In this episode we’ll talk about preparing for joy in the upcoming holiday season, all while remaining productive and keeping our most important priorities in mind.
How can we reduce our stress and increase our joy this holiday season?
I think I mentioned in an episode early this year (actually late last year!) that my word for this year is joy. It’s something I’ve tried to turn my attention to throughout the year, reminding myself to look for and intentionally cultivate joy.
I’ve been thinking about joy in the context of the coming year-end holidays–for our family, that mostly means Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for you that might include Hannukah, Advent, Las Posadas, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, or others. Whatever holidays you celebrate during this time, we all look forward to them with anticipation and expectation of joyful gatherings, but the year-end holidays can also be stressful, especially if family situations are complicated or, like me, the last weeks of the year are also a very busy time in your job or career. I was surprised by one article I read that cited a study that found “49% of Americans report feeling anxious during the holidays, with two in five saying it negatively impacts their mental health. Their biggest concerns include inflation, gift shopping, and dysfunctional family dynamics.”
So in looking ahead to this time, I started thinking about, and then researching, ways to minimize the stress and amplify the joy of this year-end holiday season. Preparing for a joyful and productive holiday season can be especially important for women who often shoulder a significant portion of the holiday planning and organizing responsibilities.
1. Set the foundation for a joyful holiday season
The importance of mindset and intention-setting for a joyful holiday season.
Like any time or year, it’s important to remind ourselves that we and how we feel are not at the mercy of our circumstances. Our emotions–whether joy or anxiousness or anger or any other–result not from our circumstances, but from what we think about our circumstances. We can choose our thoughts and manage our minds. It’s not easy–certainly not for me–but it can be done. Start now to practice both awareness and intentionality in this area:
- Be aware of your feelings.
- Remember it’s not a matter of right or wrong; they just are.
- Identify the thoughts you are thinking that create those feelings.
- Decide on purpose whether you want to keep thinking those thoughts or choose others:
- How do I want to feel right now in this situation?
- What thoughts do I need to think in order to feel that way?
Manage expectations and reduce holiday stress.
One writer reminds us to “be realistic and upfront about what your family can do. Make a list of what is possible and prioritize your most important events and activities for you and your family. Then, pace yourself. Organize your time. Keep in mind that it’s the holiday “season” (not “day”) and spread out your activities to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.”
Again, this comes down to awareness and intentionality. What do you want to do during this holiday season, and why? Do you like your reasons? If not, then rethink the plans.
Staying present is more valuable than giving presents. I read a great reminder from one writer: “Don’t get so focused on preparing those upcoming joyful moments that you forget to soak up how much joy is in this moment.” Perhaps the most important thing we can do to experience a joyful holiday season is to actually experience it: “Be present. Give your full attention to what you are doing. Don’t think about the past or future. Focus on the moment.”
The significance of self-care during the holiday season.
One study I found from several years ago noted that only 27% of the women surveyed felt they could allow themselves time to relax during the holidays. I would bet that the current number would be even less. Let’s not be part of that statistic this year.
2. Planning and organization
Planning ahead can reduce the stress of time pressures and disorganization. This will look different depending on the types of activities you want because:
- Traveling? Book tickets and reservations now.
- If you want to send Christmas or other holiday cards, take the time now to update your address book and order the cards. Consider sending e-cards or even waiting until after the first of the year to send a newsy “new year” card with updates on your family’s memorable moments from this year.
- If you’re hosting or attending a holiday gathering, plan the menu now, and start shopping for non-perishable items so you have them before the stores run out
- Inventory your holiday decorations, serving dishes, etc., and decide what needs to be replaced or refreshed
- Clear out space–now’s a great time to do some decluttering, donating, and making space in your home for the holiday decorations and the new items that come in as gifts.
- If resources allow, consider hiring help to come in and do a thorough deep clean of your home, especially if you’ll be hosting events or family or friends will be coming to stay. One thing off your to-do list, and will allow you to relax and enjoy the event or guests knowing your home is at its best for them.
Be thoughtful about your holiday calendar or schedule.
Start with purposefully scheduling downtime and quiet family times. Consider which activities are adding value/joy and which add more stress than they’re worth.
Be prepared to say no to invitations you don’t want to accept. I love these suggestions from an article I read:
- “No – Sometimes ‘no’ can be a complete answer.
- If you do want to participate, but can’t on the day/time suggested, say “I can’t do that right now, but could on X date.” It’s okay to suggest a date in the new year. Sometimes it’s enough for people to know that they’re on your schedule at some point.
- If you want to see them, but don’t enjoy the suggested activity, say “I can’t do that, but I can [suggest alternative].” If you revel in the season’s coziness, but avoid the cold at all costs, you don’t have to go ice skating.”
