All too often, it seems that the joys of the holiday season get obscured by ever-present stressors, lengthy to-do lists, and overly high self-expectations. Here are some tips that will help you keep your cool this year.
1. Do a little bit at a time. Given the hectic nature of the holidays, many of us tend to make a long shopping list and tackle in in marathon shopping sessions. Spending your Saturday on your feet for 12 hours in crowded stores would be enough to drive even the most expert shopper insane. Instead, approach it a little bit at a time to avoid exhaustion. Stop by one boutique after work, and the next day, stop by a bookstore on your way to the gym. Splitting up the shopping makes it more manageable, and quite often, it will help you feel like the gifts you find are more special than if you had simply acquired them in one big fit of "checking-off-my-list" shopping.
2. Pare it down. Some people get a kick out of hanging lights, decorating the tree, setting up Christmas villages, cooking giant feasts, intricately wrapping presents, and going to every Christmas party known to man, and for those with boundless Christmas spirit, that's wonderful. But if you don't share their vigor, that's also perfectly fine! Your holiday season should be tailored to what brings you joy, not to what television, marketing, and tradition tell us we should do. If the thought of all the bustle stresses you out, just cut it down. Leave the village in storage this year, or host a potluck instead of preparing a dinner for 12. Decide what's important to you, and leave the rest aside.
3. Reward unwanted tasks with desired ones. If you hate wrapping presents, treat yourself to a bit of eggnog after everything is papered and labeled. If you hate shopping, make sure to schedule a bit of time afterward for some decompression with a good book or a TV show you enjoy. While some tasks can be cut out of the Christmas ritual (see #2), it's inevitable that there will be a few loathsome ones. Instead of procrastinating and stressing out over them, fix your attention on the reward that will make the task worthwhile.
4. Delegate and Cooperate. It's well documented that the feeling of loneliness can escalate around the holidays, and while it's not the only factor involved, I would say that one big reason is that people tend to get caught up in the tasks that they have to do instead of getting caught up in the people they're doing them for. If you're like me, you give in to the adage "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself" far too often. But that's not the way the holidays have to be! Bring your family together by spreading out that to-do list. Let the kids help with wrapping presents, invite family to bring their favorite dishes for dinner, go shopping with a close friend, spend a night decorating the tree and drinking mulled wine with your significant other. A division of labor at the holidays means a more efficient process, less stress, and more time with loved ones.
5. Perspective matters. Remember that much of the joy of the holidays is being with the people you love. Guests won't care if your cake is perfect, if your ribbons are delicately curled, or if the home is spotless. They're going to care about laughing, sharing, playing, eating, and talking. Before the big events, it's easy to stress out about the small stuff. But in the end, it's not the small stuff that matters. Stay positive and flexible, and when tasks go undone or when things go wrong, don't let it ruin the rest of your day.