Let’s face it, the holiday season can be a stressful time of year. While the movies portray happy families laughing around the kitchen table or in front of the fireplace, that’s often not the reality we face as moms. During this time of year, we often end up more stressed out and busier than ever. I know I fall into the trap, and each year, I vow to stay focused on what really matters and work on managing holiday stress.
We want the holidays to be filled with warm memories for our family members, but it’s so easy to get wrapped up (pun intended) in the business of the season. There’s often so much to do that it’s difficult to be present with our loved ones. Ever feel like you’re losing your sanity around the holidays?
There must be a better way!
Can We Simplify the Holiday Season?
Over the years, I’ve searched for ways to make the holidays special while still giving my kids the traditions and memories that bring joy. Some of the things that have worked for us are prioritizing experiences over material gifts, limiting the number of presents per person, and focusing on a spirit of giving instead of receiving.
All that aside, it’s tough to recognize the outside forces that act on us despite our best intentions. There’s so much on our to-do lists, and there’s a lot of pressure to make the holidays perfect. But I do believe we can try to resist some of the stress and pressure that social media and society make us feel.
Rejecting the Holiday Stress for Our Mental Health Well-Being
Leading up to the holidays, we’re bombarded with messages that create panic inside us: “There’s X number of days left until Christmas!” From television ads to social media and store displays, it’s easy to feel our stress levels rise when we see the marketing start as early as October. All this holiday stress can’t be good for us or our mental health!
This isn’t the kind of holiday we want for our families either.! We don’t want to feel rushed or panicked about buying enough and doing enough. Instead, we all yearn for a time of togetherness with our loved ones, making memories and spending time together with less stressful situations to face.
So, I say … this year, let’s take back Christmas! This may not be the year when you magically transform your holidays into the living embodiment of a Real Simple magazine article. But it can be the year when you create enough space for you and your family to shape and enjoy holiday traditions.
Don’t we owe it to our kids to manage stressors by creating a safe, stress-free holiday for them so they’ll remember it as the most wonderful time of the year? And chances are it won’t take much!
Managing Holiday Stress Through Minimalism
Our family has become a huge fan of minimalism. It’s helped us define what’s really important to us and then makes it easier to remove things that don’t add value. Minimalism also works for our schedule too. Since we know what our family values are, we only say yes to things that are in alignment with those values.
One of the biggest ways we simplify the holidays is to give only one material present per person. That may seem extreme to some, but over the years, I’ve realized that experiences mean more to my family than material presents. Not only does it line up with our minimalist lifestyle, but it helps with financial stress that can sometimes creep in during the holidays.
Even though there are lots of opportunities for fun and festive events during the holidays, we don’t participate in everything. There’s no way we could attend all of the holiday parties or festivals, so we pick the most meaningful ones. This lifestyle choice has taken some of the stressors out of an already busy season.
7 Steps to Simplify the Holiday Season
Since there are a lot of fun activities and things you don’t want to miss, you can’t cancel all the things. I’ve found it’s helpful to create realistic expectations and set boundaries. I use these steps to help me focus on my family instead of everything that needs to “get done.”
1. Evaluate Your Favorite Traditions
Think back on Christmases past. What are your most cherished memories? What did you enjoy doing, and what did you always look forward to? These could be from when you were a child or from times with your own children.
Chances are your best memories aren’t about stuff but about time spent with loved ones. Maybe it was making cookies with your family members or creating a DIY tree garland together. Or it could have been driving around looking at lights while drinking homemade hot cocoa.
Take note of everything that stands out to you as a tradition you want to recreate. Then share your ideas with your family. Ask them if they have anything they love doing during this time of year.
2. Schedule the Essentials
Make a list of “must-dos” using the list of favorite holiday memories for inspiration. Keep this list short — three to five items at most. Pare it down to what really matters the most.
These must-do traditions will, of course, change over the years as a family grows. That’s the beauty of it. You may have a special circumstance to navigate (a new baby, travel plans, a sick relative, or a tight budget). Reevaluate and adjust, limiting yourself to what will give you the most joy this year.
Give priority to traditions that help you connect with friends and family. Put them on the calendar now. Don’t forget to put in some intentional downtime as a key to help with managing holiday stress. Say yes to those things that bring you joy and no to the rest. Your future self will thank you for giving your schedule some breathing room!
3. Determine Any Stress Triggers
We all have our little habits that rob us of our joy. It could be online shopping in the dead of night when we can’t sleep. It could be that urge to rush out to the store at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve to buy more presents. Or it could be overeating, which makes your digestion sluggish. Or maybe it’s staying up late to get it all done.
If we can identify just one or two things that stress us out each year and eliminate them, that seems like a good kind of minimalism. Decide what you will say “no” to this year (and tell someone to keep you accountable).
4. Managing Holiday Stress With a Budget
This is pretty generic advice, I know. But I can think back to plenty of years when I didn’t do it, or at least never committed to more than a vague idea of how much was “too much.”
Gift-giving gives joy and is a worthy tradition. But it’s important to be intentional about what we buy. A rather shocking statistic is that in the U.S., only 1% of the goods we buy are still in use six months later. Yes … only 1%! And it makes sense, doesn’t it? New things thrill us only for a little while.
In fact, we’re more likely to remember and cherish experiences rather than material things. These become the stories we tell and relive. Setting a budget and being choosy about the kinds of gifts we give helps us not be overwhelmed and appreciate what we have.
5. Designate a “Give Back” Day or Week
Making room for what we receive and focusing more on giving than receiving often pains kids. Mention you’re about to get rid of something, and suddenly that thing is their “favorite.” Am I right?
Designating a “Give Back” day (or even a week if needed) gives everyone a chance to get in the right mindset and know the expectations. This article has some helpful tips for helping kids get on board.
6. Keep a Record of Gifts Purchased
It’s so easy to simply lose track of what we intend to give and what we already bought when it’s hidden away in the back of the closet! I like to keep a digital record by snapping a pic and keeping an album in a secure spot (one that my kids can’t access!). Use apps like Evernote or Remember the Milk or store it in a Dropbox or Google Keep folder. Make sure to keep track of small items, too, like stocking stuffers. You can keep a screenshot of any experience gifts you purchase.
Before you buy, take a look at the album and give yourself a cooling-off period to decide if it’s the right choice. You can even move images to a new album or folder to keep track of returns or presents that didn’t make the cut but you might consider for next year.
7. When Things Go Wrong, Make an Act of Gratitude
Traditions develop little by little, year by year, and sometimes with no advance planning. By learning to let go and let the memories happen, we make room for shared experiences with the ones we love the most. Show gratitude for what you have and give your kids and yourself the greatest gift of all — a contented and present parent.
How do you stay grounded during the holidays? What are the traditions you want to make room for?