In theory, the holidays are supposed to be a time to celebrate and relax with family and friends, but I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who hasn’t mentioned holiday-related stress in some form, whether it’s due to shopping, holiday cards, or the prospect of dealing with family. Today, I’m offering 10 tips for reducing stress this holiday season, per a blog blast in conjunction with the Parent Bloggers Network and FFDA, a non-profit organization that offers support and assistance for folks who are feeling overwhelmed, both at the holidays and all year long. Please feel free to comment in if you have other tips to share!
1. Set limits around gifting I: Grownup family members. Relative to Laurel, Jon and my immediate families include 3 great-grandparents, 3 grandparents, 12 aunts/uncles, and 3 cousins. The aunts/uncles have done away with gifting one another, save small tokens if so inspired, and we generally limit grandparent and great-grandparent gifts to Laurel-oriented photo or art gifts. Otherwise, we focus on enjoying time and a good meal together.
2. Set limits around gifting II: Spouse/Partner. Jon and I have a new rule that will prevent the need for returns of well intentioned but ill fitting items, keep things financially manageable, and prevent the “Whoa, you spent a lot more money on me than I did on you” scenario. We agreed to do a little shopping for ourselves (and give it to the other person to wrap) but otherwise are limiting ourselves to $30 to spend on each other for any small surprise items.
3. Set limits around gifting III: Kids. I’ll be honest; we don’t buy a lot for Laurel. Like most kids, she’s totally overwhelmed and can’t appreciate anything when a million gifts are thrown at her. We will give her one or two meaningful gifts, plus some small, high-use stocking stuffers (e.g., craft supplies), and call it a day. She'll also probably get some gifts from her aunts, uncles, and grandparents and collectively, this all is more than enough.
4. Teach your kid to give. This tip is more about infusing meaning rather than reducing stress, but it is relevant. Part of our mission to minimize household gifting is so we can give more to those in need. Now that Laurel is old enough to understand giving, we’ve discussed the concept that there are lots of people in the world who are not as fortunate as we are and need very basic things. She is now a part of our efforts to help others. For example, our school did a gift drive for families in need and I took Laurel shopping for these items. She picked out - and we discussed - the mittens, hats, tights, and basic household items for other families, and she also wanted to help wrap them and hand them to the director of our school. She clearly got the message.
5. Travel. We no longer try to do it all. We used to criss-cross all over New England to try to see various components of both sides of our family, but no more. Now we alternate holidays (e.g., my family for Thanksgiving and Jon’s for Christmas one year, and his family for Thanksgiving and mine for Christmas the next). Everyone knows what to expect so there’s no ambiguity, politics, or hurt feelings.
6. Shift your perspective on family stress. Even when limiting ourselves to one side of the family, there are bound to be issues; it’s the nature of family life. Lately, I’ve really been working on shifting my perspective and trying to keep in mind that the world needs more love and forgiveness. I may not agree with how a family member does x, y, or z, but ultimately they are who they are and it’s not my job to try to change them; the best I can do is figure out how to modify my own reaction to reduce stress.
7. Look for opportunity and connection. Related to point #6, I’ve started looking at social gatherings as a means for opportunity and connection instead of the dread I sometimes feel about old baggage or issues. I try to show compassion and kindness and let go of a grudge, or reconnect with a family member if the relationship has been a little wonky. It’s not always easy but it’s far more productive to move forward with positive thoughts than with dread and negative expectations.
8. Take a break from hosting. I love throwing parties but I also tend to work myself up into a frenzy to make everything perfect and beautiful. But this month I’m really overwhelmed with various projects so I decided to forego hosting a holiday gathering. There are plenty of other people up to the task, and I figure I can always try to tackle it next year.
9. If you're hosting, keep it simple. If you are hosting, keep it simple. Make your meal or open house a potluck event to help reduce stress and expense. And just yesterday I posted some easy, inexpensive, and green holiday décor ideas if you want to decorate on a budget. Remember that you want to be able to enjoy time with your guests, not just be stuck manning the hors d’oeuvres.
10. Holiday cards. We received our first holiday card in early December and I immediately freaked out, lamenting that the cards had already started to arrive and that mine would be late (I feel extra guilt since I design this sort of thing for a living). My husband asked, “Why don’t you just embrace and enjoy the greeting instead of looking at it as a symbol of any shortcomings?” That really stuck with me. The whole point of holiday greetings is to reconnect, not race to the finish line. Our holiday cards likely will go out after New Year’s (or maybe Groundhog Day), but they will be sent with heartfelt intentions and well wishes.
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