Most people look forward to the holidays with great expectations for family, friends and time to enjoy the seasons. The holidays offer great foods, much needed time away from work, and the opportunity to reconnect with loved-ones.
But for some people, the holiday drama can be more “Bah Humbug” than “God bless us, everyone.”
If the holidays cause you more stress than joy, here’s some advice that’s sure to help.
One of the most common reasons that the holidays become stressful is the expectation placed on families who are sometimes overextended emotionally and financially. The added burden to provide big meals, provide gifts, pay for travel and overextend the budget feels like a heavy weight. Families begin to stress just about the time they are putting away the Halloween decorations.
Despite the Hallmark channel’s insistence that families all love one another and that being together is all that matters, many families are fractured, busy and unable or unwilling to live in harmony. The key to having a stress-less holiday is all about preparation and setting boundaries. Sticking to a plan that allows for the fun parts of the season without setting the family up for failure is the best way to ensure that everyone has the best time possible, even if times aren’t perfect.
When children are small, parents set boundaries that are clear expectations for their conduct. As long as a child operates inside the boundaries, they are allowed to engage without any consequences. If they step outside of the boundaries, they are redirected back to what is acceptable.
Parents who place a high value on parenting engage their children in the process. They use logic and love to explain why the rules exist and why the consequences are important for failure to comply. The benefit of operating within set boundaries becomes knowing what is expected, why and understanding that there are limits.
Children raised with clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries tend to be better at self-regulating, delayed gratification and adapting to their settings as adults.
Setting boundaries about the holidays allows for the same outcomes as parenting. Preparing a budget and holding to it, decided whom to share the holidays with and negotiating what activities to participate in will create a sense of calm in a potentially anxious season. The key to making meaningful boundaries is to do it ahead of time.
Prior to the season, discuss the expectations, finances and opportunities available and make clear decisions about how resources will be used. Once the decisions are made, stick to the plan.
The single best thing that can be done to prepare for holiday stress is to acknowledge that it is part of the reason for the season. It is directly tied to the expectations placed on a family that are above the usual expectations of every day living. Just because the holidays are here, does not mean there is an obligation to overextend ourselves.
If you have unresolved chores, bills, family relationships that are strained or projects that are unfinished, do everything you can to get them managed before the holidays set in.
Clean your home or have a service come in and get things on track. Head to the dump, donate to the thrift store and clear out your clutter. Clean your garage, your gutters and your closets.
Refill prescriptions, pre-write your holiday newsletter, clear out space for the holiday decorations to come down from the attic and make space for what you need. Start picking up baking items or other staples that you know you are going to need now when you have a bit more time. Touch base with friends and family now and share that you expect times to get so busy that you want to reach out now so you won’t feel pressured later and they won’t feel neglected.
Make certain that self-care is a part of the whole family’s lifestyle. Adequate sleep, forms of exercise and down time are important in a season that is all about hustle.
Do not feel obligated to say yes to every invitation to give, attend a party or otherwise be involved. It is a perfectly acceptable stand to say no to the things that cause more stress than joy.
Stay in the moment. Remember the reason for your season. Whatever your personal reasons are for celebrating the holidays, remember to be present and enjoy everything you can about this year because this year will never be here again.
Give. The surest way to reduce stress is to freely and willingly give of yourself, your time or your resources for the benefit of others. This is different than giving out of obligation and with resentment. No matter your finances, your family dynamics or your time constraints, you can give in a meaningful way towards something that is bigger than you and will set your soul at ease.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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