In my life, things start feeling crazy and stressful right around the end of August when school begins for the kids. And it just gets crazier and more stressful all the way until about a week into the New Year. That’s a long time for life to feel crazy, I know.
You see, we have the start of school, then my daughter’s birthday, then my son’s birthday, then Halloween, then Thanksgiving (which we host now), and then all the craziness and busyness of Christmas, topped off with Christmas break and New Years. Everything feels back to back and I don’t ever feel like we have enough time to recover in between events.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a little overwhelmed this time of year.
When I think of the perfect holiday season I think of cozy nights by the fireplace (that we don’t have), snuggled up under blankets (that don’t smell like stinky feet), watching Christmas movies, reading books, sipping hot cocoa, and relaxing. I think of smiles and laughter and loads of family time. I think about memories made and traditions kept and a whole season full of peace and joy.
But usually, I feel like we’re rushing from here to there with to do lists a mile long and the perfect holiday season of my dreams is a far cry from our actual reality.
Plan and Prepare to Make Room for Less Holiday Stress
If I’ve learned anything over the last few years, it is that in order to experience anything in life you have to be intentional and plan ahead. If you don’t plan and prepare for calm and peaceful, you won’t ever experience it. If you don’t intentionally pursue relaxation and fun memories, they won’t actually happen.
So this holiday season I’ve decided to be very intentional about what we experience in the coming weeks. I’m planning and blocking out our calendar and protecting the calm and peaceful holiday of my dreams.
First things first, in order to create a season of relaxation and calm instead of one filled with stress and busyness you’re going to need to do some planning, some preparing, and some deleting of things that don’t matter.
Check out this post on 8 Steps to a More Peaceful Holiday Season to get you started. This will help you create a plan and create space on your calendar to intentionally pursue the activities and items in the list below.
If you try to cram extra things into an already overwhelmed and packed schedule, even if those things are supposed to be calm and peaceful, you won’t actually be able to relax and everything will feel forced. So start by tackling your calendar and creating a plan so you can make room for rest. Again, this post will help, check it out and then come back here.
Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress
Are we good? We’ve got the list of things we need to do. A list of people we need to buy gifts for. We’ve put all the already scheduled events on our calendar. And we’ve begun to make some progress on deleting and delegating tasks and activities so we aren’t trying to do it all.
Now that we’ve got that stuff out of the way, let’s intentionally choose some things to include this holiday season that are guaranteed to lower our stress levels and bring a sense of calm and peace. Here are some ideas for you to consider incorporating over the coming month to reduce your holiday stress.
1. Pull out your coziest blankets.
Nothing says relax and rest like soft, warm, and cozy blankets. You may have tucked them away for the summer, but find your best blankets and a cute basket and set them out to be enjoyed. You might also want to take this opportunity to launder your blankets because no one wants to snuggle with musty storage closet or stinky feet smells.
2. Stay hydrated with teas, cocoa, and cider.
You know you need to drink more water to stay healthy, but most people struggle to get enough fluid in their body each day, especially in the wintertime. You aren’t hot and sweaty like you were in the summer, so you might not be as thirsty. But you still need to drink your fluids.
If you struggle with getting enough fluids in the winter, because ice cold lemon water doesn’t sound great in the bitter cold of winter, then don’t stress about it. Give yourself permission to enjoy a warm mug of tea, hot cocoa, or a hot apple cider each day. Sure, the cider and cocoa could add a few more calories to your day, but practice moderation and live a little. And if you enjoy a warm mug of tea without cream or sugar then you’ve got no extra calories to worry about. Warm and festive drinks are the perfect recipe to help you relax.
3. Turn on the Christmas tunes.
Turn on some Christmas music and take the time to enjoy. Have a dance party with your kids, a romantic slow dance under the mistletoe with your husband, or just close your eyes and enjoy. You can also just have your Christmas music as the background noise instead of the TV once in a while.
4. Diffuse holiday scents.
Whether you use an essential oil diffuser or just throw some orange peels and cinnamon in a saucepan on the stove, good smells always make you feel more cozy and relaxed. I base the smells I choose on my mood, sometimes I might be in the mood for pumpkin spice, sometimes orange pomander, sometimes Christmas trees, or maybe even warm sugar cookies. Good smells can go a long way in boosting your mood and helping you feel festive and joyful.
5. Read good books.
We have a special basket of Christmas books that only come out after Thanksgiving. My kids love to snuggle under the blankets and read these books together. I also like to find a few easy reads for myself this time of year. Most of the year I read lots of non-fiction books, but during the holidays I crave an easy story I can get lost in. Bonus points if the book is Christmas themed. Our local library usually puts out a big display of holiday books this time of year so they are easy to find and borrow.
6. Schedule time off work, if possible.
Everyone’s schedules tend to get extra busy around the holidays. With holiday parties and events, extra shopping to do, errands to run, and goodies to bake. My work tends to be fairly busy this time of year, but I do try to find some time to take off of work to help ease my personal life schedule.
Even if your employer just allows for flexible hours that let you to go in a little early or work through your lunch break a few days so you can take off early on Friday, it can make a big difference. Use the extra time off wisely.
7. Go outside and get some fresh air.
Most people start hibernating when the season begins to change over to winter and we spend all of our time indoors. We rush from our house to our car and the parking lot to the buildings, avoiding fresh air like the plague. I get it, the air is cold, and depending on where you live, there may be snow and a permacloud. But after running outside nearly every day for the past 3 1/2 years, I can promise you that no matter the weather, getting outside each day (or even most days) can make a world of difference.
