The holiday season is supposed to be the most amazing, magical time of the year, so why is it always so stressful? Gifts to buy, food to make, parties to attend – there’s a lot going on.
Every year, I have this idea in my head of how I want the holidays to go, and every year, I’m somehow caught off guard by how quickly they come and how busy they are.
Part of the issue is the birthdays in our family. We have one set of twins with a September birthday, my birthday in October, and the other set of twins with a November birthday.
Because of this, I can only handle the holidays if I compartmentalize. I have to get through the September birthday before I can start thinking about Halloween. I have to get through Halloween (and the stress of costuming four kids) before I can start thinking about the November birthday. And I have to get through the November birthday before I can start thinking about Christmas.
And it’s not a beginning-of-November birthday. Oh, no. It’s on November 30, the very last day of the month.
So I don’t even start thinking about Christmas shopping for my kids until December 1. And my fall is so full of events that I typically don’t even shop for anyone else before December 1 either.
The other issue is the fact that my husband’s family wants gift ideas. They’re super generous gifters – it’s truly a blessing, and it’s been really helpful over the years because money can get a bit tight with four kids.
The tricky part is that my mother-in-law and father-in-law want VERY specific gift lists for the kids. And they want them early. I’m writing this post in the middle of October, and my sister-in-law just asked for Christmas gift ideas for my family. Like, what?! If you want to shop super early, that’s fabulous for you, but I’m just not there yet, so I’ve got absolutely no ideas for you.
A semi-related tangent: Do the specific gift lists happen to anyone else? With birthdays in September and November and Christmas in December, I feel like I always give away the best gift ideas, and I’m left struggling to think of anything, which leaves me waiting until the absolute last minute and completely stressing out. Every year, I say that I get to choose first and this is the LAST TIME, and every year I give away all of my gift ideas again 😛
(First-world problems, for sure. I want you all to know that I’m aware that these gift struggles aren’t really struggles in the grand scheme of things, and I’m beyond lucky to have married into the family that I did.)
Anyway, all that to say – Christmas can be HARD. It’s mentally draining. All of the extra activities can be physically exhausting as well. I want to do homemade advent activity calendars and bake all the cookies and watch a Christmas movie every day, but LIFE, you know?
I do have some tips that have made the last few holiday seasons go at least a little bit smoother for me – hopefully they can help you avoid holiday stress as well.
How Can You Avoid Holiday Stress?
#1 Take Care of Yourself
This is a recurring theme in this blog because it’s so important. During the holidays, we focus so much on pleasing and taking care of everyone else, so we completely forget to take care of ourselves and actually enjoy the holidays.
Don’t forget to take care of your body. It’s my usual list – get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and move your body.
Christmas comes with extra cookies and hot mulled wine. And the go-go-go of the season contributes to a lack of sleep or over-consumption of caffeine. The extra sugar and alcohol, along with an over-packed schedule, can lead to an extreme amount of anxiety and that general icky feeling of being unwell.
Taking care of yourself during this crazy busy time of year will help you to stay strong, peaceful, and healthy (and sane!), which will allow you to enjoy the season more.
#2 Shop Online As Much As Possible
Avoid the stores if you can – navigating through crowds and standing in long lines, especially with kids, is so draining.
Online shopping is a lifesaver for me during the holidays. I don’t have to find a sitter, and I can shop at night after the kids go to bed. I can set a budget and stick to it (see tip #3 below).
I have two exceptions to my online shopping rule:
One – Many small local shops don’t do online ordering, but I strongly believe in supporting them, so that type of shopping needs to be done in person.
Two – Every year, my husband takes a day off of work in December, and we get a sitter and go shopping and out for a nice lunch. We go both for inspiration purposes and to tackle things that are harder to do online (stocking stuffers, hitting the local shops). Doing this on a weekday means that the crowds are a bit lower and the lines are a bit shorter, plus the hubs and I get to spend an entire kid-free day together!
#3 Set a Budget
This one is hard because I love giving gifts! It’s so easy to spend a fortune during the holidays. Not only are there a ton of gifts to buy, but there are special Christmas things going on (pictures with Santa, holiday light shows, etc.) and more food to make for parties.
I put a budget in place for each person that I buy for. I also budget a certain amount for each holiday appetizer that I need to bring to each party and for the cookie ingredients that I need to participate in my aunt’s annual cookie exchange.
The reality is that I do sometimes go over budget, especially with my kids. But setting the budget means that I don’t overspend as much as I would have if I didn’t set the budget. I’m not perfect at this one, but I’m working on it!
