Hint: It starts now!
By Alex Davis
It’s no secret that “the most wonderful time of the year” can also be the most stressful. As soon as we are fully initiated into the post-graduate life, we officially wave goodbye to our old friend the Four-Week Christmas Vacation. This means we need to find a way to do our Christmas shopping, cooking, hosting, party going, and decorating while working, parenting, and simply living day-to-day life. And as life goes on and our families and responsibilities increase, we only have more and more to worry about during the holidays.
The consumerist culture doesn’t help. We are constantly bombarded by messages that we need to do more and buy more. For women who are already busy, the combined pressures of our daily hustle and external societal expectations can make for a very stressful season.
This is a shame. Growing up, the weeks between Halloween and New Years were precious to me. I remember these days being defined by a new intentionality. Slower. Calmer. More time spent at home. As an adult, it can feel quite different. Instead of slowing down and spending time with family, we find ourselves concerned with a sundry of tasks we invent for ourselves. But at the end of the day, will anyone die if we don’t bake a fifteenth batch of cookies or buy the most elaborate gifts for our loved ones or trample someone at Wal-Mart over that last TV? Surely not.
If you are already bracing for the stress this holiday season, take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine, and turn on your favorite Christmas music – because together, we can put a stop to the pointless and exhausting hustle. This time of year is meant to be enjoyed, and it is possible to appreciate it as fully as you did when you were a wee child without a care in the world. I promise. Here are a few places to start.
1. Knock out that shopping early. Even with the advent of oh-so-easy online shopping, leaving your purchases for the eleventh hour will cause unnecessary stress. Just getting it done will give you one less thing to worry about. Not to mention, it will reduce the likelihood of overspending that might happen if you are purchasing in a state of last minute panic. My mom tackles this better than anyone I know, because she does her Christmas shopping throughout the year. If she sees something while out shopping that makes her think of someone, she will buy it and put it aside for Christmas.
2. Beware the cocktail party. Everyone loves Christmas parties, but yes, it is possible to overdo it. With parties happening weekly in December, saying yes to every single one can leave little time to relax during a season that is already full of obligations. Carefully decide which events are a must, and be cautious not to overcommit. FOMO getting you down? Try spending some time with its happy cousin, JOMO (The Joy of Missing Out). Discover the wonders of an unplanned December weekend. Yes, this is a thing, and it is glorious.
3. You get vacation days for a reason. Use them! The Four-Week Christmas Vacation isn’t really available to most working adults, but there is this wonderful concept known as paid time off. I know so many professionals who are loath to use their vacation days, so they save them up as though they’re storing supplies for a zombie apocalypse. What are you hoarding them for? You’ve got the days – so, use them!
4. Look at Christmas lights. One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is walk or drive around pretty neighborhoods and look at lights. It is such a simple activity, but it really gets me into the Christmas spirit (and lifts my spirits if I’ve had a stressful day). To make it extra fun, grab a hot drink and turn on some Christmas music when you drive. My favorite Christmas Pandora stations for Christmas light viewing, or just in general, are: Frank Sinatra Holiday Station, Christmas Carols Station, and A Charlie Brown Christmas Station.
5. Start a tradition. My first date with my husband was aforementioned Christmas-light viewing at a popular venue in our state, followed by dinner and downtown strolling. Now, we do it every year. It is so much fun to look forward to, and I have such sweet memories from year after year of continuing this tradition. The best part: you don’t have to wait until Christmas day to do these things. Pick a free weekend in early December and do something Christmasy and fun!
6. Get your tree up early. Don’t wait until right before Christmas or you’ll end up with the Charlie Brown tree. We always go the weekend after Thanksgiving, so we get first dibs and can enjoy our tree for a full month. As soon as I get home from work each day, I put on comfortable clothes and park myself in front of the tree with a book. If that kind of relaxation to look forward to doesn’t get you through the workday, I don’t know what will.
7. Plan a girls’ night in. As the weather gets colder and it’s pitch black by 5 o’clock, a night out on the town is not very enticing. Plan a Friday night in with some friends to eat chili, decorate cookies, try out a hand lettering project, or watch a Christmas classic (or all of the above)!
8. Be a little childish. The busier we are, the more likely we are to let special moments pass us by. Think about what you loved about the holidays when you were a kid. Was it the music? The decorations? The time with family? The food? The colder weather? The movies? Think about what excited you the most, then try to rekindle that childlike excitement by working those beloved activities or events into your weeks. I loved decorating the house and going shopping with my mom, so to this day I still try to make time for these things.
9. Practice self-care. Last year, I got so busy and stressed out leading up to the holidays that I ended up getting very sick. I was extremely disappointed because my grandmother came into town for an entire week, and I spent most of it in bed, unable to spend any time with her. I really wish I had gotten enough rest, taken my vitamins, eaten right, exercised, and otherwise prioritized self-care. This year, I am resolving to do everything in my power to reduce stress and stay healthy so I can actually enjoy my time with family. Don’t overcommit, make priority lists, delegate and map out your work tasks, do the best you can, and then shut it down and relax.
10. Practice gratitude every single day. Our materialistic culture can really get in our heads during the holidays, when a hunger for material excess is completely normalized. We are constantly bombarded with messages that if we really care about our loved ones, we will shower them with expensive gifts. And if we are really loved, we, too, will be showered with those things we’ve been coveting all year. It can also be easy to fall into comparison, weighing our lives and finding them wanting when compared to the luxuries others enjoy. Try focusing on being grateful for what you have instead of eyeing what someone else has, and think about showing love for the special people in your life by giving them your time and undivided attention instead of expensive gifts.
Do you have any tips on how to make “the most wonderful time of the year” truly wonderful and not harried and stressful? Share in the comments!
Featured image found on pexels.com.