Watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol is often relied upon to ease stress during the holidays. One or two drinks a few times a week might be ideal for this purpose. More than this can increase your stress, cause you to put on weight and can cloud your judgment, making things seem more negative and overwhelming than they actually are.
For events such as New Year’s Eve, let yourself have a glass or two of the very best wine or sparkling drinks instead of drinking to get drunk. You deserve the far better experience.
At the same time, let yourself unwind after a busy day. Have a glass of wine with dinner, or a hot toddy an hour or two before bed. If it helps you unwind, go for it.
Stop imagining that the holiday season is about being “perfect”. A lot of stress you put yourself through comes from trying to match the perfect standard shown in magazines, TV, and other fanciful media. Perfection in images is an art form aimed at marketing, not a reality.
Don’t pin your happiness on the success of your holidays. Your happiness should be bigger than just the holidays. Be thankful for the family that you do have, the opportunities you’ve been given, and the future you can look forward to. Put things into perspective.
By all means, strive to perfect some duties and expectations, but don’t expect perfection. Your polar bear cookies might be misshapen, and your chicken overcooked, but it’s the thought that count. And thoughts, you’ve given plenty.
This is where delegation is vital (see below); delegation means shared responsibility for how everything turns out. Seek out help where necessary. This means letting go of some of your control. (It’s a good thing.)
Acknowledge feelings you have about the season. Not everyone enjoys the holiday season but it’s rare for anyone to say it. For most, the truth is that there are the ideals behind the holiday season, and there are the realities, and rarely do the twain meet. If you can acknowledge your worries, concerns and feelings about the season, you are better placed to deal with them in advance and to set limits on what you will and won’t tolerate.
Don’t force yourself to feel happy, buoyant and carefree when you don’t. It will only backfire and cause more stress. You’re entitled to dislike aspects of the holiday season without stressing over them. Just don’t be a Scrooge and ruin other people’s fun.
Acknowledging feelings doesn’t mean complaining or whining. These activities simply reinforce stressful feelings. Rather than complaining, acknowledge that some things are not enjoyable and set limits on being part of them, without beating yourself up over it.
Delegate. Delegation is an antidote to resentment and exhaustion, both of which add to the feelings of stress. Stock up on this antidote and make good use of it. The more you offload, the lighter the stress load and the more involved everyone else becomes. This includes work and home; work out tasks that you can delegate. Then, set about asking the relevant people to do their part.
Let go of your need to control everything. Maybe you’re a perfectionist and only trust yourself to get things done the way you want them. In a perfect world, you could control everything. But real life is sticky, and it involves trusting other people.
Things that can be delegated include: meal preparation, gift selection, gift-wrapping, transportation arrangements, work-fixes, and budgeting. Take up tasks you excel at and delegate tasks you don’t.
Stop doing trivial things that sap your time and make you feel more stressed. Stop sending out all those Christmas cards, reduce the list of gifts you’ll give this year, avoid playing Martha Stewart when decorating your house. If you feel like participating is about going through the motions or being seen to do the right thing, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason.
Substitute. Instead of making that gingerbread house from scratch, buy the pre-made kit so that all you have to do is have the fun of decorating with your kids. Instead of making gifts from scratch, visit a community aid store that sells handmade items from people in developing countries who need your financial assistance to lead better lives.
Accept that sometimes family isn’t going to get along. Sometimes, while trying hard to get along, things blow up and make for an awful day. Negotiating difficult family relationships over the holiday season can cause a lot of stress, especially if you’re trying to be the peacemaker who doesn’t allow yourself to let off steam. Here are some ways around this:
Don’t involve yourself in other people’s spats. (Yes, that also means not gossiping like a little schoolgirl again.)
Engage difficult people on neutral topics with accepting terms. Don’t give them reasons to argue; don’t join their arguments when they try to start them.
Understand that some of the more difficult people are possibly stressed, anxious and afraid themselves: their difficult behavior might be a manifestation of underlying stress.
Humoring difficult people without belittling them. Refusing to play their usual relationship games by remaining assertive and detached.
Don’t ask the family troublemaker to your seasonal event. Not everyone will have the courage to do this but for those who do, it speaks volumes. You can tell this person that if they can promise not to misbehave, as in previous years, they can count themselves re-invited but that if they do play up again, you won’t hesitate to ask them to leave immediately.
Concentrate on your achievements during the holiday season. There is a lot you could choose to be negative about. Why not flip this over to finding what there is worth feeling good about? Make the holidays about recognizing your achievements instead of shortcomings. Ask yourself:
What do you enjoy about your life this year? What can you learn from what you learned?
What things do you enjoy most about the holiday season? What gets you most excited?
What are the things that you’re doing this holiday season that you feel really good about? How are you giving to others less fortunate than you?