4 Steps to More Enjoyable, Less Stressful Holidays (Part 3)

This is PART 3 of a 4-PART article written with you in mind and designed to help minimize the stresses associated with over packed, overdone holidays so you have time for self-care, enjoy your time with family and friends and create the holiday season that best fits you and yours.

In Part 1, I discussed the importance of getting clear on what you WANT your holidays to look like and be like.  And, just as important – what you DON’T WANT.  And, I gave you a simple process for developing your vision.  In Part 2, we began working on a plan to turn our vision into reality.  In this part, we’ll continue working through the steps to create that plan.

Step 2 – Create Your Plan (Continued from Part 2)

Next to each holiday goal, write down all the steps YOU will need to take to accomplish this goal.  Include an estimate of the time it will take you to accomplish each step toward each goal.  Determine your budget for each item.

You will follow this process for EVERY item on your “Looking Forward To It” list

Yes, this IS time consuming and yet a very valuable investment in stress reduction later!

Here is what a list/plan might look like for one of the items on your “Looking Forward To It” list.

Host Thanksgiving Dinner

Task Time Budget
Determine time of dinner 5 min $0
Invite guests 30-45 min $0
Finalize guest list 15-30 min $0
Inventory dinnerware 2 hr $0
Shop for supplies 2 hr $100 – $150
Shop for groceries 1.5-2 hr $250
Bake 4 hr $0
Cook ahead sides 2 hr $0
Clean/straighten house 4 hr $0
Set tables/chairs 1-2 hr $0
Cook Turkey 5 hr $0

Step 3 – Schedule Your Actions

Looking at your goals’ list, schedule when you can do what.  Remember, you are planning to have a holiday you can enjoy.  Make the time to accomplish these goals a priority by putting them on your calendar.  If you find yourself overbooked go back to Step 1 and rethink your priorities!  If your activities require help from others, be honest about this.  Ask if they would be willing to participate.  Be clear about what you are asking them to do, how much time will be involved and when you need them.  Make sure they are available and reliable before you go any further.  If you have an expectation that your sister will be on time to help you prepare dinner and yet you know she is chronically a half hour late expecting her to be on time sets you and her up for disappointment!  Love people where they are and be realistic in your expectations.

IMPORTANT:  Make sure you schedule time on your calendar to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

In the final installment of this article, we’ll focus on working your plan, setting boundaries, and taking care of your self.

Read Part 4

4 Steps to More Enjoyable, Less Stressful Holidays (Part 2)

This is PART 2 of a 4-PART article written with you in mind and designed to help minimize the stresses associated with over packed, overdone holidays so you have time for self-care, enjoy your time with family and friends and create the holiday season that best fits you and yours.

In Part 1, I discussed the importance of getting clear on what you WANT your holidays to look like and be like.  And, just as important – what you DON’T WANT.  And, I gave you a simple process for developing your vision.  In this article I will lead you through the process of creating a plan to make sure you get what you want.

Step 2: Create Your Plan

This is the single most critical thing you can do to ensure YOU enjoy your holidays.    Remember your overall goal is to create enjoyable, relatively stress-free holidays. Believe it or not, others will have a more enjoyable holiday if you are not overly stressed, too tired or demanding too much of yourself and others.

Be honest about your limitations and embrace them.  Review your list “Looking Forward to It” – the one you created in Step 1, and be brutally honest about what is realistic and what isn’t. 

Pare it down, if necessary, to the top most important things to you this holiday season.  This is a great place to prioritize numerically!  Be sure to include a budget as this will help you decide if what you want to do is realistic this year.  If you have trouble deciding between choices, think in terms of your investment (time, money, energy) and the payoff (amount of enjoyment for you).  Ask yourself questions to help you choose.  If you enjoy baking, but didn’t get around to it last year because you were too busy, how will you feel if you don’t do it again this year?  Compared to other items on your list, how does this rank?  Do this with each item and your final list of goals will include those that really appeal to you and feel doable.

