by Debra Hewitt, author of The Celebration Journal
It happens every year, and yet we never seem to get better at managing it. I’m referring, of course, to the hectic holiday season. We are already super busy, feeling like there isn’t room for anything else in our schedules, and then the holidays hit. At a time when we want to really enjoy being with family, enjoying the sights, and just having fun, we also have to deal with this enormous new load of work. Shopping, baking, wrapping. Even the holiday parties which sound like so much fun when we’re invited begin to feel like another chore on our to-do list when they finally arrive. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are six quick tips for avoiding holiday overwhelm and focusing on what really matters.
- Decide what's important. No one can do it all so set your priorities ahead of time. Is sending a detailed Christmas letter essential or could you settle for a quick note above your signature in a card? Will you send to everyone in your address book or just a few family friends scattered across the country? Can you skip sending cards altogether and use the time instead to visit the nursing home, attend church or have lunch with friends?
- Keep it simple. If you want to entertain, is getting together with family and friends what is most important or showing off what a good cook you are? So much of the pressure we feel during the holidays comes from setting unrealistic expectations. The table settings and mantle decorations in magazines are great for inspiration, but remember that those picture-perfect settings were created by an entire staff. Most of us don’t have one. Keep your plans simple, and you will enjoy them more. So will your guests.
- Start early to avoid feeling rushed and overwhelmed. The goal is not to finish before any of your friends but to spread the workload across your calendar. If you can bake a batch of cookies the week before Thanksgiving and store them in the freezer until Christmas, that’s one less thing to worry about. If you see a roll of your favorite gift-wrap tape while standing in the check-out line, grab it. One less thing to worry about.
- Prevent frustration with organization. Take one evening or Saturday afternoon to inventory your pantry and wrapping center. Don’t forget to check expiration dates. Then create a single list of things to buy or do that you can always carry with you in your phone or in your planner. This will keep you from having to run out for red food coloring or powdered sugar at nine p.m. because you were sure you had some—but didn’t.
- Think about one thing at a time. Studies show that attempting to multitask is bad for your brain and increases stress. It’s like racing back and forth from one end of the room to the other to work on two different tasks. You’re really just training yourself to switch back and forth between competing activities. Instead of trying to double up on your tasks, take a few minutes to concentrate on who you’re with and what you’re doing instead of thinking of what you have to do next. You will feel more relaxed and ultimately accomplish more.
- Make it your goal to be full of good cheer. Take a break when you (or your family) need it. No matter what frustrations you face while out and about, be the shopper with the biggest smile, the parent who strokes her fussy child’s hair instead of fussing back, the driver who lets someone else take the best parking space. Say please and thank-you. Say I love you. It’s good for the world, and it’s good for you.
Happy holidays to you all! May they be fun, relaxing and everything else you’re hoping they will be!