4 Steps to Deal with Holiday Stress

The holiday season brings a lot of stressors. There are travel plans and the problems that come with congested travel times, guests coming into town, and family relationships. Worse, the usual daily stressors of work, finances, parenting, and relationships do not ease up simply because the calendar says it is a holiday.

How do we cope with everything going on?

How do we reduce the stress and increase the magic moments of the holidays?

First, understand that it will not be easy. Just this act of setting expectations below “perfect” will help make the holidays a little more enjoyable.

Then follow these steps to take the stress out of the last five weeks of the year.

1. List everything you hope to accomplish.

Reduce stress to focus on the most important things this holiday season. Photo by Jana Sabeth on Unsplash

We make lists all the time – what we need at the grocery, chores on Saturday, tasks we must complete before we leave work – and we let them guide us for hours at a time. These lists help us prioritize and use our time wisely. They even let us double up and work more efficiently, as one errand can take us past a place we need to visit later so we can combine trips.

We should do the same with our holiday expectations.

You may have already started the lists of things to DO. It likely includes shopping, cooking, cards to write, and gifts to wrap. But have you made a list of what makes the holiday special?

Is there a particular loved one who you need to make extra time to be with? Has there been a significant milestone in the family that needs to be celebrated, mourned, or remembered? What emotions do you want you and your family to experience? Where and how will those moments happen?

Make. A. List.

2. Divide the list to focus on priorities

Then put these events into three categories.

  • Crucial – these are annual traditions or milestone events that are deeply meaningful to one or more members of your family. If all that happens is two or three of these crucial events, everyone will still call it a holiday win.
  • Important – these are events and activities that a lot of people are counting on, or would make the holidays better, but do not rise to the level of “crucial”. These might not all get accomplished, and will be sacrificed to make time for crucial events.
  • Nice – these are events that would be nice if they could happen, in a perfect world with unlimited time together, and magic elves running the kitchen. There might be ways to squeeze these all in, but if not, no one will be crushed.

And use this list to construct your schedule.


3. Make a schedule

Make a schedule to help make these days less crazy. Have your list (you did steps #1 and #2, right?) handy. It is the foundation of your schedule.

First, add details about when people will be coming and going, to help understand when it will be madness with “everyone” and when it will be a little less hectic. This is the frame of your holiday season, and many important events need to happen inside that frame.

Second, review your “crucial” list and put those on your schedule. These are the pieces that everything else must fit around, and are non-negotiable. They go on your list first because you want to make sure they happen.

Third, do some self-care. Before we move on to “important” items, schedule time for what you need. Do crowds and cooking wear you down? Schedule in quiet time with a favorite cousin to sip tea and stare at the fire at Panera. Do you have an angry uncle who gets on your last nerve? Schedule time to step aside and simply breath.

Fourth, review your important events. Work them into the schedule. As you do this, look for efficiencies and overlaps. Is there an errand to be run, and you also need to be one on one with a treasured cousin? Ask her to run the errand with you. Do you love your aunt’s stories? Ask if she can make her holiday cookies in your kitchen.

Finally, see if there is time to comfortably fit in some of the “nice” items on your list. Don’t cram them in, trying to fill every available moment. Leave space to breathe, to travel, to gaze out the window.


4. Prioritize self-care in the holiday season

There are several ways to accomplish self-care in the holiday season, from dramatic to minor. Any of them will help you cope.

It starts with the schedule and intentionally planning some, but not all, of the holiday.

It also includes carving out time for breathing and exercise. These habits help keep your creative juices flowing and keep you feeling energized.

There is no harm in scheduling major self-care in the form of a nap or a solo oasis trip to a favorite book store or coffee shop.

This all works best when you are at your best. You are not responsible for the family’s joy and well-being during the entire holiday. You must put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can help others.

This means keeping yourself performing at your peak level. Rested, ready, calm, in charge.

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