The holidays bring with them time to spend with loved ones, eat comfort food and share gifts, but this incredible time also invites unwelcome stress. You likely have multiple holiday parties and family homes to visit, including prepping your own home for festivity to fulfill family obligations and responsibilities.
Having so much on your plate leads to holiday burnout—like a tiered cake, with each layer representing a new level of stress: family drama, financial burdens, emotional overload and forgotten gifts. Give yourself more credit. Instead of letting stress overtake your senses, ease your holiday stress with these six tips.
Plan Well in Advance
Most of us aim to plan early, but life gets the best of us. Somehow, the holidays always manage to sneak up like that creepy Elf on a Shelf. Focus on bite-sized goals and realistic expectations to plan successfully in advance.
Do you meal plan and keep a family calendar, if only loosely? Consider starting a holiday calendar that maps out your strategies for decorating, parties, gift giving and shopping for food, or keep it loose by using a big checklist that counts down the days until Christmas.
What are family traditions that can’t be skipped? You don’t have to trek across the state and country for everyone—they can take turns, too. Whoever has plans solidified first gets a spot on the planner. Make sure to leave breaks for stress relief and self-care, also.
What about traditions you want to start? Balance is essential—if you want to focus on giving gifts to your children, do it. Make homemade jam and knit items for your cousins, aunts and uncles.
Ask the Kids How They Want to Help
You can’t blame kids for moaning and groaning about chores—after all, who likes doing them? Ask your kids about the parts of the holidays they’d prefer to help out with, and balance out the big and light tasks to lighten the load.
Everyone can help with decorations. For example, the big kids can focus on hanging garlands and breakable ornaments. The little kids can help you make a popcorn garland or decorate cookies. You can even start teaching young how to dry dishes or help you cook mac and cheese or mashed potatoes.
Set Aside Time to Help Others
Besides helping around the house, ask your children about how they can help others in the community. They may want to adopt a family for the holidays, give gifts to other children or gather items for the food pantry. Let your children take charge of their own project to help others, and lend a guiding hand for each step as needed.
Giving to others lifts your spirits, reduces stress and increases your happiness. One 2015 study that surveyed 77 adults from ages 18 to 44 found the more acts of kindness adults performed, the less stressed they were. Small gestures to “pay it forward,” such as buying a cup of coffee for a stranger or baking cookies for your neighbor, refocuses your stress into good and helps it dissipate.
Check Your Budget Twice & Stick to the List
Just as Santa checks his list twice, keep your household budget in order by doing the same. Don’t drain your savings, and don’t skip paying bills. What can you afford? How can you save?
Start with your next big holiday event. For Thanksgiving, it may be cheaper just to make the turkey and tell others to bring sides, desserts and drinks. What about other holiday meals? Do you have to bring a side or bake cookies for a community fundraiser? Don’t forget to take both activities and gifts into account. Remember, the holiday is about celebrating warmth and love, not consumerism. Sometimes, loved ones who like shiny, expensive gifts need a reminder, too. Focus on giving meaningful gifts and cheer.
Give Yourself Time to Breathe
While giving time to others, don’t forget to give yourself time to breathe and de-stress. Do it for your own mental health, whether you’re rushing to care for others or facing family drama since you can’t make it across the state. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you can’t take care of anyone else.
The cold season brings illness and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where the shorter days make you more prone to mood swings, fatigue, anxiety and short-term depression. While the holidays are joyous when you’re around your loved ones, it also may invoke less fond memories or sadness, such as the end of a relationship or a recent death. Don’t stress yourself out with others’ assumptions that you should “just get over it.” Bone-deep fatigue, grief and anxiety take time and must work themselves out.
Adhering to a basic personal health routine is the best way to keep yourself centered and balanced. If you can’t make three meals a day, enjoy smaller meals of five. Developing a bedtime ritual will also help you calm down and increase your quality of sleep, such as lowering the lights and reading a book an hour before bed.
Give yourself extra luxuries, such as a piece of dark chocolate, for peace of mind. Meet a friend for coffee while out doing errands and grocery shopping. Color with the kids, and let the dishes sit for an extra hour.
Make R&R a Holiday Tradition
Why not simplify the entire process instead of making a fuss? Be defiant and dare to stay in your pajamas, watch Netflix and make three dozen cookies just for you and the little ones.
Drive only to essential family functions and traditions, but allow stops to sightsee and have family fun on the way. Take a walk on Christmas Eve after a big meal. Read a book or watch a movie together. Keep family gift-giving simple, and buy only three gifts for each member of the family: one that’s needed, one that’s wanted and one that’s useful.
Simplify decorating as much as possible, too. For example, purchase a pre-lit tree or already made wreath for low-maintenance decking of the halls. Pick a wall and line it with lights or a garland. Wreaths on exterior doors provide enough holiday cheer without adding more stress to your plate.
Write “unwinding” on your holiday calendar and schedule in new R&R traditions to enjoy with the family—and a few for just you. Taking time to slow down is just as important as attending those big get-togethers.
By planning ahead, helping others, relaxing, sticking to realistic expectations and budgeting, you’ll make it to the New Year without bags under your eyes, but with money in your pocket and plenty of holiday cheer left for next year.