Dec 182009

One week to go until Christmas and the stress is piling on. Today is the last day most places are offering online shopping for guaranteed Christmas delivery and effectively the last day to ship gifts (but see previous post on shipping deadlines). I sent some photos yesterday for one-hour printing and the photo store is so backed up “one hour photo” is now “24 hour photo.”

With all of the things that happen in our normal day-to-day lives, it is really quite amazing that we manage to fit in all the extra tasks of the holiday season on top of them. Cooking, decorating, sending cards, buying gifts, attending parties, etc. If you have a heavy workload at your job or a personal crisis erupts, trying to get through all of the holiday season tasks can be overwhelming to the point of paralyzing.

What can you do if you are overwhelmed by the holiday season?

The American Psychological Association has some great tips. Interestingly, their first recommendation is:

“Take stock of your expectations and make sure they’re realistic. Don’t expect more of this time of year than of any other.”

–”How to Stay Calm During the Holidays,” American Psychological Association

The Mayo Clinic’s first stress-coping tip is to “acknowledge your feelings.”

“It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.”

–”Stress, Depression and The Holidays: 10 Tips for Coping,” Mayo Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic provides many practical tips along three key themes:

  • Simplify.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations, particularly the desire for perfection.
  • Invest your energies wisely.

–”Coping with Holiday Stress,” The Cleveland Clinic

As I think about my own holiday stress and how it could possibly be prevented, I think the advice above about simplifying and setting reasonable expectations is more important than simply time management. If I were “perfect” and had to accomplish all of the items on my holiday to do list with less stress, my schedule would probably look something like this:

Immediately after this Christmas, take stock of how many presents we sent and received. Decide gifting and card lists for next year. Set holiday budget for next year. If following Hundred Dollar Holiday, start thinking about what will be given next year. If handmade gifts will be given, start making them or planning for them.

Throughout the year, budget and save a set amount per month for holiday shopping and make any handmade gifts.

Early November – review Christmas card list, update any addresses. Print address labels. Order any gifts requiring special processing (such as framing projects, photo books, etc.)

Thanksgiving weekend – take holiday card photo (or select an existing photo) , decorate the house and put up the tree. Do a minor amount of shopping for streamlined gift list.

First week in December – All gifts requiring special processing are complete

Approximately December 10 – All gifts to be shipped and holiday cards are in the mail. All shopping is complete. All gifts are wrapped.

Aim to host or attend all holiday parties after December 10 when there will be time left for cooking, crafting, decorating, etc.

I would effectively have to be thinking about Christmas a little bit every month until the next Christmas. On this schedule, I would worry about Christmas burnout. It seems like a choice between Christmas burnout and Christmas stress. Neither one is all that appealing. Also, if one little thing goes wrong in my burnout schedule, I am back to holiday stress.

It is hard to think about what to cut out as well. Slim down the holiday card list? Possibly, but for some of the names on our list, it is the one time per year we actually correspond. Slim down the gift list? Good possibilities there, actually if everyone in our exchange circle gets on board. Decorations? We are getting better at this one this year. When I put away the decorations, I think I will box and label them according to the location where they go (ex. mantel decorations, staircase garland, etc.) so next year, we just grab a box and take it to the right location. Our artificial tree is still a ton of work, though (and heavy too) but the girls love it.

Perhaps the best goal is to accept that each year something is not going to go as planned. For years, the first thing to slip for us was the holiday cards. We would get them out sometime around New Years. We decided though that the holiday cards were one of the great joys of the season for us. We love to see everyone’s photos and updates. We also learned that some people won’t send you a card if you don’t send a card first so we are trying to get them out earlier and earlier each year (although they have not gone out yet this year!). Lately, some gifts are slipping or online gift certificates are ordered. We also don’t put much energy into our decorations. I still have to get the tree up this weekend.

The biggest stress reducer, however, was deciding not to travel during the holidays once we had children. While we love to see our families and miss them dearly during the holidays, we don’t miss the airport crowds, the inevitable cold and flu germs and luggage packed to the gills with presents. There is enough gear involved traveling with small children and we would not be able to handle the extra load of presents. The expense of travel builds with more family members too and it is nice not to have that expense on top of all the other holiday expenses. The actual holiday celebrations are much quieter for us now but we are learning to start our own family traditions and enjoying the time together.

How is your holiday stress level? If you are stressed out, what would you cut out or relax about to get your stress level down? Wishing you good energy for the weekend to accomplish your goals!

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