Your original brainstorming list might look like this:

  • Host Thanksgiving dinner
  • Send Christmas or Holiday cards
  • Finish the bathroom remodel before Thanksgiving – (seriously, this is on my list!)
  • Shop online for presents
  • Bake Christmas cookies
  • Participate in a cookie exchange
  • See at least one holiday movie at the theaters
  • Take a holiday trip
  • Cut your own tree
  • Celebrate winter solstice
  • Donate to charities
  • Volunteer
  • Attend services
  • Spend time with friends expressing gratitude
  • Play board games
  • And on, and on, and on

Your final list might look like this considering time, energy and finances:

  • Finish bathroom remodel
  • Host Thanksgiving Dinner
  • Choose charities and donate
  • Plan an evening to socialize with friends
  • Plan a date with your spouse
  • Shop on-line
  • Send Christmas greetings
  • Plan for Holiday family gatherings
  • Drive around to look at Christmas lights
  • Take time for quiet in nature
  • Attend church services

Determine to continue your regular self-care practices.  Lots of people let go of routine self-care practices – exercise, yoga, prayer, meditation, healthy eating, time out for play during the holiday season.  Letting go of these routines actually diminishes your enjoyment and adds to stress.  Stick to your routine self-care practices!  Even better, add them to your list above!  That way you won’t forget to schedule time for them on your calendar.

Decide to Make healthy choices.  Overeating, overdrinking, overspending and overdoing come with consequences that frankly take away from our enjoyment rather than adding to it.  And the consequences of each of these behaviors can stay with us long after the holidays are done. Pay attention to your feelings!

  • If you are tired, stop and rest!
  • There is an abundance of articles available this time of year to help you make healthy food choices over the holidays.
  • Use alcohol wisely so you avoid unpleasant consequences of excess like family arguments, hangovers, impulsive behaviors not usually engaged in by you (think office parties and reputations.
  • Let go of trying to control (make) others do anything– invitation by example is far more persuasive than overt attempts to control.  Keep the focus on yourself.  It’s okay to enjoy yourself!
  • Use a budget tool.  I like Dave Ramsey’s Every Dollar app.  There is a free version (you enter each budget item and income and expenses manually).  Or there is an inexpensive version synced to your online accounts so amounts can be downloaded.

In Part 3, we’ll continue working on our holiday plan…

Read Part 3

4 Steps to More Enjoyable, Less Stressful Holidays

This is PART 1 of a 4-PART article written with you in mind and designed to help minimize the stresses associated with over packed, overdone holidays so you have time for self-care, enjoy your time with family and friends and create the holiday season that best fits you and yours.

Be Flexible

My husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving dinner for 20-30 people over a span of almost 20 years.

We operate from a plan we develop in early November and are in mutual agreement about who’s doing what, when. (More about how to develop a plan in Part 2) You know the saying, “the best laid plans”?  Here are a few of our plans with unforeseen elements and how we’ve learned to laugh and enjoy the holidays even with the unplanned.

Flaming Pies?

Ever catch your pies on fire? We did when someone left the oven setting on broil and we didn’t catch it until, well, the pies caught!

Laugh and Celebrate

My favorite Thanksgiving challenge was the year the oven gave up the ghost with absolutely no warning.

We got up early, had our coffee and chatted about the upcoming gathering.  We were looking forward to preparing the meal and sharing it with kids, grandkids, great grandparents and siblings.  We are a great team at preparing the turkey for roasting.  While the oven preheats…only it didn’t…ever…We had 24 people coming at noon, we had a 23 lb turkey ready to go in the oven and…no oven!  Tried various methods to get it to work to no avail.  After 30 minutes I called my brother-in-law who quite fortunately lives only 1 mile from us.  This is our conversation the minute he answered the phone, “turn on the oven to 350!” “what?” “Just do it please!  Michael’s on the way with the turkey!”

With that, my husband drove the turkey to my sister’s.  We continued the rest of our preparations. As family arrived we explained the turkey would be making a grand entrance, hopefully without too much delay.  When the time arrived, my husband and brother-in-law left our home to pick up the turkey.

Our home has a staircase in the entry way so all gathered in the upstairs room overlooking the entry to await the arrival of the turkey.  As it was grandly carried up the stairs, much cheering and applause accompanied it.  No one present will ever forget that Thanksgiving!

