‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through your space, not a countertop was clean, everything was out of place. The stockings were not hung by the chimney with care, since you’ve spent all day looking and they cannot be found anywhere. No one was nestled snug in their beds since there was so much stuff in the way everyone was sleeping on the couches instead. Neither one of us could find our kerchief and cap, we were both so stressed out, at any moment we could snap. When out on the roof there arose such a clatter, I tripped over six piles to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, the shutter was broken and so was the sash…’
We hope you like our amusing parody of a wonderful old holiday poem. Unfortunately, many people do not find much cheer in the holiday hustle and bustle. The holidays somehow tend to creep up on us, catching us stressed out and overwhelmed. There are visions of table settings that would rival Martha Stewart and food that is not only tasty, but it coordinates with the color theme of the occasion. Holidays bring out grandiose ideas in all of us. We catch ourselves thinking, “if I had more time”, “if I had more money”, “if I just worked a little bit harder”, “this is the year I’m actually going to…”. Does any of that sound familiar?
Thanksgiving and Christmas are a myriad of complicated events. No other holiday throughout the year has this much pomp and circumstance associated with it. They are so close together, that Thanksgiving seems to be the pre-cursor to the Christmas stress. And, most of the stress is self-induced. We seem to put so much pressure on ourselves to have the Christmas cards done, buy everyone the best gifts, get all of the decorations out early, have kids school parties, buy teachers unique and amazing gifts for $10 or less, attend many holiday festivities, experience the spiritual events leading up to Christmas, make the most fabulous and tasty Christmas treats, and on and on. I’m tired just thinking about it!
Why can’t we just let it all go? Would there be a cosmic disturbance if we didn’t send out cards this year? Would the kids be scarred for life if we only put out half of the holiday decorations? Would our social life crumble if we only said ‘yes’ to one or two holiday parties? Why all the pressure?
Watching TV last night, I was reminded where some of the pressure comes from. There was a commercial for a local department store. The models were wearing coordinating holiday clothes, lounging on beautiful new furniture with a cashmere throw, and admiring all of their new gifts in their masterfully decorated room. It was a perfect looking holiday. I don’t know about you, but when we open gifts at my house, I’m barely awake, my hair is less than perfect looking, I’m wearing my old comfortable robe and sitting on our well-used furniture. Not the vision of perfection, but ideal for us. Is it less of a holiday because we don’t look like the perfection in the commercial? My view of perfection is not how my family looks, but how the holiday makes us feel. It doesn’t take much effort on anyone’s part to feel meaningful at Christmas, to feel loved and special.
I grew up in a modest household. Every year my sister and I waited with anticipation until the thick JC Penney holiday catalogue came. We would pour over each page imagining which wonderful toy we would get from Santa. By the time Christmas came, the catalogue pages were torn, corners were turned down and the book looked tattered. That was part of our holiday ritual. We knew we would not get all of the toys in the catalogue, even though we picked out many. I also remember that we used the same decorations every holiday and put them in the same place. Some of the decorations were crafted by my sister and me, and we were so proud to put those out every year. It was part of our holiday. It’s what we did.
How do we make our holidays meaningful, yet–stress free? The following is a list of five tips that will reduce stress during this busy time of the year.
1. Let go of grandiose ideas. Individually making your holiday cards would be really amazing, however, do you want to expend that much energy and time towards something that usually gets thrown away when the holiday is over? You don’t need your dinner table to look like a magazine. Allow your children to make your decorations and centerpieces and then you can check that off of your to do list. Also, consider hiring help. Have someone put up your decorations, lights, make your meal, etc. Allow someone else to help you, so that you can enjoy your holidays.
2. Strive for completion not perfection. The Flylady (http://www.flylady.com) has a theory that a job done not-perfectly is still a job done. Her thinking is, that the end result is a finished job, not a job done perfectly. Both Lori and I get asked a lot “is your house just perfect all the time”? We both have kids, so obviously the answer to that is “no”. We also both understand that our end result is always organization, not perfection. We strive for that in our work and our personal lives. We always encourage that of others too. Striving for perfection takes too much time and energy, and seems to leave things undone because they can’t always be done perfectly.
3. Plan out your month. Traditions, memories, warm loving feelings are all things that people try to create throughout the holidays. Unfortunately, somewhere in the middle, come parties, shopping, and lots and lots of stress. Try to map out a plan early in the month for how you are going to handle some specific stressors like decorating the house inside and out, shopping, all of the parties, etc., so that you are not screaming at the family when things pop up at the last minute and you are not prepared. It does require some discipline, but having a plan for this busy time will force you to be more prepared.
4. If something comes in, something must go out. This is a steadfast rule of ours and it especially applies to this holiday. Seeing our children’s faces when they open a gift that they have been anxiously awaiting is a wonderful feeling. We all want to provide for our families and give them things they want. We also want to be able to walk in their playrooms and some weeding is necessary after the holidays. It’s much easier for children to let go of things when they see the pile of new things. So many people are in need this season and your discarded toys would make another child’s season much brighter.
5. Breathe. It sounds cliché but it works. Lori and I have been working with Robin Schmeerbach, a St. Louis Certified Brown Belt Nia Instructor & Holistic Personal Trainer. She has been helping us come up with some training techniques to help improve our minds and bodies. We worked recently on breathing. Neither one of us were aware of how we breathe. Robin informed us that Lori is a typical chest breather, and I am a mix of chest and belly. “Becoming aware of our breathing connects us to our autonomic nervous system, which creates a deep state of relaxation”, says Robin. We don’t really think about the actual act of breathing, it’s just something that happens. Robin has been showing us how to become aware. To consciously breathe deeply and slowly and visualize our lungs filling with air and then letting the air out. This new awareness of our breathing assists us in all aspects of our life, especially the stressful situations.
It is possible to make our holidays meaningful and less stressful. Letting go of things that aren’t as important is vital to a more simplified holiday. Using the steps above as guidelines for coping will serve as a good foundation.
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