Here in the United States, we’re about to barrel full-tilt into either the happiest or most stressful time of year, depending on your point of view. (Me, I’m all about equal opportunity—I find it both happy and stressful.) As we head toward Thanksgiving, slide into Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus, and wrap it all up with New Year’s, this time period has the potential be relaxing, reaffirming, celebratory… or depressing and difficult. Some of that is based on circumstances, sure, but plenty of it can be up to you.
Here’s a few simple ideas for keeping calm, cool, and maybe even peaceful when the holiday going gets rough:
Don’t over-schedule. Sure, the temptation—particularly if you’re taking a trip to see far-flung loved ones—is to book every single second of that precious time so as not to waste any of it. Taking down time isn’t wasteful, it’s necessary for your mental health! People have different levels of tolerance for hustle and bustle; know yours, and honor it. For example: our family usually hosts a large Thanksgiving meal, and I always work the Friday after. Know what we do on that Saturday? Nothing. That’s what I need to make it work.
Be reasonable about gifts. While this time of year shouldn’t be about the stuff involved, sometimes it feels like it is. Stop stress before it happens by being realistic about what this time will look like, and making decisions together as a family. If money is tight (or your family is huge, and gift-giving has become overwhelming), come up with guidelines/plans before stress hits. Even the smallest children can understand that you don’t always get everything you ever wanted (and if you did, you’d be robbed of the joy of wishing!), and adults can see the wisdom of a large group playing Secret Santa for single gifts rather than everyone drowning in presents.
Prioritize. Something about the holiday season seems to send even the most level-headed folks’ priorities a little out of whack. You intend to keep things small and calm but suddenly you’re hosting dinner for 70, or you meant to take time just for you and your sweetie, but there were too many other pressing engagements. This is less about “too much” and more about “what matters.” You can have a relatively clear schedule because you heeded the first point and still end up spending time and money on things you later wish you hadn’t. So figure it out ahead of time, and you’ll be less likely to find yourself wondering how you arrived somewhere you didn’t really want to be.
Be nice to yourself. Don’t get so caught up in what everyone else wants that you forget to take care of you. Is this a time of year to forgive an extra dessert or a glass of wine? Sure, if that works for you. But if that’s a slippery slope towards feeling sluggish and unhappy with yourself, be realistic: How can you enjoy this time and still feel good? Maybe it’s a loosening of the dietary reins but an extra-long walk each morning. Maybe it’s doing something you don’t necessarily love because it makes your partner happy (within reason, obviously), but then making sure you have time for your favorite hobby, later. This is highly personal, but your enjoyment of the season will depend on your ability to be realistic about your needs and meet them in small ways even during this hectic time.
Despite it all, focus on the joys of kindness! Sure, ’tis the season of being cut off in traffic, having your parking spot usurped at the last moment by some jerk in a fancy car, rude people cutting in line at the supermarket because they’re in a hurry, etc… yes, that stuff isn’t fun. You could focus on that, or your family could donate goods, time, and/or money to causes that are dear to your heart. You could let that harried, grumpy person go ahead of you in line. You could bake cookies for people who’ve been good to your kids this year. (That one’s a favorite of mine, both because I like it when people are good to my kids and because there’s no bad time for cookies.) You could focus on being the kindness and change you wish to see in the world, and that will often shift your focus in wonderful ways. And after all… isn’t that what this time should be all about?