Pro tip: Shopping online makes it easier to stay within your budget because you can’t be distracted by all of the pretty, shiny things in the stores 🙂
#4 Do Less
My husband and I have two sets of divorced parents. When we were dating and first married, each parent insisted / required that we carve out time for them on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. They all lived in Michigan at the time, but it was still a 45-minute drive to get from any parent to another parent.
When my first set of twins was born, I put my foot down. We told our parents that we would no longer be traveling to four houses in 2 days, and we absolutely would not be leaving our own house on Christmas Day. They were all invited to our house for Christmas dinner, but I wanted the morning to be spent with my own little family. At that point, my babies were too young to open gifts or play all morning with them, but I knew that eventually they would want to.
Fast forward a few years… Our Christmas mornings are spent opening gifts, putting together new Lego sets, and having a leisurely breakfast (baked french toast every year, because I can make it the night before and just pop it in the oven to bake when we wake up). It’s cozy, warm, and relaxing.
However, this doesn’t just apply to Christmas morning – it applies everywhere! Stressed about cookie baking? Bake 3 kinds instead of 5. Stressed about holiday parties? It’s okay to say no! What about Christmas dinner? Turn it into a potluck so you don’t have to do all the cooking.
Set boundaries so that you can do less and enjoy more.
#5 Limit Your Time on Social Media
When the holiday stress starts to get to you, put down your phone. Those Instagram and Pinterest feeds, with all of their beautiful crafts, food, and perfectly dressed families, won’t do anything for you other than cause you to compare your own holiday plans.
Social media pictures are generally fantasy anyway. They don’t show the family conflicts, the maxed out gift budgets, the Pinterest craft fails, and the burned cookies.
This holiday season, spend more time with your family and less time scrolling the socials. Laugh about the crafts and food that doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. Choose personal interaction over Facebook “likes.”
#6 Set Your Expectations…
Paint a picture of what you want your Christmas to look like. Who is at your table? What are you eating? Are you laughing with your kids as you make homemade cinnamon rolls? Making holiday ornaments for the kids to give as gifts? Snuggling on the couch with your significant other in front of a fire?
Whatever it is, keep that picture at the front of your mind.
When things come up that threaten this beautiful picture, give yourself permission to say no. Let your plans and your to-do list reflect the Christmas that you actually want to have this year.
#7 …But Cut Yourself Some Slack
Those expectations you just set for yourself? Lower them just a little.
You can’t do it all.
I dream of spending relaxing, cozy days with my family doing holiday crafts and decorating beautiful cookies. Instead, I’m more likely to attempt these things and get frustrated by the fighting and the extra mess.
When letting go of the idyllic holiday dream, create your own (simple) traditions.
My aunt and uncle decided to cancel hosting their annual Christmas Eve party last year, so we decided to stay home and relax. I made Rachael Ray’s Christmas pasta (the best!) and we decorated sugar cookies and watched a couple of holiday music specials on TV. We ended up having even more fun with just the six of us than we would have had at the party. It was so simple, so relaxing, and so magical. I have a feeling we’ll end up at the party this year, but I think we’ll continue this tradition as a Christmas Eve-Eve thing 🙂
All that to say this: Don’t worry about the mess or the fact that all of the sugar cookies have so many sprinkles on them that they’re not even edible anymore. Don’t worry if none of your holiday crafts are Pinterest worthy. Don’t worry if it feels like nothing is going your way.
Set those holiday goals and expectations, but be reasonable, and try not to stress or feel guilty if things don’t go exactly as planned.
I promise that your kids will still have a magical Christmas!
#8 Focus on Connection
If you make people your top priority, you can’t go wrong. The holidays are meant to be filled with joy and thankfulness with lots of laughter and long conversations over the dinner table. This kind of connection doesn’t happen accidentally – you have to be intentional.
Slow down. Don’t get so caught up in the to-dos that the whole season goes by in a total blur. Remember to enjoy your family and friends – after all, they’re the reason why you’re driving yourself crazy during this most wonderful time of the year, right?
It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness that the holidays bring. Remember to embrace the joy, take some time for yourself, and remember the true reason for the season.
This holiday season, ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Make the holidays about what makes you and your family happy, and ignore everything else.
If you’re a person who truly enjoys the holidays, I’m so excited for you! Keep doing what you’re doing as we head into this magical time of year.
However, if you’re a person (like me) who tends to dread the busy-ness of Christmastime, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. It’s never too late to implement some of the tips above. Introduce healthy boundaries, make new (simpler) traditions, take care of yourself, and, most of all, focus on connection. This is how you’ll get the most out of the holidays.
I’m committing to taking my own advice to heart while I navigate the next couple of months!
How do you feel about the holiday season? Do you have any tips to share? Let me know in the comments!