Have you ever had a vision of the holidays in your mind, only to have the reality turn out not quite like you imagined?  Remember the old adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”?  Do you have a plan? A plan helps us focus on what is truly important to us.

Now is the time to think about this holiday season, and develop a plan of action.

Step 1.  Get Clear on What You Want – and DON’T WANT

Identify the things most important to YOU and to your family, the things you have absolutely no control over and the steps you can take to create a more enjoyable, less stressful holiday season.

Commit to taking time in the next day or two to make a list of things you like and don’t like about the holiday season.  ( if you are single or will be alone this holiday season, read this post.) (If you suffered a loss this year, read this)  Putting things in writing makes them real.  One way to do this is to use a notebook or journal.  On the right hand page(s) list things you love about the holidays.  Include your senses; identify your favorite smells, touches, sounds, sights and feelings.  On the left hand pages, list the things you don’t like, those you dread, those that leave you exhausted, grumpy or stressed, those you do because you should — rather than because you want to and enjoy them.  Again, include your senses as a guide.  If you live with others, this might be a good time to engage them in a similar process.

Have a family meeting to learn what your spouse would put on each list.  Do the same with your children.  If you are open to this process you might learn some valuable information – such as even though they are older they still want traditional foods for Thanksgiving and stockings on the mantel!  Modify your lists to incorporate those you’ve agreed on for the “Look Forward To” and the “Dread” lists.

Let go of unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.  After a day or two, review your lists.  Move all those things over which you have no control to a separate list – THINGS I CANNOT CONTROL.  On this list include unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. Holding onto unrealistic expectations is a sure way to create dissatisfaction and resentments.  Letting them go will greatly reduce your stress so you can focus on the things you can do and enjoy.  Be sure to include weather, illness, other’s cooperation, unforeseen happenings, even being tired sooner than you’d like.

Set your lists aside for a dayThis is important!  Letting go of your lists allows your brain to percolate on them rather than trying to perfect them.  Perfection is the enemy of progress!

In Part 2, I’ll show you how to turn the vision you’ve created for your holidays into a plan that will ensure you get more of what you WANT and less of what you DON’T WANT.

Read Part 2

Singles: 5 Steps to Happier Holidays

Years ago, I went through a difficult divorce and found myself alone on Christmas Eve for the first time in almost 20 years.  My children were with their father and our usual Christmas Eve traditions were turned upside down for me.  I certainly was grieving and felt very alone.  Over the years I learned to cherish my alone times and developed some special traditions just for me. These 5 Steps turned grief into quiet joy and enhanced my holidays. Maybe they will help you as well.

For many single persons whether unmarried, divorced or widowed, the holidays can bring about an acute awareness of your singleness.  So much of the holidays are focused on family gatherings, couples laughing and enjoying each other in media and in public situations that being alone for the holidays is sometimes experienced as isolation with a side of loneliness and sometimes even depression.  (If you have suffered a loss of a loved one this year read this)

Date Yourself!  One way to improve your holidays this year is to date yourself!  Instead of focusing on what you don’t have – someone to go to the movies with, someone to dine with, someone to give you a gift – take stock of your favorite things to do and do them!!!  If you enjoy the movies, go!  You get to pick exactly the movie you want, go when you want, you can eat all the popcorn without sharing, laugh out loud or cry and not concern yourself with whether or not anyone else is enjoying themselves. Sure you might feel awkward, do it anyway.  If you enjoy eating out, go.  Pick a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try.  If you start to feel uncomfortable being a party of one shift your focus to what you like about the experience.

Get to know yourself.  Not sure how to date yourself?  Journal, ask yourself – “Self, what would you like to do today/this evening?” (Yes, I did this) Listen to yourself with the same attention you would a friend.  You matter!  You might be surprised at your answers once you ask the question.  Send yourself flowers, buy yourself a gift you might not otherwise have considered because you are so practical.  (Do keep in mind a spending plan as this is actually an exercise in self-care, just as is not overindulging in drink or food.)  Make your favorite foods – yes, you are worth it!  Write a love letter to yourself, accepting all your quirks and goodness.  Actually mail it to yourself!

