Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing. Sometimes it feels like there have been days without sunlight, which can leave even the happiest and most positive among us feeling pretty blue. I do a lot to minimize the stress in my life, because I have seen the impact that stress can have on the people around me and I don’t want that for myself or my family, if I can help it. I also just feel so much happier and healthier when I’m not stressed (obv). But even I struggle during the holidays to remain stress-free. We get so caught up with all the things you’re supposed to do over the holidays- decorate the house, bake cookies, send Christmas cards, buy presents, attend work events, school concerts, and other gatherings of friends. It’s hard to juggle it all, as well as run a family and go to work. But there are some things that I do that help keep me sane during the holidays, so I wanted to share some of my tricks in case they help you too!
1. Remember what the holiday season is really about
The other week, I found myself struggling to explain to my 2.5 year old daughter what Christmas was all about. I didn’t want her understanding of Christmas to consist solely of Santa and presents, but since we aren’t overly religious, I was finding it more difficult than I had anticipated to explain it in a way that she would understand. To me, Christmas is all about being kind, giving to others, and spending quality time with friends and family. I decided that the best way to help her to understand was to actually show her. So this year, our family is choosing to focus on kindness and giving to others every day to help keep us grounded and to reduce stress levels. I’ve even created a Holiday Kindness Challenge for the month of December to help keep us accountable! (Follow us on our kindness journey on Instagram @heartprojectca).
So the next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with all. the. things. shift your focus to how you can brighten someone else’s day. When you give to others (which doesn’t have to cost any $$$, btw), you tend to feel good about yourself. And when you feel good about yourself, it’s hard to feel stressed! Remind yourself what the holidays are really about, and everything else will come second.
2. Shop online
Last year was the first year that we did our Christmas shopping, and grocery shopping, almost exclusively online. And it was… AMAZING. It saved SO much time, energy and stress! So now this is one of my go-to moves for reducing stress during the holidays. It also saved us MONEY since we weren’t making impulse buys while wandering the aisles of all the various stores.
I’ve used this stress-saving tip throughout the rest of the year as well, as I’ve tried to systemize my life by subscribing to products through Amazon. For example, I know that every month we need diapers, so I’ve got a monthly subscription to diapers. I’ve also subscribed to several other products like dishwasher tabs, razor blades, dental floss, soap, etc. I’ve set these to arrive at different intervals depending on the product. Sometimes it’s every month, and sometimes it’s every 4 or 6 months. This takes one more thing off my mental load, which helps to minimize stress and allows me to focus on other, more important things each month.
Before the madness of Christmas morning occurs, try to spend some time decluttering your home. If you’re anything like me, a good decluttering not only helps make the space more light and airy, it also helps to declutter my mind and makes me feel more positive and less stressed. Besides, you need to make space to welcome anything new you might receive as presents! We recently cleared out my mum’s house after she passed away, and it was a huge, overwhelming job. It’s amazing what you can accumulate over time if you don’t spend time to declutter. If things are just sitting in your basement or in a closet, and you haven’t looked at them in years, get rid of them! Need some encouragement? A great book to help you get started is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I love this book, and I’m going to go through it again to help me declutter after our big move to the suburbs this week!
4. Don’t be afraid to say no
Sometimes it’s just not possible, or practical, to attend every Christmas party or gathering that you’re invited to, bake cookies for every cookie exchange, or volunteer for all the kids’ Christmas concerts. So be choosy – only attend or participate in the ones that make sense (maybe don’t travel for 2 hours in potentially dangerous weather just to attend a party, which will require you to get a babysitter, buy a Secret Santa present, and bake a pie) and/or that will make you happy (if you can’t wait to see your friends who you haven’t seen in a year, then by all means, go! But if you are dreading your spouse’s work party, with his offensive colleagues and sleazy boss, then maybe encourage him to fly solo for that one, or better yet, neither of you go at all). Here’s the thing – people will get over it if you can’t attend or participate. Even if you are the most popular and well-liked at the office, there will be other people, drinks and food to distract them of your absence. Your absence or lack of participation will not be the big deal that you are making it out to be in your mind. And you will feel SO relieved and so much less stressed for having declined.
Here’s a simple trick: visualize two scenarios – one where you have decided to (insert activity here) and one where you have decided not to. Notice your reaction to both. I often find that I feel so relieved when I have made the decision in my mind to stay home/not participate, which gives me my answer.
It’s always harder to say no when family is involved. But I stand firm by this advice. If a family member is pressuring you to do things a certain way, attend their Christmas dinner, or requesting that everyone spend a particular amount of money on Christmas presents for each other, don’t be afraid to say you can’t make it, that doesn’t work for you, or you feel uncomfortable with that amount. They will have to understand. And even if they don’t, they. will. get. over. it.
5. Ask for help
This one goes hand-in-hand with saying “no”. If you can’t bring yourself to say no, and you’ve agreed to attend an event, bake cookies, or volunteer for your kids’ school performance, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to be Superman or Superwoman and do everything yourself. Get your spouse to take on their fair share. Ask your parents to babysit the kids or ask your friend to help you bake the cookies. Are you hosting Christmas dinner this year? Get your family members to each bring a dish so that all the work doesn’t fall on your shoulders.
6. Let go of the need for absolute perfection.
For some reason, during the holidays, we feel this need for everything to be Instagram-worthy, which creates this pressure to be perfect and added stress (on top of everything else). We worry about the house being spotless and decorated to match the countless beautiful pins on our Pinterest boards. We want perfectly behaved kids at all the holiday events. We strive to get beautiful family photos with our kids in matching pyjama sets and then worry about getting them printed as Christmas cards and sending them out on time. We stress about buying the perfect gifts for all our family members, when in reality, most of them just want to spend time together. We need to be able to let go of this need for perfection and focus on what really matters – spending time together, being kind and giving – these are the small things that create holiday magic.
7. Schedule some “me” time
It’s so easy to get caught up in all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, what with buying presents, attending events, cooking, baking, decorating, hosting, toasting… that we forget to take some time out for ourselves. Make sure that you put yourself on your priority list too. It may be the season to give to give to others, but It’s important to give to yourself as well. Do things you enjoy. Get your nails done. Take a walk. Get up early to read or meditate. Exercise. Schedule a massage. Go to a movie. Take a bath. When you focus on your own wants and needs, you will feel healthier, happier, less stressed, and you will have more positive energy to give to others.
8. Focus on gratitude
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: spend time each and every day focusing on the little things that make you happy. Write them down in a journal or on your phone or go around the dinner table and share your favourite moments of the day with your family. This practice is most effective when you focus on the little things from your day (instead of the big things like friends, family, your house, your job, etc.). For example, you could be grateful for the really friendly barista who gave you a free sample of gingerbread, the great conversation you had with a colleague, your favourite song that came on the radio on your drive home, or the cup of coffee your friend brought you on your morning break. The more grateful you are for the little things each day, the more things you will start noticing to be grateful for. When I spend 10 minutes at the end of each day writing down what I was most grateful for, my mood is always instantly lifted. So the more energy you can put towards gratitude, the less energy there is to put toward being stressed. Since the holiday season is stressful by nature, it’s time now, more than ever, to amp up your gratitude practice!
Got any tips to help minimize stress over the holidays? Leave them in the comments below!
Wishing everyone a safe, happy, and STRESS-FREE holiday!
With love and gratitude,