations, over-scheduling, overspending and scant self-care, it’s no wonder so many of us dread the holiday season.
But while the holidays can be challenging, you can enjoy them your way. As Ashley Eder, LPC, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colo., said, “You are free to honor what feels right to you, and you can even decide that as you go. Good people in your life will support you in this.”
Here are 8 tips to help you have an enjoyable, and fairly stress-free holiday.
1. Adjust your expectations.
“Stress has been described as the difference between our expectations and reality,” Eder said. For instance, if you’re expecting your cantankerous family to suddenly shelve all their conflicts just because it’s Christmas, you’ll probably be disappointed — and stressed out.
“The more rigidly attached we are to a particular outcome, the more likely we are to be disappointed, and this can apply to family relationships, money, and even the food on the table,” Eder said.
The good news is that while we can’t control our families or friends – or many other factors — we can control our expectations, she said.
“Make an honest assessment of your family, your circumstances, and your plans,” she said. Then see how you can create more realistic and flexible expectations.
2. Plan ahead for self-care.
It’s precisely when life has the potential of getting stressful that we need to stick to our self-care practices. “Schedule in time for pleasurable things like time to yourself, a new book to read, a holiday pass to the gym, a phone call with a long-distance friend, or even a Netflix marathon,” Eder said.
Glatzel schedules her self-care rituals weeks before. “I block these out weeks ahead of time, so that I know that if nothing else, I have made it a priority to head to a great yoga class or simply take a long, luxurious shower and watch a fun movie,” she said.
3. Just say “no.”
If you don’t have time to do something or you don’t want to, kindly decline the invite or request. “If you are miserable, you aren’t helping anyone,” said Kathryn Tristan, author of Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living and a research scientist at Washington University School of Medicine. Here’s a great article on saying no and letting go.
4. Focus on the present.
“Instead of worrying about the future or anguishing over the past, remain in present time being fully immersed in whatever you are doing,” Tristan said.
Whether you’re baking, writing out cards, wrapping presents, traveling or taking a walk, focus on the present. Being mindful of the moment helps you reduce stress and feel more at peace, she said.
5. Pitch perfection.
“What you think about, you bring about,” Tristan said. That’s why she suggested readers focus not on perfection — which is impossible anyway — but on pleasure.
For instance, “Enjoyment comes from simple camaraderie,” she said. It doesn’t come from agonizing over details, which most people don’t even notice, she said. (And if they do, so what?)
6. Scale down parties.
If a big party brings big stress for you, then “make it smaller and add more quality instead of quantity,” Tristan said.
7. Reschedule parties for the new year.
Tristan suggested “easing tight schedules and extending the fun by hosting a Winter Festival party in January.” This is a good option if you’re downsizing a holiday party but still want to have a bigger get-together later on.
8. Be flexible.
If you have conflicting schedules and are crunched for time, brainstorm creative solutions, Tristan said. Alternate which family members and friends host the get-togethers, she said. Instead of buying a gift – and a pricey one at that – for everyone, draw names, she said. And consider volunteering at a local shelter, she said.
“If the holidays are hard for you, you’re not alone,” Eder said. “It’s OK to grieve for what you don’t have at the holidays.”
Just remember, “You absolutely deserve a holiday that is sane and grounded in love for yourself,” Glatzel said. “Reclaim those rituals that you’ve been participating in but begrudging, and give yourself permission to participate on your own terms this year.”