Three French hens, two turtle doves, and a headache as big as the moon! Is this how you feel when thinking about the impending holiday season? A common complaint about the holiday season is that there is just so much to do: Responding to party invitations, writing cards, visits with family and school events. The upcoming weeks can be a time of magic, or a time of panic and stress. Finding a balance between what we have to do and what we want to do can be a real challenge.
In talking with friends and observing general comments about this balance, I have reached one conclusion: The most important step in achieving a balance is recognizing what is within your power to control! Once you identify what those things are, then you can determine how to change them, and take steps to do so. The extra pressures of the holidays make this all-the-more important, so I have some helpful tips.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself – what is keeping me so busy? Then, decide which of those events and obligations are required, desired and important to you. List them by priority level; the items at the bottom of your list can get the boot without too much distress, right? Your third cousin may have invited you to his drop-in party, but both you and he will still enjoy the season if you don’t get there. And saying no to that means you’ll have time to eat dinner at home between gift shopping and that performance of the Nutcracker your daughter is starring in this year. The shopping trip will be less stressful because the time crunch will be gone, and settling into your seat for the ballet might actually be relaxing!
Then there’s the workplace and those expectations. Does your boss expect you to organize a gift exchange among co-workers? Did you volunteer to help plan the company food drive? Once again, re-visit your commitments and consider them carefully. Perhaps you can handle the gift exchange, if you have an assistant. Communicate this to your boss and ask for help. Get a jump on the food drive with a brief organizational meeting, and make sure no one (including you) gets stuck with the bulk of the work. Getting a handle on what needs to be done will reduce your stress about it significantly.
The pressures of gift-giving can be enough to make us go grey, too. Let me share a personal anecdote about this. For several years after my mother re-married, the new expanded group of siblings all bought gifts for one another. There are six of us, and we didn’t know each other all that well, so buying gifts for all these new sort-of strangers was more a chore than a pleasure. We finally agreed this was too much, and reverted to pulling names from a hat and only buying for one sibling. The change gave us each a chance to focus on one person and find out what sort of gift would mean something to them, instead of hurriedly picking up a bunch of random items in order to check everyone off the list. (It also lifted a burden from our bank accounts!)
This may not be your situation, but there is still some wisdom in asking yourself why you’re buying as much as you are, and perhaps making some changes. You needn’t get a gift for every child in your son’s pre-school class, or each and every co-worker! This is of course also a great opportunity to consider a donation to a charity, in lieu of some of those gifts.
What about holiday traditions? Maybe you feel the urge to re-enact every special ritual you grew up with, each December. Even these can probably stand a little scrutiny. Is it possible your teenagers don’t want to stand in line at the mall for a picture with Santa anymore? It was cute for the past decade, but everyone will be happier, and you’ll save yourself an hour (at least, have you seen those lines?), if you let that one go. As with obligations, prioritize the fun things, too, and make some choices about how much each activity really offers you and your family. Think quality versus quantity in this area, which will allow you to truly enjoy the traditions you choose to maintain.
And the things we can’t control? Take some deep breaths, and plow ahead. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it all perfectly, and quit side-eyeing others to see if you measure up. At the end of the day (and the season) it’s about our own expectations. Pick your battles, spend a little time getting organized, and practice saying no. Prioritize your time and energy in ways that will leave you feeling fulfilled, your family cared for, and your wallet unscathed.