Most of us look forward to the holidays, but the season has its challenges. How can we stay peaceful and enjoy the season?
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How to Stay Productive & Peaceful During the Holidays
The holiday season kicks off this time of year. Some people just love the holiday season and revel in decorations and parties and gift-buying. But the season isn’t always happy for everyone. Today we’ll talk about the stresses that can come with the holiday season, and how we can remain productive and peaceful, regardless of the challenges.
Challenges of the Holiday Season
Often there is simply too much to do. Some people are working overtime during December to finish up end-of-the-year business tasks. Add to that community and church events, client and company holiday parties, preparations for holiday guests or travel.
Some of us find ourselves stressed by difficult relationships, perhaps making us dread those family or office get-togethers. A Stanford University blog post called “Surviving the Family Holiday” offers some helpful strategies for coping with these situations.
Some of us are sad because of separation from those we love.
Our stress is also caused by high expectations. (One psychologist called expectations “premeditated disappointments.”) Especially as wives and mothers, we want to find the perfect gifts for everyone, and we want the perfect holiday dinner, and we want to create wonderful memories for those special people in our lives. We expect to experience the joy of the season. If we have these expectations, but we can’t meet them, then it can create a lot of stress, dissatisfaction, and disappointment.
The weather this time of year is an additional challenge in many parts of the United States. The days are shorter and often more dreary, especially for those who live farther north. If you work, then it’s dark when you leave and dark when you come home.
Some people deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this is a type of depression that is related to changes in the seasons. Symptoms may include irritability, tiredness or low energy, problems getting along with other people, hypersensitivity to rejection, appetite changes, or weight gain. People may also experience other symptoms of major depression such as feeling hopeless or worthless, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, problems sleeping, or difficulty concentrating. (Find more info in this article from the Mayo Clinic.)
If someone is already stressed due to the holidays, reduced levels of sunlight may trigger a drop of serotonin, which affects our mood, and affect the balance of melatonin, which affects mood and sleep patterns.
If you find yourself feeling really sad, talk to your doctor, pastor, or a trusted friend so you can find help. If your symptoms are less severe, lifestyle changes might help. Some suggestions from the Mayo Clinic include
- Make your environment sunnier and brighter by opening blinds or trimming tree branches that block sunlight
- Get more sunshine — outside if possible, or even just sitting closer to a bright window
- Exercise regularly. It helps relieve stress and anxiety, which exacerbate SAD symptoms, as well helping to improve your self-image and self-confidence, which boosts mood.
Tight budgets can also cause stress if we feel we need to spend money on others to make up for time we haven’t spent with them, or because we want to spend money on activities in order to make memories. This financial burden can put a strain on the family.
Solutions to the Challenges
In order to make the holiday season less stressful, we should always start with managing our mindset. Our feelings are triggered by what we’re thinking about. If we feel let down or disappointed, we can intentionally set realistic expectations.
Some other suggestions?
Try to think positively. Even if difficult family members are coming to visit, or if you have a blended home and there are challenges with wondering where the kids will go for the holidays, etc., you can choose to look at those people with whom we have strained relationship and focus on their good qualities. A friend of mine once posted a thought on Facebook that has really stuck with me: if you look for the good, you'll find it.
Stay grateful–on purpose.
Sometimes the best solution for sadness and stress is to “get outside of our head,” and do something kind for someone else. Look for someone who's in greater need than you, and find a way to help them.
- Help at a shelter or a food pantry.
- Look for someone who is alone for the holidays, and see how you can share the holidays with them.
- Find a family in need and buy gifts for them.
- Look for other ways to help people in need.
(Side benefit of this approach: if we involve our kids, it gives us the opportunity to teach them to turn from “What am I going to get?” to “How can I make life better for someone else?”)
We can plan ahead in order to create a peaceful holiday. It's not too late prepare for the holidays even now, at the end of November.
- What do you want your holidays to be like? How full do you want your weeks to be, and can you do what you have planned and still be at peace?
- Sit down with your calendar and your to-do list. Do you have conflicts?
- Look at everything on your plate and decide right now what you can defer until after the holidays.
- Are there events you can skip?
- What are you willing to set aside?
- Consider your health and the health of people in your household.
- Consider your community, work, and church responsibilities.
- Perhaps schedule simple meals so you can conserve energy for the things you care about.
Enlist help with your holiday to-do list.
Nobody can do everything. What are some ways we can get help during the holidays?
Can you hire someone to clean your house? Even if you don't have a regular housekeeper, they can come in the week of your holiday party and clean your house for you.
Now might be a time to delegate tasks at work as well.
We might think we are the only ones that can do it right, but then how will anyone else learn how to do it? People remember how they felt more than they remember the details of what happened. If the family remembers a mom who was peaceful and enjoyed the holidays with them rather than if they had the right number of socks packed for a holiday trip, then it might be worth delegating the packing tasks.
Consider scaling down your plans.
- Planning a holiday party? Consider planning a potluck instead of a seated dinner. Have everyone bring a dish, and just see what shows up, and enjoy others’ company. (Check out episode 19 of The Productive Woman for more ideas for organizing for a low-stress holiday meal.)
- Perhaps, rather than a big party, you can have a small get-together with your closest friends.
- Consider going out to dinner at a nice hotel on Christmas Day rather than cooking (and then washing dishes for hours!). Let someone else do the work. Remember to get reservations ahead of time.
- Consider buying fewer gifts. This helps avoid the stress of shopping and the stress of having overspent. When our kids were little, we tried to limit our gifts to something to read, to wear, to play with, and an ornament. Mostly the holidays were about spending time together.
- Plan simpler activities. Instead of hosting a huge holiday party, you could put the kids in their pajamas and drive around to see the Christmas lights or make popcorn and sit and watch Christmas movies together.
Find a way to connect with the people that matter most to you.
- Plan a small get together with friends you don’t get to see very often–maybe schedule it in January, for something to look forward to after the holidays are over.
- Use technology to connect with family members who live far away. We can share parts of our lives or events with our parents/children. Use Skype to share opening gifts on Christmas morning. The adults can watch the kids opening the presents. Schedule Skype or Facetime calls to touch base with those you don’t get to see often. You can plan to do this on purpose over the holidays, so you don't feel so isolated.
It’s important to take time for self-care.
- Remember to get enough sleep. It seems to be the first thing to go when life gets busy.
- Get some exercise every day or as often as you can. It helps you be fit and healthy, and burns off the anxiety and stress of the season.
- If you eat right, you will feel better.
- Plan some treats for yourself, such as skipping out of work one afternoon to see movie, get a manicure or massage, or have a lunch date with your spouse.
- Find some windows of time to take a break. Defer a task and clear out the schedule as much as possible. Even when visitors are around, take time to recharge and retreat, when necessary. Find those spaces for yourself or plan an event for the visitors so you can have some quiet time at home.
The holidays can be a magical time and a time to draw closer to family and to traditions we care about, but we have to plan for this, so we aren’t left feeling stressed out.
What do you think?
What challenges do you find in the holiday season? How do you stay productive and at peace during the holidays? I'd love to hear your thoughts–share in the comments section below, on The Productive Woman Facebook page, in the TPW Community Facebook group — or email me!
Resources and Links:
- “If Holiday Stress is a Disease, the Virus is Your Expectations”
- “Surviving the Family Holiday”
- “10 Tips for Keeping the Happy in Your Holidays”
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