Look ahead at the family members’ upcoming events and make sure you’re covered for any overlaps–e.g., two kids have events at the same time–work out carpooling, etc.
Organizing tasks and responsibilities.
Share the load — get spouse, kids, or roommates involved
One article suggested this:
“Take a break from being Santa and be an elf instead. If you’re usually the go-to person for all of the holiday planning, take a step back. Ask friends and family what they want to do, and then just revel in supporting their plans and being a helping hand in the moment. It’s just as fulfilling to support someone else—you’re bringing them relief when they need assistance while also celebrating their special holiday traditions by letting them take the lead. That’s a heartfelt gift.”
I also loved this take on it: “When it comes to the holidays, it can be easy to get caught up in all of the planning and preparation details but attempting to do everything on your own, often leads to burnout. And by the time the holidays are over, you’re stressed out and frustrated. Instead, consider outsourcing some of those tasks. Aside from assigning chores to the kids, you could outsource some other jobs as well. For example, you may want to consider takeout once a week during the busy season. Or, consider bringing in someone to help with the chores during this time of year. If you’re juggling a personal life and running your own business, consider a temp worker or connecting with a virtual assistant to offload some of those daily tasks that eat into your day.”
For maintaining joy and reducing stress, remember the benefits of creating a budget for holiday spending. Surveys show that the most dreaded elements of the holiday season include money worries.
- Set limits for gift-giving. (Some extended families draw names; that might work among established friend groups and co-workers that have a tradition of gift-giving.)
- Find lower-cost alternatives to events and activities, and enjoy the free and low-cost activities available in your area
- Load into the car and drive around looking at holiday displays
- Decorate the house together
- Bake goodies together
- Play in the snow (if you have it)
- Enjoy a Christmas Eve candlelight service at your church or another near you
3. Meaningful traditions and activities
What are the most meaningful for you, and how will you make time to experience them this year?
“sit down with your family or household members and create a wish list. Ask everyone the number one activity that makes the holidays special for them. It could be baking cookies, decorating the tree, or watching classic holiday movies together. Focus on making those experiences happen, knowing that they are the most important and memorable for your loved ones.”
Remember the value of giving back to the community during the holidays. Lean in to the feelings of joy and gratitude of this season, and find ways to pay it forward. Get your kids involved–sort through toys and donate some gently used ones to a shelter or a Ronald McDonald House. (Added benefit of making room for the new stuff that will come in as gifts.) Check with your church or synagogue for opportunities to serve the community, or look for an elderly neighbor or single mom to bless by inviting them to dinner or offering to shop or care for children.
Don’t forget to make time for rest and quiet times for yourself and the people you love. Schedule an evening at home in jammies in front of the fire to watch a holiday movie with popcorn and cocoa or a Sunday afternoon with no screens, just everybody curled up with a good book. Make time for a quiet dinner with your spouse or coffee with a good friend.
4. Navigating challenges
As women we often take upon ourselves many of the tasks and responsibilities for making the holidays special. It’s important to remind ourselves that we have taken those responsibilities upon ourselves–we’ve made the choice, consciously or not, based on the expectations we’ve internalized. Rather than feeling resentment or stress or inadequacy, we can, if we want to, choose to change the expectations.
In addition, there are common challenges that women may face during the holiday season, such as family dynamics, perfectionism, or unrealistic expectations. Although you might feel like you’re the only one, you’re not. Seek support and connect with others during difficult times. If you’re feeling lonely or sad, there are people who want to help, but they can’t help if they don’t know.
5. Practical tips and resources
There are lots of practical tips and resources available–Google things like holiday planning templates, gift ideas, or stress-relief techniques and you’ll find many options that can help. Check out some of the resources linked below for a starting point.
I encourage us all to start our holiday preparations with a positive and organized mindset and then choose intentionally where we’ll invest our finite resources of time, energy, attention, and money this year.
What do you think?
Resources and Links
- 10 Ways to Prepare for the Holiday Season – Parent Cue
- 8 Tips for a More Joyful (and Less Stressful) Holiday Season | ThedaCare
- Finding Joy and Calm: 3 Ways to Prep for a Meaningful Holiday | NEAT Method
- (37) 5 Tips For a Mindful & Joyful Holiday Season | LinkedIn
- 8 Keys to Preparing for a Happy Holiday Season | Covers and All Blog
- The Complete Guide to Preparing Your Home for a Joyful Holiday Season – A Life Of Lovely
- How to Prepare For The Holidays…Now! | The DIY Playbook
- 7 Tips to Prepare the Way for Joy – Jackie Trottmann Spiritual Director
- 5 Tips for a More Joyful (and Less Busy!) Holiday Season – Day Designer
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Royse City, Texas