I don’t know about you, but for yeeeeears every time I walked into a Hobby Lobby in August and saw all the Christmas decorations and lights, panic would instantly set in. My heart would thump in my chest and all the memories of the panic attacks I once suffered from would come rushing back.
I had to talk myself down. Slow my breathing. Repeat to myself internally, “I will not stress over Christmas. I will not stress over Christmas.”
If you haven’t clicked off this post yet, wondering what kind of crazy I am, I’m guessing chances are pretty high you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I can’t even really put my finger on why I felt so stressed and overwhelmed for all those years but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just one thing. It was a combination of things – not ever wanting to say no, not having good boundaries in place, not managing my time or priorities well, wanting to please all.the.people with all.the.things.
About 7 years ago we completely changed the way we do Christmas and ever since then, it’s become my absolute favorite time of year.
The Christmas season has become a season of rest, spending really good, quality time with people I love, experiencing new things, new places, new foods. It’s a season of laughter, renewal, and gratitude.
Because I want the Christmas season to bring you the PEACE that it should, considering what we’re really celebrating during the season, I want to give you my 10 Strategies for Reducing Stress During the Holidays:
- Remind yourself what Christmas IS! It’s not about gifts, cocktail parties or who wins the best-decorated-house-in-the-neighborhood prize. Christmas is about Jesus. It’s about the birth of our peacemaker, hope-giver, lover of our souls. He is the best gift any of us have ever received and He just keeps on giving. Keep your eyes on Him.
- Stop with the people pleasing. Seriously, it’s exhausting. Just stop.
- Learn to say no. No to baking 6 dozen cookies for little Johnny’ s class with one day’s notice. No to the office potluck that you dread every year but go to anyway because you feel obligated. No to the gift exchange you don’t really want to participate in. It’s ok to say no! People won’t like it. That’s ok, too.
- Don’t attend every party you get invited to. (Unless you really, really want to go.)
This time of year is typically filled with invitations to all sorts of wonderful parties and events. Get your calendar out and use it! Don’t overbook yourself to the point of not having time to binge Christmas movies on Netflix with your mom or spend extra time in your pajamas on a Saturday baking cookies with your daughter. Only accept the invitations you’re really excited about. Everyone else will understand and if they don’t, just like I said in #3, that’s ok!
- Put play time in your schedule. Time for you, time with your spouse, time with your kids. This kinda goes along with #4 but these are the kinds of things that matter most to me during this time of year and keep me feeling peaceful and grateful for the season. We have a tradition of filling a carafe with hot cocoa and packing up homemade cookies to enjoy in the car as we drive to see Christmas lights. Having time to play and laugh with the people I love keeps my stress low.
- Plan early. When and where will you get together with your extended family? It doesn’t always have to be Christmas Day! If there are family members you want to see but work schedules don’t coordinate (not everyone is off work on Christmas!), pick another day and time to celebrate, exchange gifts and enjoy a meal together.
- Create a Christmas budget. We have never, and we will never, put Christmas on a credit card! You’re just asking for added stress throughout the rest of the year if you do. Sit down and create a reasonable budget and then stick to it.
- Consider gifting unforgettable experiences rather than things. Remember when I said 7 years ago we changed the way we do Christmas? That was the year we told our kids (who were 7, 8, and 13 at the time) that rather than spend thousands of dollars on gifts they would soon forget, we were going to give them a trip they would always remember. We let them choose between 3 destinations and the week after Christmas we took off for Boston. They chose Boston because they wanted to fly for the first time, they wanted to see snow, and they wanted to see many of the things and places we’d studied that year in American history. (Santa brought a few small gifts for each of them, but none of them remember what was under the tree that year. They DO remember the trip and how much they loved that experience.) You can do a more affordable experience – maybe a season pass to an amusement park, museum or other place they love. I remember one year hearing on a radio station that a large family (I think 9 kids?) would never go out to eat because of the cost. For Christmas that year they all dressed up and the parents took the kids to a fancy restaurant. What a fun experience! I thought that was so cool.
- Don’t feel guilty about keeping your giving list small so you can stay within your budget. I love giving but I have a reaaaaally big family and am also thankful for a wide circle of friends. I don’t buy gifts for all of them. I used to and it really added to my stress levels trying to find the perfect gift, at just the right price, then take time to wrap them all beautifully. Just typing this is making my chest do that weird heart – thumping, anxiety – inducing thing. No. Just no. Instead of stressing over gifts and wrapping, I’ll give a homemade banana or pumpkin bread or cookies that my daughter and I baked together. Maybe I’ll write a beautiful, handwritten letter telling them what I love most about them. Maybe I’ll give them an experience – invite them to lunch, a movie, to join me for an afternoon strolling through art galleries or antique shops – something specific to the family member or friend and what I know they love. It doesn’t have to be during the busy Christmas season!
Let go of perfection. This should probably go somewhere near the top of the list but I put it last because I don’t want you to forget it. This is actually my #1 strategy. You can’t please everyone. You can’t do everything. You can’t be what and where everyone wants you to be.
I’m almost 40 years old and I’m just now totally, completely, wholeheartedly ok with #10.
This Christmas, I hope you will join me in trying to experience the season this way. This less-stressed, less-hurried, less-perfect, more peaceful and memorable way. Maybe say to yourself:
I will live in each moment, enjoying the lights, scents and sounds of this beautiful season. I will make memories with people I love. I will not buy all the gifts on the list. I will not wrap all the things perfectly. I will not accept every invitation or spend more than I budget in order to please anyone. I will not try to create a “perfect” Christmas. I will stay focused on the reason we have Christmas. I will keep my eyes on Jesus. I will ask for His help if I feel overwhelmed so I can pinpoint where that’s coming from and deal with it. Maybe it means I have to say no to something, decline an invitation, or upset someone without meaning to because I’m establishing new boundaries in order to keep my heart at peace. I will remember that this season is about love. This Christmas I will not be stressed. I will give love. I will receive love.
Praying you have a blessed Christmas my friends! Share this with those you know need to reduce their stress during this season! Tell me in the comments which strategy you’re going to focus on the most this year.