Dealing with Holiday Stress
© Anne Geller
There Are No Shoulds
First and foremost, forget about what you should do, concentrate on what you enjoy doing with your children and family. You don't have to buy and decorate a tree. One year, instead of a tree I decorated a branch. It was my very special Christmas branch. Feel free to get creative. Holiday cards can be forgotten or postponed - surprise your friends with post-holiday/welcome to the new year cards made by you and your children. Or, don't send any at all. Why not send cards in summer - it will be a nice surprise! Whenever you find yourself saying, "I should ?.", tell yourself to be quiet and enjoy the season.
A Sense of Order
Keep to a schedule (a light schedule, if possible). Kids like predictability. Sleeping in is nice, but let's not sleep all day. Try to stick to some of the same routines you have when children are in school. Don't break every rule you ever set just because it's the holiday either. Some leniency is great, too much is a disaster waiting to happen.
The Dreaded Meal
With your children, decide what you want for a holiday meal. Have them help you make a list and help you find the things at the grocery store. For some people, a trip to the grocery store with their children would cause more stress than joy - DON'T DO IT THEN! Still have your children help you make something - even little kids can help by doing simple things like handing you the oil or getting out the measuring cups.
Watch Out for the Chocolate Monster
Watch the candy eating - especially chocolate or foods with caffeine (like soda pop!). While sugar has not been proven to cause behavioral changes in children (although I don't believe it!), caffeine has - certain children become more agitated, boisterous, energetic and even unresponsive to adult directions!
Remember tradition or establish a new tradition - something you'll want your children to remember when they're older. These traditions can be free or cheap (and should be if you want to decrease your stress!) Make a popcorn chain, buy or get from the library a new holiday book or books and read together, go on a neighborhood walk to see the holiday lights, gather together candles and light a new one every night while everyone says something they are thankful for.
A Free Gift That Everyone Will Love
Many parents feel guilty they can't afford to give lots of presents (or sometimes any presents). Here's an idea to replace presents, and it won't cost you a thing. (This will work for partners and friends too). Give a coupon book with slips good for choosing dinner, deciding what video to pick, getting to stay up for an extra half hour, getting breakfast in bed, a get out of cleaning your room card, or an extra bedtime story. For younger children you can draw a picture on their coupon along with the words to help them remember. This idea might take a year or two to catch on, but once your children understand the joy of redeeming their coupon you'll have a great gift to give them every year. These coupons can be helpful for later parenting decisions - when your child asks if he can watch an extra TV show, you can say, "would you like to use a coupon?" Then it becomes his decision, not yours!
Nothing Beats a Memory
Give the gift of a story. Write down a favorite, happy memory from childhood and send it to your mom or dad or a sibling or a grandparent. This is a priceless gift that could never be purchased in a store.
The Low-Cost Holiday
Some families pick names so that you only have one person to find a gift for. Families who are really simplifying their lives and decreasing their stress insist the gift be under a certain amount of money or even hand-made. One year, my family decided to give gifts to everyone, but each gift had to be less than $5. This ended up being a lot of fun!
The Gift of Giving
A lot of people feel rushed and stressed this time of year. Sometimes the best thing we can do to help ourselves is to help someone else. Surprise someone by offering to return their grocery cart at the store. As a family, volunteer to participate in a holiday feast for those less fortunate or gather a group of neighbors together and go caroling or take your family and decorate a tree in the woods (with popcorn and cranberry strings that the birds can eat!)
I've Tried All Your Ideas and I'm Still Stressed!!!
If stress is really getting to you, think about what is contributing, what thoughts you are having and how your body is responding. Maybe going for a walk will help, but you have to eventually stop thinking those stressful thoughts at some point, even if you're walking. What are your thoughts? Can you change them to less stress producing thoughts? For example, I can say to myself "The holidays never turn out like I want them too" or I can say to myself "The holidays are always full of surprises, I wonder what tomorrow will bring." This may sound simple, but catching negative thoughts and changing their course can have very positive results.
What's It All About - Really?
Keep in mind whatever personal meaning or perspective you bring to the holidays and share that with those you love and your children. From time to time I remind myself that the most important thing I can do during the holidays is enjoy those I'm with and that everything else is just icing on the cake (or whipped cream on the pumpkin pie!).