The media would have us believe that we are all meant to be sailing serenely through the holiday season, joyfully celebrating a Hallmark-style Christmas and New Year, looking flawless and feeling great. The reality is that most of us have ‘to do’ lists that have taken on lives of their own. We are overstretched, overtired, and prone to hysterical laughter when someone asks us to do ‘one more thing’. We are in desperate need of help to reduce holiday stress.
The whole beyond wonderful reason for the holiday season gets totally lost in the quest for how things ought to be, as we try to fulfil endless expectations (both our own and other people’s). It really is nothing to do with decorations, cards or presents, yet even the most spiritual of us can get lost in the ‘busy-ness’ of Christmas. Let me be the one to urge you – even give you permission if you need it – to step back.
It’s time to remember that everyone is supposed to be enjoying this wonderful time of year – and that everyone includes you. Need some help? Let’s start here.
Be realistic about what you can actually achieve.
If the holiday celebration you envisage involves you getting little or no sleep between now and December 25th, then you need to take off your rose tinted glasses and lay down in a darkened room. Women have such high expectations of themselves all year round, and the holidays are no exception. You can only be in one place at a time, and you can only achieve so much in a day. If you are too busy to make home baked treats for every holiday party it really is okay. And you are allowed to say the ‘n’ word when someone asks you to do something you really can’t (or do not want) to fit in.
You don’t have to do it all by yourself. It’s okay to ask – and even pay for – help. Christmas baking is one of my favourite things to do, and I have many cherished memories of time spent in the kitchen with loved ones ‘baking memories’ – but if it brings you more stress than joy, it’s no crime to purchase treats ready-made.
Having parcels professionally wrapped is just fine, and many stores offer free wrapping services this time of year. Failing that, kids love to ‘help’ wrap presents, and although you may have to invest a little time and patience to teach them how, the memories you create will be well worth it. (You can always pre-cut wrapping paper for little ones if you are worried about scissors.) No one is going to mind a present that isn’t perfectly wrapped – and if they do, then they shouldn’t be on your gift list anyway.
If you have not completed your Christmas shopping yet, I recommend shopping online
I don’t know anywhere in the world where the stores are not chaotic this close to Christmas, and just trying to find a parking space in the midst of all the other frantic shoppers can be enough to reduce the strongest woman to tears. Not a way to reduce holiday stress! However, there is still time for most companies to deliver in time for Christmas, and some will even wrap and deliver gifts directly to the recipients, saving you a trip to the post office.
If local retailers or grocery stores offer a reliable home delivery service, use it. I have all my heavy shopping delivered in the weeks before Christmas, meaning I only have to pop out for the last minute things closer to the time.
Lower your expectations
It’s easy to get caught up in the Christmas the media and advertisers are trying to sell us, but joy isn’t something you can buy or create. You can build up a vision in your head of everyone’s perfect Christmas and then nigh on kill yourself trying to create that, but if you ask most of your family, what they want in a Christmas celebration is probably a lot simpler than you might think. It also probably involves a very happy and contented you, not the frazzled, stressed out person you will be if you try to create the impossible.
Don’t let other people spoil your joy
If someone else has unrealistically high expectations of what you should be able to achieve this time of year, don’t let it worry you. Memory can be a very forgiving thing, and if someone starts a sentence with words similar to ‘in my day’ remember that time may have gently edited their memory of perfection. Just smile and nod, and remember that doing your best is the best you can do.
Take time for you
As impossible as that might seem, you need to make every effort to take care of yourself this time of year too. Getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, not skipping meals, exercising and taking time to breathe are all crucial to enjoying (and keeping your sanity) this very busy time of year.
Don’t assume everyone else has it together
I write this as someone who is feeling seriously frazzled at the moment. My Christmas cards are not finished, there is wrapping paper everywhere and I am desperate to get into the kitchen to do some more baking. With the best effort in the world, I’m still feeling like I’m never going to get everything I want to do, done. I look at other women and think they have it all together, but in my heart I know they are paddling just as frantically underneath the surface as I am. We all want the best for our families and friends this Christmas, but the most wonderful thing we can give them is the best of ourselves. Don’t let that get lost in high expectations, mile long to do lists or an unrealistic vision of how things should be. Never forget that whatever may be happening around you or in your life, the whole reason for this season is Joy.
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2 v10-11