Learn to embrace the outdoors and whatever weather is out there and I promise it will improve your life. You don’t need to live outside, just spend 5-10 minutes outside each and every day.
I know, there’s a good chance that you don’t think that exercise belongs in a list of ways to relax, but it is probably one of the most important items on the list. This is crazy talk to many people, but when I go for a run on a cold and snowy day it is one of the most relaxing things I can do. The snow falls so gently and looks so gorgeous on the trees, there’s a hush in the air as the birds and the lawnmowers are gone for the season, and it’s just me and the crunch of the snow beneath my feet. And then I come home and feel energized, accomplished, and ready to relax (or work, depending on my schedule).
You don’t have to go for a run, but do something to get your heart rate up and work up a bit of a sweat every day. This post will help you find ways to get motivated to workout in the winter.
9. Schedule time at home.
You won’t ever have that cozy, relaxing time at home that you dream of if you aren’t ever home. And your schedule will continue to be filled with things to do until you start saying “no, we’re busy”. So, before your schedule fills up, pull out your calendar now and block off specific days to be at home, preferably as a family. These are your times when you will relax and snuggle, dance, play, laugh, and enjoy. Schedule this time and protect it.
One of the best ways to relieve stress and anxiety is to laugh. Watch funny Christmas movies, play board games as a family, read a funny book, or just do silly things. Whatever works best to get you and your family laughing, be sure to schedule it in.
11. Drop the phone.
Walk away from the technology and the endless stream of messages about what you “should” be doing or what everyone else is participating in this time of year. Be present for your own life and your own family. Put away the phones, the iPads, and the computers. Give your brain a break and you’ll probably discover that you have a whole lot more time on your hands than you thought. And you won’t be stuck in the negativity of comparison world.
12. Consider volunteering another time.
This one might get me in trouble, but I’m going to say it anyway. There are 12 months in a year. It seems that there is a giant push to give and serve our communities in December, which is wonderful. We should help our communities. The holidays can be a really hard time for disadvantaged people. But every day can be hard for disadvantaged people.
If you’ve only ever volunteered your time around the holidays and it is stressing you out then maybe you can consider partnering with an organization to volunteer another time of the year. When Jesus said to love your neighbor He didn’t just mean at His birthday, so drop the guilt and schedule it another time.
13. Be present.
One of the reasons we have such a hard time relaxing is because our minds are in a hundred places at once. We might be sitting on the couch with our kids but we’re thinking about the laundry that needs to be folded, we’re making a mental list of the supplies we need at the store and talking to our husband about the schedule for next week.
Stop going in a million different directions and be in one place, doing one thing at a time. When you’re at work, be at work, when you’re at home be fully at home. Work hard, play hard, and relax hard. Wherever you find yourself at and whatever you find yourself doing, be fully there.
14. Stay positive.
The holidays are a wonderful, beautiful, and joy-filled time, or at least they are supposed to be. But how often are we short-tempered, grumpy, and focused on the negative. We are frustrated at our busy schedule, annoyed that there’s never enough money in the bank, mad at our husband for not helping enough, and bothered by all the work we have to do at our jobs. Perhaps instead, we should learn to focus on the positives we have going on. There is always an upside to every situation. Look for it and think about those things the most.
15. Don’t be a victim.
Newsflash, you are fully responsible for your own life. If you don’t like your life or your circumstances, that’s on you. You have the power to change your life, if you want to. So instead of pointing fingers and blaming and constantly being frustrated by your own situation, do something different.
You don’t actually have to do anything during the holidays. You don’t have to bake the cookies or go to the parties or buy thousands of dollars worth of gifts. Everything you do is because you are choosing to do it. Think through the things that cause you the most stress during the holidays and then start making changes. Say no, cross things off the to-do list, and actively pursue the life you actually want to live. It’s your life, you’re the only one in charge of living it well.
16. Create a family bucket list.
Take some time to sit down with your family and come up with a holiday “bucket list”. Have each person come up with the things they really want to do before the end of the year. This could be things like go look at Christmas lights, pick out a real tree at the farm, watch the Nutcracker, go sledding, drink hot cocoa, do the Elf on the Shelf, bake cookies, or whatever traditions and activities your family loves.
Depending on your schedule and family’s desires you might need to narrow the original list down. Say your list can’t be longer than 10 items, for example, or everyone gets to add two activities to the list. Then, all throughout the month use your list to make decisions. If it’s not something on your list then it’s probably not a priority for anyone in your family so do you really need to do it? If you want to reduce holiday stress, probably not.
17. Be grateful.
Don’t just be thankful at Thanksgiving. It can be easy to move into Scrooge attitude during the month of December, but the quickest way to get rid of Scrooge-tude is by being grateful. Look around, you really are incredibly blessed. I promise. Each day, pull out a piece of paper and jot down at least three things you are thankful for. Whenever you start feeling grumpy and frustrated pull out your list and brainstorm a couple more.
My goal with this list is not to add another 17 things to your to-do list. My hope is that you will use this list to start imagining and planning and creating a better way to reduce holiday stress. I’ve included items that will affect all 5 senses as well as activities to help your mental, spiritual, and physical health. All of these areas are really important for reducing stress.
Jot down which of the above ideas sound the most relaxing and stress-relieving to you and then find a way to fit them in. Everyone is different so what sounds relaxing to me could sound exhausting to you, or vice versa. I’m an introvert so you might notice that my relaxing Christmas season involves a lot of being home with my small family. You might prefer the opposite.
Take some time to figure out what fuels you and what your best Christmas season looks like and then take control and make it happen.