Anxiety is a fact of life for many of us, and especially during the holidays. Between school events, social obligations, and family visiting, this can be an extremely stressful, anxiety-ridden time. For this article, I’d like to to talk about ways to reduce stress and anxiety during the upcoming holidays.
1. Let one tradition slide
You might have lots of wonderful traditions that you and your family participate in during the holidays: decorating the house, baking cookies, hosting an open house or a party, sending out holiday cards, and shopping for gifts. Consider letting one of these go. A friend of mine once told me, “Now that I’m in my 50’s, I don’t do anything unless it’s exquisite.” So think of the one thing that is no longer exquisite to you, or simply that gives you the least amount of joy. For me, it was sending out Christmas cards. While I love my friends and family, I did not love the entire process of selecting a family photo, turning it into a card, addressing all of the envelopes, and mailing them out to everyone. Letting that one tradition go gave me a huge sense of relief. This might not be the tradition you’d like to let go, and that’s fine, but perhaps consider eliminating the one holiday tradition that doesn’t give you joy, or perhaps the one thing for which the stress of doing it outweighs the joy it gives you and your family.
2. Make gifts count
Here, I’m talking about reducing the bulk of your shopping and selecting gifts from shops that benefit worthy causes. Really consider if you and your family members and friends need tons of gifts. It’s a lot of fun to wrap and unwrap presents, but if there is a way to reduce the quantity of them, you will reduce the amount of stress associated with shopping, wrapping, and delivering them. Also, pick a cause that you believe in and purchase gifts for everyone from a source that benefits that one cause. You can find these types of charity gift shops online, or consider doing your shopping at museum gifts shops, or even at the zoo when you’re there with your kids. Your money toward these gifts ticks a lot of boxes: donating to a worthwhile cause and purchasing gifts for everyone on your list. And there is nothing wrong with choosing just one or two charity gift shops to find gifts for everyone on your list.
3. Put kids to work
No, I definitely don’t mean sweat shops. Children enjoy doing crafts around the holidays. Why not put them to work to make the wrapping paper you can then use to wrap your gifts? Obtain rolls of plain white paper or kraft paper at the craft store, spread it all out on the kitchen table with palettes of paint and brushes, and let your kids go to town. Also, let go of the notion that your Christmas tree must be elegantly decorated. Give your children the job of decorating the tree! They will love it, and you might be surprised at how much you prefer their own unique design abilities to that of the latest crafting you-tubers. Pop some corn, lean back, and watch the fun.
4. Let go of perfection
If you’ve read the books by Brene Brown, you’re already familiar with the importance of imperfection. Being imperfect, being vulnerable, being genuine is about being real. There was a famous social psychology experiment demonstrating that being imperfect increases likability. Audience members were shown clips of a newscaster that, in one group, delivered the news perfectly, and then in the other group he delivered the news perfectly but spilled his coffee. When asked to rate the newscaster, audience members viewed the coffee-spiller as more likable than the non-spiller. Think about it; do you really mind it when you go to a friend’s house and it’s not in perfect order? I don’t know about you, but I prefer a little bit of disorder. It makes me feel more human and okay to not have my house perfectly neat. So let go of perfection and be okay with being vulnerable, imperfect, and maybe even more likable this holiday season. It really doesn’t have to be perfect.
I once heard a lovely teacher I know mutter under her breath when her Sunday School class was in a scattered, distracted moment: “Kids before curriculum; kids before curriculum.” Curriculum is important, but so are other things, like what you learn along the way, and the relationships we build. Recent science of love and neurology is demonstrating that we are hard-wired for connection, and when we don’t get it, our brain codes this as a threat. Our connections with other people are more important than the thing or tradition we’re trying to do. When in doubt, connect. Sue Johnson, a famous psychologist and couples therapist, in part defines connection as being emotionally available and emotionally responsive to our partner. Being emotionally available and responsive to the important people in our lives, and receiving that in turn, is fundamental to feeling safe, less anxious, and happy.
I hope these tips help. They are things that I do to help myself feel less stressed around the holidays. If they are not particularly relevant or helpful for you, just keep in mind the more general ideas of simplifying your days, trying to be present in the moment, and building moments of connection into your life. And if anxiety increases to the point that it gets in the way of your life, consider seeking out a therapist to help.