Are you excited about the upcoming holiday season?
Crisp, cool (or downright freezing cold!) nights. Hayrides. Hot cocoa. Kids singing carols. Family meals. Decorating the Christmas tree. Opening presents.
I love it all so much. And yet…
As the kids get older and have more and more of their own events and activities, our holidays are getting more and more rushed.
Last December we had six – yes, six!! — concerts, plays, and recitals. And only two of my four kids were in school. It’s only going to get crazier.
And a whole lot more stressful, if we let it.
So how do we enjoy the holidays and the end of the year with quality family time — and even set aside time for meditating or reflecting on our blessings and actually being thankful — when everything around us is pushing us to go non-stop for almost two months?
How do we dodge the toxic holiday stress that seems to lurk around every corner this time of the year?
Here’s what we do –
#1 Tell Your Time Where to Go
Just like you tell your money where to go by making a budget, tell your time where to go before other people do it for you.
Have you seen this Seven Big Rocks illustration of Steven Covey’s principle for prioritizing the important things in life?
One of the biggest causes of holiday stress is the anxiety that you won’t get everything done. So, plan the things that are important to you first. Sit down as a family — ideally before Thanksgiving, and schedule things out.
– Schedule what you know. Those events you already know are happening — recitals, plays, office parties — write them all on the calendar.
– Schedule one essential per person. We use this approach when we go to a theme park… the zoo… anywhere that everyone’s going to want to see something different.
Here’s what we do: Let everyone pick one essential for the holiday season — the one thing they really, really, really want to do as a family (my daughter’s — every year since she could talk — has been going ice skating with her dad. And me, if I feel like coming. Thanks, kid.) Schedule each person’s essential right then. Once it’s on the calendar, only death or world catastrophe should be able to displace it.
– Schedule down time. If you tend to get busy on weeknights, determine how many nights a week you’re going to eat as a family and write them on your schedule. Schedule things that you usually just do when you have time — park outings, coffee dates, shopping trips. Refuse to schedule things after a certain point in your evening so everyone is home together. Build family time right into your schedule. And build in some downtime for yourself as well.
Psychology Today has some more tips to help you figure out how you really want to spend your time this season.
#2 Make Health a Priority
When you’re “telling your time where to go,” make sure you schedule in some healthy activities too.
Exercise is always the first thing to go when I get busy, especially when it’s already cold outside. But working out has some amazing emotional benefits in addition to reducing holiday stress, keeping you from getting sick, and providing a good break from all the running around you might be doing.
Also, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind during holidays when it comes to eating. While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest sticking to a strict diet during the holidays, we do try to make as many healthy choices as possible without compromising the festive feeling.
–Adapt. If it’s too cold outside, get a jump rope and exercise in the house. Or try an exercise ball. Buy some small weights or other inexpensive pieces of equipment, look up a routine online (make sure you have an okay from your doctor) and work out at home. WebMD’s holiday fitness guide encourages you to be flexible and reschedule your workouts to fit your days (like going for a run early in the morning if you have a later commitment.)
–Include the family. Bundle up and go for a hike (pack a Thermos of hot chocolate for the end!). Go ice skating, or sledding, or snowshoeing. You’ll probably enjoy being together and getting outdoors so much that you may not even realize that you are getting some much needed exercise!
-Eat well. When we moved from California, where all sorts of fruits and veggies are available year-round, to Colorado, where we only get certain fruits at certain times — I was thrown for a loop. Now during the holidays, we not only stock up on seasonal fruits and vegetables like apples and oranges… but we also eat more frozen produce. Frozen can actually be healthier than fresh because the food is at the peak of its ripeness when it’s frozen. Fresh produce is often picked early, to allow it to ripen over the several days it takes to get to the store.
Also, make small switches that add up — like substituting healthy hummus for creamy dips that are higher in fat.
And stick to smaller plates and smaller portion sizes — studies have shown that just this one simple change could mean that you’d eat 22% less!
#3 Look People in the Eye
This is a simple step, but one I find myself losing when I’m rushed. Stop. Slow down a minute. And establish eye contact with the person who is speaking with you. So simple. But so important. You can also try these 31 ways to connect simply with your children and others you love.
