It’s a sign of the season, just as surely as decorations appearing or holiday music hitting the airwaves. As the holidays get closer, I start seeing more and more tense people in my psychology practice.
The “most wonderful time of the year” can also be the most stressful and exhausting time of the year, and couples often take out that stress on each other.
As you are planning your holiday shopping, travel and entertaining, I want to encourage you to also plan now how you are going to deal with the stress of the season and how you might create more peace and happiness for yourself. You probably already know what usually stresses you out this time of year. By making some different choices now, before all the holiday hubbub is in full swing, you can create a different experience for you and your family.
Do a check-in. What does having a wonderful holiday season truly mean to you? Take time to think about this now, before you are bombarded with advertisements and pressure from others. Talk about it with your husband and family too. You may find that while you’ve been worried about magazine-perfect decorating, that your family really just loves the same old decorations you put out every year, or that they remember your funny or sentimental gifts more than the expensive show-stoppers.
Be realistic about time. When the holiday season starts, we can set really high expectations for ourselves: We’ll cook everything from scratch! And use new healthy recipes! We’ll make crafty gifts like the ones on Pinterest! We’ll decorate like this magazine spread! And then there are all the parties and visits you want to fit in, and your kids’ holiday programs and … Is it starting to feel like you should quit your job to make all this happen? You can only work with the time you have, and as much as you stretch it, not everything is going to fit. What can you rule out now, based on what’s truly important to you during the holidays?
Involve your husband. It’s early November now, and I am betting that many of you reading this have already started your holiday prep and planning. Perhaps a few of you have even finished gift shopping! Now think about your husband. Holiday stuff may or may not be on his radar yet. If it’s not, don’t fall into the trap of taking care of everything before he even thinks of it. That’s a recipe for resentment! Take a little time to figure what needs to be done, and work together to get the stress level down. If you don’t treat him like your assistant or someone whose just getting in the way, the holiday season may actually bring you closer.
Deal with people as they really are. Maybe it’s because we love the stories of how Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Grinch changed their ways at Christmastime, but sometimes we expect the holiday season to work its magic on the difficult people in our lives. While you can always hold out hope that your own Grinches will change, think about how you can have a happy holiday season even if they don’t. How do you want to respond when they push your buttons?
Set some healthy limits. While your mother-in-law probably won’t stop being passive-aggressive and your brother won’t quit needling your husband about their political differences, what you can change is how much time you spend with them. If possible, stay at a hotel instead of the home of relatives who set you off so you can have some downtime.
Plan for self-care. One of the things that makes us stressed and snippy during the holidays is being out of our usual routines. We eat too much, drink too much and skip our workouts to go shopping. Before all the temptations start appearing, consider how you and your family can enjoy some indulgences, but maintain the healthy habits that will keep you feeling good physically and emotionally.
Change it up. Holiday traditions can feel set in stone, but you may find you need to switch up some old routines to make this a happier, less stressful time. Do you want to take a trip together as a family and avoid “making the rounds” of relatives’ houses? Can Thanksgiving be a potluck instead of you doing all the cooking? Do you want to work with your family to cut down on the number of gifts everyone has to buy? Let people know now so they can get used to your new plans.
Finally, when you catch yourself thinking that everyone else seems to be having a better holiday season, gently turn your mind away from these thoughts, focus on what is working and try to keep a sense of humor about the rest. Remember that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” holiday season, so relax and enjoy yours in all its wonderful imperfection.