Six Ways to Reduce Stress During the Holidays

On NaBloPoMo Day 10, activities for the approaching holidays are fast gearing up – advertising in the media is intensive now and expectations are growing. I thought about some of the actions that I try to adhere to, in order to keep body and soul together, and to enjoy the holidays with family and friends – as well as remember what it is really about. It is no fun if I feel overwhelmed, committed to attend activities that do not interest me, or worried about financial obligations we are taking on. I’ve found some of the following to be helpful in preparing for the holidays and in enjoying the season.

1. ORGANIZE – ORGANIZE – ORGANIZE. Setting clear goals and a plan of action to achieve these goals puts us in charge of events, rather than waiting for events to unfold -tossing us here and there. This is essential to surviving the holidays well. (see November 5th blog: The Holidays Are Coming and It’s Time to Get Organized)

2. TAKE A TIME-OUT EVERY DAY. The old adage seems so true that a woman’s work is never done. Whether you are still mothering children or teens at home, caring for grandchildren, balancing home and work, or caring for an ill or disabled family member, the demands are many. We set out to be superwomen and in a sense it is amazing what we accomplish. But, having said that, we are human – we need food, sleep, meaningful activity and yes – we need time out – an adult recess to play, re-charge.

Building a time-out “me time” into our schedule can stop the crazy merry-go-round and may help to clear heads and sharpen our focus – remind us of our priorities. Alone time can be 30 minutes in the morning before others get up if you are an early riser, or in the evening when the house is quiet – or an afternoon or even a full time-out day to do just what you want to do that brings you joy – lunch with a friend, going to the bookstore, shopping alone, or reading a book.

Don’t underestimate the value of short time-outs for your own well being – even 15 minutes. Women take care of everyone else… We should do no less for ourselves… We deserve it. Find your own retreat (November 3rd blog: Finding Your Own Personal Retreat.

3. DESIGN A PLAN TO SHOP FOR GIFTS THAT FITS YOUR BUDGET, YOUR PERSONAL WISHES AND YOUR TIME. Set a plan for the gifts you choose to purchase. If you have suggestions for gift giving this year with extended family or friends, make them known early – and share your thoughts and decisions for this year. It is a terrible idea to go into January burdened with debt from Christmas. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Make a list before you go shopping and shop for specific items on your list. Then stop buying when you complete your list. If it is an especially tight year financially, find ways to celebrate without breaking your budget (e.g.,homemade gifts or one family gift.)

The first year I was married, I was shopping in downtown Louisville, KY, on Christmas Eve, with my new mother-in-law and sister-in-law. We locked the car trunk with all our purchases to shop for one more item we wanted to buy. A thief broke into the car, removed the back seat and stole our Christmas – all of it! We didn’t have the money to buy again, as several of us were in graduate school. So we all cut out pictures from magazines of what we had bought for each other and wrapped it up in Christmas paper. I remember I received a picture of a beautiful slip as one gift. We laughed as each was opened and we had a wonderful Christmas (played hearts and charades I think). I remember this Christmas with joy and warm feelings.

4. MAKE PLANS TO CARRY FORWARD AT LEAST A FEW FAMILY TRADITIONS from year to year, related to specific food for Christmas dinner (e.g., granny’s pumpkin pie), decorations, entertaining, or family rituals (e.g.,attending candlelight service, caroling, reading the Christmas story, re-telling the Night Before Christmas, hanging grandmother’s ornaments). If there are few traditions that you wish to carry forward – create new ones. These become part of the family’s identify, give comfort and meaning to the holiday season, joy in each other, and build memories. As a former family therapist, I saw how important family traditions and rituals are to family cohesiveness. I will share a few of our family traditions and rituals in November and December blogs. I welcome your sharing of some of the holiday traditions in your family.

5. SET A PLAN FOR ENTERTAINING based on your own wishes and the interests of your family. Politely decline invitations to social events you do not want to attend. JUST SAY NO. Set a budget for attendance at holiday events that require major funds, if finances are an issue. A few well planned events or smaller events in your home may be more rewarding, than an overload of social commitments and guests.

6. GIVE SOMETHING BACK. This could take many forms, as in financial gifts or in bigger gifts of your time to help with gift wrapping for needy children, helping to serve homeless on holidays, or taking baked goods to Hospice House for the families who will be spending the holidays there with their loved ones. It seems to me that a more generous spirit is loose in the land during the holiday season. There is plenty of mischief and ill meaning folks about, but there are also numerous stories of charity and good will. Small things can be passed forward that can make a real difference in someone’s life – such as taking a cup of hot cocoa and warm cookies to the mailman, smiling at clerks, greeting neighbors, paying anonymously for the meal order of a veteran. There are so many ways we can open our hearts and let our children see we belong to the community of a diverse group of humans. I know this sounds terribly sentimental and I try not to go there in my writing… but you know what… Christmas brings it out in me…!

My husband took a time-out with me and we walked our two miles on the greenway and back home. The trees are glorious, as more leaves fall each day – and the blue Carolina sky is a sharp contrast to the lively colors of the trees.


Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

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