–Be intentional about slowing down. When people are talking to you, take a second to stop what you’re doing and really listen. I find this especially hard with kids because they always seem to want to talk when I’m in the middle of doing something! But it makes such a difference to everyone involved and goes a long way to keep the holiday stress at bay.
–Look people in the eye. Once you’ve slowed down to listen, make sure you establish eye contact. Let them know you think they’re important and you genuinely want to know what they have to say.
The Corporation for National and Community Service did a study a few years ago that showed that states with higher numbers of people who volunteer have overall better health and lower rates of heart disease. Here’s what they had to say –
Along with the positive physical benefits, an increase in mental health was reported due to the personal sense of accomplishment from the volunteer activity. Volunteers also have lower rates of depression and live longer.
What better way to beat the holiday stress and spend some quality time than to volunteer then?
-Involve the kids. See this as another chance to include your children and to have some quality family time. There are lots of volunteer opportunities that welcome kids. Our family has helped box food for Thanksgiving meals, and helped to sort clothes donated to an organization for families in need. Habitat for Humanity has youth programs (for ages 5-25) to get kids helping. Also check out Compassionate Kids for more resources, information, and ideas for places to volunteer.
— Make up your own opportunity. You don’t have to volunteer with an established charity. We called up our local nursing home and just went and visited once (kids are a huge hit at retirement and nursing homes! My advice, though — keep it short enough that the kids don’t get antsy and start causing chaos). Take the kids shopping for presents for a family you know is having a rough time. Go visit someone who doesn’t get out much. Reach out to your local scout troop or religious group and see if they need help with something.
#5 Learn to say “No”
This took me years. People asked me for help with all kinds of stuff. Good stuff. Important stuff. Stuff that involved helping my kids and other kids and doing good things.
And what I’m finally learning is that — especially when activities involve children — every organization needs more help. Always.
I had to take a good look at our family commitments, our values, the things we wanted our kids to experience and learn and remember about being kids, and decide how everything else fit in with that. Or didn’t.
One of the hardest things we’ve ever done was to turn down a chance to help at a church service on Christmas Eve, because the aftermath (hungry, cranky, over-hyped children who simultaneously cried and refused to go to bed and demanded to open all the presents RIGHT NOW) was too much. It was a terrible frame of mind for everyone on Christmas Eve.
–Realize that you can’t do everything. Know ahead of time that you’re not going to be able to do everything for everyone. You’re probably going to have to turn some things down. I know I said above that you should volunteer and now I’m telling you to say “no.” What I’m trying to illustrate is balance. Volunteer when you can do it in a way that is healthy for your family. Say “no” when you can’t.
And this doesn’t just apply to volunteering. Sometimes we have to turn down fun events like parties or other outings in order to allow everyone to just be and have stress-free holidays wrapped in fond memories.
-Prepare and practice ahead of time. Prepare yourself for having to turn people down. Think ahead of time about what you’ll say. If you have an especially hard time, even practice in front of a mirror or with a friend. Ruth Soukup at Living Well Spending Less has some more advice for people who just can’t say “no.”
It’s hard! Really hard. But sometimes really necessary.
We need to slow the rhythm of rush in our lives so that the best of who we are can emerge.
— Lysa Ter Keurst, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands.
This coming season is absolutely my favorite of the whole year. I love the singing, and the food, and the family time, and the focus on love and joy.
I just have to check myself every once in a while to make sure I’m leaving room to breathe. Room for spontaneity. Room for those things — often the best things — that can’t be planned and paid for. They just happen.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
It’s time to take a few minutes to think about what you want your holiday season to be.
- Make a list — what do you want to feel this holiday season? What do you want your family to learn or experience? What memories do you want them to associate with it?
- Do you have fond memories growing up? What were they? Can you do some of the same things with your family now?
- Now, take those things that are most important and write them right on your schedule. Right now. Plan everything else this season around those things you’ve already decided are important.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Taking inventory of how your family spends its time and energy, and deciding whether you need to schedule or tweak things isn’t just for the holidays. Take some time every few months to see if everyone’s spending time in ways you feel are important and healthy. Do you all feel stressed and overwhelmed all the time? What do you need to say “no” to so everyone can be the best they can be?
When you do too much and are spread too thin, nothing gets done well.
Now it’s your turn — do you have any tips for, not just surviving stressful holidays, but enjoying them, having quality time with your family and making wonderful memories? What are the experiences you and your family find meaningful?