When my children were still in elementary school, I went out of my way to make the holidays special for our family and friends. I spent hours writing Christmas cards, decorating the house, baking, shopping, and hosting parties. I remember one night when I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. to frost 30 gingerbread cookies for the students in my son’s class. By December 25th, I was exhausted and sick of Christmas.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the chaos and demands of the holiday season. We tend to go overboard to please others and make very little time for ourselves.
It doesn’t always have to be this way. There are some simple steps you can take to lessen the stress and enjoy the holiday season. The key is to plan ahead and stick to a doable timeline.
1. Forget perfection
Stop setting the holiday bar impossibly high. Things will go wrong — houses get messy, plans get canceled at the last minute, deadlines are missed, meals get burned, families argue, and gift-giving goes unappreciated. If you’re expecting the holiday perfection of a Norman Rockwell painting, you’ll be disappointed when your expectations fall short. Remember that some things — like squabbling relatives or packages lost in the mail — are out of your control. Take a deep breath and move on.
If you already have an exercise routine, stick with it to maintain your heart rate and boost your mood. If you don’t have a regular routine, get outside for some fresh air. A brisk, 30-minute walk is a great stress reliever, and it will give you time to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.
3. Shorten your shopping time
If possible, do the majority of your shopping online to avoid crowds and long lines. Driving around town from store to store takes up too much time. Strategize your shopping by making a list and setting aside 1-2 days to get it all done. My family sends me links to the items they’re interested in, which makes it incredibly fast and easy for me to shop online. Even after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, some stores still also offer free shipping. You’ll be saving on both time and gas.
4. Hire help for decorating your home
Keep the indoor decorations simple, and schedule one day to get it all done, including the Christmas tree. If you prefer outdoor light displays but don’t have the hours to manage it, hire someone to do it for you, or ask your adult children to help. Offer them dinner in return or a batch of cookies to show your appreciation.
Another option is to hire a teen from the neighborhood who is interested in doing small jobs for quick cash. It’s much cheaper than hiring a professional service to decorate your front lawn.
5. Holiday cooking shortcuts
If a major part of your holiday includes baking goodies, there are many ways to cut corners. Rather than baking 12 different types of cookies, limit the amount by making the top three family favorites. Most raw cookie dough freezes well, which means you can make the recipe weeks before the chaos of the holidays begin, bag it up and freeze it until you’re ready to pop it in the oven. I love to make seasonal bread for holiday meals and gifts, so I bake the loaves weeks in advance and freeze them until I need them.
While you’re busy with all of the holiday preparations, you’ll still need to plan dinner each night. Make a variety of quick-fix casseroles early in December (I make double batches to save time), freeze them and serve them later in the month when the days are more hectic. A crockpot or Instapot is especially helpful this time of year, and there are plenty of recipes online that can be made in advance and frozen for later use. And of course, ordering out is also an option now that there are so many healthier choices available.
6. Stick to your daily routine
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when your schedule suddenly changes with the added work of the holiday season. If you have a specific day for grocery shopping after work or weekly yoga classes, don’t cancel your plans. Follow your regular routine and you’ll feel more in control and less stressed about minor disruptions that may occur.
7. It’s OK to say no
Don’t overschedule your days to the point of exhaustion. You are not obligated to attend every party or performance that you’re invited to. Stick to a simple holiday agenda by taking on only 1-2 jobs, and learn to delegate guilt-free.
If there are family traditions that you feel compelled to do but stress you out, consider giving them up. Do you really need to send out 70 Christmas cards, or make every cookie recipe your grandmother once baked? This is not the time to add extra work to your already-busy schedule. Tailor family customs to your own schedule and stick with a handful of traditions that matter most.
8. Stay positive
It’s easy to become impatient with people during the holidays. Traffic is heavier, lines are longer, and everything feels rushed. Remember that not everyone enjoys the holidays, especially those who are alone. Be compassionate and respond with kindness.
You should also avoid any negative feelings that trigger stress. Focus instead on the aspects of the holiday season that bring you joy — the lights, the music, and quality time spent with family.
9. Don’t overspend
Before shopping for gifts, set a spending limit, and stick to your budget, no matter how tempting it may be to splurge. The financial strain of impulse shopping will only add additional stress to your holiday.
10. Get enough rest
This may be difficult if your holiday to-do list is a mile long, but it’s essential that you sleep the same amount each night that your body is accustomed to. This will help lower your stress level, keep your mind sharp, and your immune system strong against illness.
11. Do something fun with your family
Take the family out for a movie night or a drive around town to see all the Christmas lights. Gather the family on the couch to watch old holiday classics on TV with a bowl of popcorn and some hot cocoa. Spending special time with family will strengthen bonds and creates new holiday memories.
12. Make time for yourself
Whether this means taking an afternoon nap, getting a pedicure, meditating, or reading a good book, you need to make time for yourself. Turn off the phone and create a cozy atmosphere that will help you relax — candles, a Christmas music playlist, a warm bubble bath — whatever it takes to recharge your batteries.
The best way to keep your spirits up during the holidays is to tap into the excitement and wonder that you felt as a child on Christmas morning and spread the good cheer to those around you.
Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of ‘Who Stole My Spandex? Life In The Hot Flash Lane’ and blogs at Menopausal Mom.