Create a gratitude list.  Write down all the things (people, places, things) you are grateful for this season.  Focus on gratitude has a surprising ability to lift your mood.  What we focus on evokes feelings.  Remember this, catch yourself if you start to feel sorry for yourself and get back to your gratitude list.

Reach out to others.  Since we are social beings, reach out to others you know who are single.  Create your own “family”.  Allow yourself to talk about your struggles with being single during the holidays and limit the amount of time you are going to allow this. Start new traditions around the holidays.  Go ice skating or to the malls so you are in the company of others.

Give.  Share your time, talents and treasure with those less fortunate.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter or food pantry.  Adopt a family and provide them with a holiday meal and/or gifts.  Anonymously donate a decorated tree or leave small wrapped gifts on an elderly neighbor’s porch.

Listen to yourself, accept where you are today, practice self-care and embrace gratitude to make this holiday season a special time just for you.

Dealing with Grief and Loss During the Holidays

Several years ago my son-in-law was killed in a tragic car accident in late summer.  The first holiday season was especially hard on all of us as we embraced his daughter, only 5 at the time, and my daughter.  These tips helped us navigate those first holidays and as time has passed continue to provide solace when poignant memories surface.

I don’t feel cheerful, happy, or grateful.   This time of year, we are inundated with messages to be happy, be of good cheer, and to be grateful.  What happens if you don’t feel cheerful or happy or grateful?   What if you are grieving during this holiday season?  What if you’ve lost a loved one, or a dear friend or family member either through death or estrangement and this time of year only highlights your loss?

Sometimes the best we can do during this time of year is to persevere.  This is a word not often used in our culture of quick fixes and easy solutions.  The dictionary defines persevere “to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement.”

Give yourself permission to be sad.  So what would happen if you gave yourself permission to be sad during this time of year?  To take time away from the festivities and be quiet?  To be alone with your grief?  To simply put one foot in front of the other, get up, and do only what needs to be done each day?

Do not be afraid of your feelings, your tears, or your sadness.  Some of us are afraid of our tears, as if we will never stop crying.  Others are afraid to be alone, as if loneliness will somehow engulf us.  And still others are afraid to be quiet, afraid of stopping long enough to feel emotional pain.  

Our spirits know exactly what we need for healing, the same way our body heals wounds without our conscious orchestration of the process.  Below are some tips to facilitate that spirit healing during this holiday season and winter time.

Be still. “Love winter, when the plant says nothing.”  This quote by Thomas Merton validates that even though we may feel down during this season, our spirit is healing.  Spend time in the quiet.  If you have a favorite place to sit, sit.  If you are afraid to do this, or have a hard time sitting still, set a timer for an amount of time that feels comfortable to you.  Have a box of Kleenex handy.  Have pen and paper ready if you feel like writing.  Let go of any mental “shoulds” or negative messages about how to be quiet or about sadness.  You have every right to feel the way you are feeling and sometimes, allowing the feelings to come can be a great relief, even if only temporary.

Combat the gray Because this time of year can be full of gray days, they can mirror the grayness we are feeling inside.  Combat the gray by lighting a candle and reflect on its warmth.  Light a fire in the fireplace and notice all the different colors.  Go for a walk outside, weather permitting, as even on gray days, the light outside is uplifting to our brains.  Replace ordinary light bulbs in your home with bulbs that replicate natural light.

Spend time with others.  Reach out to someone else who is lonely, or grieving.  Remember, if reaching out is hard for you, it probably is for others, as well.  You might spend some time sharing your grief, and then plan an activity together.  Members of 12 Step programs have found the fellowship of other members to be one of the greatest gifts during holiday seasons, especially if family relationships are strained.

Create a new ritual or tradition.  Invite others who loved your love one to a holiday memory party.  Share stories, photos and favorite foods as a way to celebrate your loved ones gifts to you.  And pass the Kleenex.  Tears are healing.  Shared tears are healing and bonding.

Spring ALWAYS follows winter.  At the end of each day, if you put one foot in front of the other, know that your perseverance, your steadfastness is enough.  Feelings will change.    Spring always follows winter.