Everyone has a different take on why the holidays are so stressful. For some it's too commercial, for others it's a lot of money and credit card debt, and for still others it's a painful reminder of a loved one who is no longer there to share it with you.
If there is one thing that sums up holiday stress it's having too much to do and not enough time to do it. When you start with an already hectic work schedule and add in the demands of holiday shopping, holiday baking, entertaining, gift-giving, sending out holiday cards and spending copious amounts of money, you have a formula for a stressful December. This is one seasonal recipe you should try to avoid.
In November, I will try to spend two or three evenings (at least) shopping for gifts. (Next year, think about spending just one evening in October, too.) It's so much more pleasant to do shop (BEFORE THANKSGIVING) when it's not crowded and you can easily find a parking space. You will really feel a lot more in control of your life if you can just knock off say, just 25% to 50% of your Christmas list before black Friday comes a haunting. Plus, the more months you can spread your spending over, the more you will feel in control of your finances.
On one of those November trips I'l pick out my holiday cards, wrapping paper and other odd items, that won't even be in stock by the time I get around to needing them. The real key here is to feel enough of a sense of urgency, so you don't go to the store and just browse.
Other things you can do ahead of time include hanging outdoor lights, getting cards ready ahead of time, and purchasing and decorating the tree. I often get my tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and put it up the following weekend. This year Thanksgiving comes late, so I'll probably just put the tree up when I bring it home and get the holiday season started a little early.
- Make a list of what NOT to do. As you head into the holiday season there are probably numerous chores, errands and projects that don't need to be done now and can be put off until January when your schedule will open up. Whether it's cleaning up the garage, shopping for a new sofa (which wouldn't arrive in time for the holidays anyway) or painting the kid's bedroom, don't start any optional projects right now.
- Streamline what you dislike and savor what you love. We all have things we love to do at the holidays and things we wish we didn't have to do. If you love making potato latkes or getting the Christmas tree - set aside time and make an afternoon of it. Get the whole family involved if you want to or just savor this activity yourself. On the other hand, if you dislike doing cards don't feel obligated to "keep up with the Jones." Just say no - or streamline the process - cut your list way down, get a simple card, sign it (No long notes!) and send it on its way (guilt-free).
- Find the true meaning of the holidays. Whether it's attending services, donating toys and food, volunteering at a homeless shelter, visiting an elderly shut-in, or even watching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, look for activities that give you an emotional and/or spiritual lift. Remember the word holiday is short for Holy day. Let this definition be a reminder of the true meaning of the season.
- To experience joy: allow extra time. Time pressure kills joy. Be aware of how time pressure can turn a pleasurable activity, like shopping or even going to a party into an activity that loses its fun-factor. Whenever you're feeling rushed, chances are you'll wind up feeling crabby and stressed, too. Bottom line: Build in extra padding into your busy schedule. If you think an activity will take an hour - allow at least two hours. I guarantee that if you follow just this one bit of advice, you'll experience more joy.
- Make a list and check it twice. People are great at making lists but they rarely prioritize their lists. As a result, you wind up picking off low-priority tasks like vacuuming or raking leaves and not leaving enough time for high priority activities like spending time with family and friends. If the holidays seem hollow check your priorities and see if the things that are really important to you are at the top of your list.
- Allow time for yourself. Don't forget to allot some time every day (even if it's just a half an hour) to recharge your own batteries. You can't make anyone else happy if you are feeling miserable and stressed inside. Give yourself permission to go for walk, exercise, take a bath, listen to music, enjoy a leisurely cup of tea or do something just for the fun of it.
For even more advice on how to enjoy the holidays visit our website at www.StressStop.com. From all of us at StressStop.com we wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and a lot less stress in the new year.