“My dad used to say that the holidays are when you get a whole bunch of people that really aren’t that close and don’t know each other that well and overcrowd them into a small room for an extended period of time so they can make each other miserable.”
–Dr. Phil McGraw
As we approach the holiday season, that sense of overwhelm and holiday stress can begin to ring as loud as the Salvation Army bells.
For some, the holidays represent stress, pressure, expectations, guilt, disappointment, pain, loneliness, exhaustion … and it doesn’t have to be that way!
You choose who you spend time with. You choose what activities you say yes and no to. You choose where you go. Your holiday season can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose to make it, and it can be a joyful and meaningful time of year if you plan accordingly.
Take some time now to think about what’s most important to you as we begin the busiest holiday month of the year, and then do a little planning, using these tips as a guide.
7 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress
1. Create a list of holiday rituals or traditions that are important to you.
Seek your family’s input on holiday decisions. Ask family members you care about what they liked and disliked about last year’s holidays. Write down the most important elements and activities you wish to include in your plans for this year. Then plan things into your calendar to make it happen.
Time-consuming and irrelevant traditions “just because we’ve always done it that way” can increase stress. Plan to say no to the rituals that are not meaningful to you and others you care about. Keep only those that are meaningful to you, or create some new ones.
Give yourself permission to be in the moment and enjoy the smells, sounds, feel, and tastes that are unique to this season of the year.
2. Make a list of those you want to spend time with during the holidays.
Who nourishes you? Who are the family members, friends, and colleagues you enjoy being with? Who brings you down? Maybe this is not the year to get together with them!
Do you want to do any entertaining? If so, when and with whom? Plan ahead and ask for help if you want it. True friends and loved ones will not care how many hours you slaved over the stove. Spending time with you is what they’ll cherish most. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to throw a great party!
Are you invited to holiday parties that you really don’t want to go to, but you’ve gone in the past because you should? Be at choice — don’t play the victim! This is not about whom you should see, but rather who you choose to spend time with.
3. Send holiday greeting cards with ease.
I’ve found a great service that enables you to send a real card in the mail for just $1.17, and that includes all the labor of printing, stuffing, stamping, addressing, and taking it to the post office for you, without leaving the comfort of your home or office. I have been using this service for 12 years and I can vouch for the quality of their greeting cards. With a simple click of your computer mouse, you can select from several hundred holiday cards, write a message — using your own handwriting font and signature if you wish — and send a printed greeting card. Or you can create your own customized holiday card, using your own photos, as I did with my family photo here.
After trying and enjoying the product myself, I became a distributor so I can easily share it with others. Click here to see how it works. Then contact me if you’d like a free guest account so you can test-drive it by sending a free card to someone who needs to hear from you.
4. Mail packages with ease.
Mail packages early in December to avoid long lines at the post office and ensure they will arrive in time.
If you mail several packages throughout the year, consider signing up for an online postage service such as Endicia or Stamps.com and avoid the lines altogether. You can mail large packages without standing in any lines — as long as you have an accurate way to weigh them before you purchase the postage online. Once you have added the correct postage (printed from your computer), you can drop the packages off at the loading dock of your local post office or at a local package store and avoid those long lines.
5. Thoughtfully plan your gift-giving.
Give from the heart, not out of obligation. Decide who you choose to give to and make a list. This will help you avoid overspending through impulse buying.
If you think back to the most cherished gifts you have received, they are often homemade or from the heart. A gift of time–such as a gift certificate redeemable for an activity you can do together–can be very meaningful. Among the most prized gifts I’ve ever received have been homemade cards with a heartfelt note written inside. Value goes far beyond the cost of the gift.
A great resource for homemade gift ideas is a book called The Perfect Mix. It contains creative edible gift ideas, including wrapping suggestions and tag instructions, along with a source guide for supplies. The book offers more than 90 recipes for soups, bread, muffins, cookies, and other gifts. The gifts I’ve created from this book have been very well received and appreciated.
Instead of exchanging gifts with friends, consider having a holiday or post-holiday party with them.
Avoid parking hassles, gridlock traffic around the malls, and long lines at the register by shopping online and through catalogs. Many retail stores offer merchandise online, as well. If you are purchasing a gift that needs to be mailed, you can arrange to have it sent directly to the recipient, thus avoiding the extra steps of wrapping, labeling, and mailing the gift.
Wrapping gifts can take a lot of time. Instead of wrapping all of them, use a gift bag with a nice bow tied at the top, use a decorated gift box, or utilize the services of a non-profit organization offering holiday gift-wrapping services, with proceeds supporting the organization’s mission.
If you are shopping for someone who already “has everything,” consider giving an alternative gift by making a contribution to a charity in their name. A number of charities offer gift catalogs of things you can “purchase” through them so they can better serve those in need. Two of my favorite international charities are Heifer Project International and World Vision. Through living gifts of animals, these non-profit organizations are helping families worldwide to become self-reliant. You can buy an animal that can change the life of a hungry family and at the same time honor someone you care about. These charities will provide you with a card that you can give to the person you gave the gift in honor of, or they will send them something to let them know that you gave a gift to their charity in honor of them. Here are links to some alternative gift catalogs from a few International charities who are doing some wonderful work:
6. Spread holiday cheer with those in need.
Volunteer to serve a holiday meal to the homeless, work in a soup kitchen, or work at a food bank.
Adopt a family for the holidays and provide them with gifts or holiday foods. Many churches and non-profit organizations can match you with a needy family.
Look for a Giving Tree in your local retail stores. The tree is filled with cards that list a specific gift desired by someone in need. You select a card on the tree, purchase the suggested gift listed on the card, and return the gift to the tree with the card attached. The store wraps the gift and delivers it to the intended recipient.
The end of the tax year is a great time to review your budget and consider a year-end gift to your favorite charities. This can represent a significant tax deduction while doing great things locally or globally.
7. Use your calendar to help organize your time to reflect your priorities.
Once you are clear about your intentions, calendar them in. Writing them down for follow-up on a specific date will help you to remember to do it and will keep things from falling to the last minute. In other words, make appointments with yourself to follow through with specific tasks by a specific time.
Blocking out time on your calendar to follow through with your intentions can significantly reduce the sense of overwhelm that many people experience during the holiday season. Once you have a plan, you can let go of your long to-do list and can be more fully present and in the moment with whatever you choose to focus on right now. If you’d like assistance with creating a weekly planning ritual, check out my free webinar, Managing Priorities.
As you prepare for the holidays, remember that the greatest gifts of all won’t be found under the gift wrap. They’ll be found during those special moments when you make a heart connection with those you care about.
Which tip above spoke most to you? Please comment below on what you will do differently this year.
Check out these resources: