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Ask Amy: How Do I Feel Less Stressed Around The Holidays?

Every year, just blink your eyes and the holidays are here! No matter which ones you celebrate, November is the kick-off to what I call the ‘season of stress.’ Let’s discuss some stress management techniques.

The data says the holidays are, well, complicated. On one hand, holidays are largely fueled by perfectionism and sky-high expectations — as much as we might love the festivities, they can be physically and mentally draining. On the other hand, they’re the time of year people value most. One survey found 78% of people report feeling joyful this time of year. And yet at the same time 61% report feeling stressed at least sometimes during the holidays. Another 47% feel pressure about purchasing gifts, 62% are concerned about money, and 67% are already worrying about time constraints.

Whew! Sounds like ‘perfectionism’ to me. When perfectionism flares up, it can become the killer of joy. This is felt very acutely by women. Largely in charge of decorating, shopping, cooking, hosting and more. And regardless if it’s real or not, we women often feel not only the weight of the world, but the burden of holidays past which have been colored by happy memories. 

Whether it’s spending all day in the kitchen preparing traditional Thanksgiving recipes or setting a superbly well-appointed table, holiday perfectionism can ruin the day if things don’t go according to plan. Some stress management techniques will help.

The good news is there’s still time for an intervention

Begin by acknowledging the issue. Think back to recent years, paying close attention to how you felt. Were you anxious in the planning stages? Did you over-promise? Were you forced to scale back in any way? Did you run out of time to do everything you wanted? Did you forget to relax and enjoy the experience? Were you dissatisfied with the outcome? Did you feel totally drained and exhausted once the holiday was over?

If most of your answers were ‘yes,’ you are likely a seasonal ‘stresser’!

The first order of business is to remind yourself that no one is perfect. And no one will remember the things that didn’t happen — small mistakes will go unnoticed, I promise. If something goes really awry, it simply becomes part of the family nostalgia. I remember waiting hours for the turkey to cook only to find out no one turned on the oven. And one Christmas in the middle of cooking my much-loved tenderloin, a fuse blew and we were forced to finish the meat on the grill! You have to tell yourself things like that really don’t matter.

Christmas and Hanukkah present the added anxiety of gifting and decorating, and that includes wrapping. If you’re like me, it’s almost a competitive sport! I am obsessive about colors and general theme or vibe and heaven help someone who rocks the boat with a conflicting pattern. I am outing myself by admitting I have actually re-wrapped packages in my own seasonally hand-picked paper so that everything under the tree and around the house is cohesive. I say this so you know I’m with you my soul sisters.

Anyway, like they sing in the movie Frozen, you have to “Let it Go.”

Some good stress management techniques for holidays parties

Now, let’s start with holiday decor. Make a plan, set reasonable expectations, set aside a limited amount of time and get it done. Then move on. Doesn’t matter which holiday; plan accordingly.

One of the biggest stress bombs is the food. From creating the menu, gathering recipes, purchasing food and beverages to cooking and presenting, a lot can go wrong. If you find it too taxing, then downshift. Make fewer things but do them well. Or feel free to outsource. If you are too prideful to ask guests to pitch in, cater some of your items. Many local restaurants and specialty delis are happy to oblige. Some caterers will prepare your recipes!

As for the gifts, there are so many ways to offload your stress. Online shopping is a staple nowadays allowing you to shop from the comfort of home at your leisure. So you can do it whenever it suits your schedule. Plus, the world is literally at your fingertips. If you are truly time-challenged having packages delivered to your doorstep is a huge relief.

Make it your objective to stay ahead of stress. Holiday high-achievers are so busy thinking about creating lasting memories, they are often missing out on the beauty of the season and enjoying it with friends and loved ones.

Which brings me to a final point. Think about how your behavior affects the people around you. No one wants crazy mom frantically checking off her holiday punch list. Everybody happy yet? Tension is contagious and it can ruin the mood, in spite of an otherwise perfect celebration. A truly happy holiday should include comfort and joy, so relax. It will be over (and then back again) before you know it!

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