How Life Changes can Decrease your Holiday Stress

Two weeks to go before the big day!  Everywhere there are reminders that the holiday season is here.  The morning paper arrives filled with sale flyers; the email in-box is full of promotions, radio stations are playing Christmas tunes, and TV stations are re-running the classic Christmas movies.  By today, most people are deep into their personal preparations for the holidays.

This is also the time when holiday stress begins to build.  How will you get through those holiday events — parties, receptions, dinners, concerts, recitals — whatever your calendar has in store during the next two weeks?  How will you manage your own entertaining and decorating — never mind all of the cooking, cleaning, baking, and shopping that comes with Christmas?  For some of you, there is the added stress of preparation for travel or for hosting relatives or friends as house guests.  Will you have time to enjoy the magic and inspiration of  Christmas or will your days be filled with lists, obligations, shopping dilemmas and other demands?

Faced with forced confinement to remain at home as I convalesce from my recent hip replacement, I decided that this year I would re-examine some of the holiday traditions and use my mobility limitations to make life changes.  These life changes can also be evaluated through the lens of retirement and a different lifestyle.  I decided to review many of the Christmas ‘obligations’.  As a result, I am finding time to sit down, sip a cup of hot cocoa in the afternoon and enjoy looking at the winter landscape created by  the first major snowfall in Ontario instead of furiously multi-tasking or vying for a parking spot at the mall.

What life changes have I pursued to decrease the holiday stress?

I began with several conversations with my husband and with our son to determine what each of us valued about our family Christmas traditions. These talks were interesting and evoked many memories of Christmas we had celebrated in various ways and in various places.   There were Christmas times that we had enjoyed immensely; times we had travelled; times we had invited friends or relatives from afar to visit; difficult Christmas times when one  or all of us got sick; and  changes that had occurred over the years as relatives passed away, friends moved away, and as we all grew older.  We agreed that the most important aspect of Christmas was being together as a family on Christmas eve and Christmas morning.   We also discussed Christmas menus and identified those foods we loved best.  The conversation about food was especially interesting because I learned how much my son disliked the taste of turkey and hated the traditional vegetables like squash and brussels sprouts.  Our son was also adamant about not sharing our Christmas day meal with others — ‘let’s have just the 3 of us at dinner”.  As adults blessed with enough of everything, we decided that we loved giving and getting gifts but that we should use some of our resources in support of the local food bank and Kids Help Phone, a national charity.

As a family we agreed that 2010 was an opportune time to make some changes to manage the holiday to our needs and to decrease holiday stress.  Here are our ideas to keep things manageable.

  1. We won’t be cooking Christmas dinner at home.  We have made  a restaurant reservation and will eat out on Christmas day. Without the stress of preparing the traditional meal, there will be time for sleeping in and relaxation in the morning.  We can take our time with Christmas coffee, open our gifts and then go out to eat what each of us enjoy.  The bonus — no clean-up and no fridge bursting with left-overs.  To keep your stress level down, consider how you can reduce the amount of time you spend shopping for food, preparing and cooking the food, and cleaning up afterwards. Many of you love cooking — as I do — but there are times when leaving it to someone else is just fine.  I will do some baking and my son and I will prepare a venison tourtiere on Christmas Eve.  That’s it!
  2. Given that I can’t get to the malls this year, shopping is automatically limited. I did purchase a few gifts in mid-November prior to my hip surgery and I wouldn’t be honest if I said that I don’t miss the hustle and bustle of Christmas sales.  However, without the hassle of going to the crowded stores I find myself with more time to spend on other preparations without feeling that I have to constantly multi-task nor do I have to listen to the mall muzak.  With online options I have been able to easily purchase gifts and have been able to resist impulse buying.   To reduce your holiday stress, consider starting early (too late for 2010, but a consideration for 2011) as well as online purchases.
  3. As a result of our family discussions we have eliminated outside decorations — partly because of the cold weather and partly because nobody wanted to be climbing ladders to put up the lights.  Easier and greener.
  4. The family vote on the Christmas tree was 2 — for a real tree; and 1 — for an artificial tree.  My husband grew up in the Caribbean and would rather have no tree than another ugly (in his mind) plastic tree; my son won’t hear of an artificial tree  because of the environment — so I have conceded with their promise that I won’t have to water it nor take it down. Other interior decorations will be limited to live plants and flowers, candles, and a few cedar boughs — things that can be dismantled easily.  My goal is to limit the fuss and leave the excess ornaments in the basement storage.
  5. One advantage of being housebound is that there is an acceptable excuse to politely refuse invitations. As well, nobody expects me to entertain.  What a relief on both counts!  The bonus will be not having to worry about extra pounds from indulging in too much food and drink.  If you can, try to limit the number of events you schedule during the the holiday season.  While saying yes to invitations may feel like something that is considerate of others, it may be soul-destroying if you end up feeling resentful.  Some events may require your presence to maintain good relationships but you can set reasonable boundaries about how much time you will spend getting ready, travelling, partying, and getting home. Attending only those parties and family events that mean something to you and your immediate family will allow you to have enough time to enjoy those activities that nourish your spirit.

The holidays don’t have to be exhausting and stressful.  By eliminating some traditions and managing others, I find myself looking forward to the hope, inspiration and goodwill of Christmas — and that is the postworksavvy aspect of the changes.  I’m sure that readers have made changes to how they celebrate holidays as children grow up, families evolve, and friendships are altered.  I hope that you are managing your holiday traditions in ways that decrease your stress and allow you to celebrate well.  After all, the season is supposed to be about peace.

I know that all readers are making their own changes as your lives evolve.  Please tell me about your favourite strategies in your comments.

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