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8 Tips for a More Joyful (and Less Stressful) Holiday Season

Last updated: December 6, 2021

The holiday season has arrived once again, and the United States is nearing the end of yet another year of coping with challenges brought about by the COVID-19 virus. Over the last 20+ months, many adjustments have been made to the way individuals go about their routines, including holiday traditions and celebrations.  

To compensate for the emotional impact of these changes, parents, especially mothers, might feel added pressure to make the holidays special for their children and family. From having family photos taken to mailing holiday cards, building snowmen, baking cookies, decorating and more – it doesn’t take long for good intentions to become overwhelming.  

Michelle Janning, a sociologist and professor at Whitman College studies how modern families define themselves through the display of domestic objects, and use these displays to manage the family image. Mothers, for example, may experience heightened anxiety during the holiday season, taking on the cleaning, decorating, cooking, and planning, among other tasks. Before long, the holidays have come and gone without the opportunity to connect with anyone. Marsha Linehan, a well renowned Dialectical Behavior Therapist refers to this as the “behind the camera effect,” where individuals are distracted and therefore disconnected from the present moment.   

If the stress of maintaining holiday traditions has started to outweigh the joy of the season, it might be time to consider a shift. Budget your energy to maximize time with your children and family, and minimize stressful preparation and execution.  

Here are several suggestions for maintaining your mental health while creating new holiday traditions and memories for your family. 

1. Travel Smart 

Avoid peak travel days if possible, as this will reduce the amount of time you spend on the road or in the airport.  Choose a central gathering location to lessen commute times for all.  Prioritize which holiday events you will attend, and which you will decline to develop a balanced schedule and allow yourself time to rest and recharge.   

2. Don’t Stress Over the Small Things 

Exchange the fancy table settings for disposable dinnerware and a self-serve buffet.  Let yourself and your children wear pajamas or another casual outfit to make the occasion special, without spending a lot of money on an outfit that may only be worn once. Your family won’t remember all the details of the day, but they will remember the quality time spent together.   

3. Keep the Meal Simple   

Plan your meal to incorporate items you can prepare in advance, and/or request that each guest bring a food item to share. It can be exciting to try the favorite recipes of family and friends. Really stretched for time? Opt to have the meal catered instead.  

4. Make the Most of Your Holiday Budget  

Set boundaries (and a budget) for holiday spending with a few simple adjustments: 

  • Shop Online. Easily compare prices across multiple online stores, skip the travel and waiting in line that comes with shopping in person, and shop when it’s most convenient for you. 
  • Shop Early. Start shopping a few months in advance to spread out your spending over multiple pay periods and allow time to research the best deals.  If you have a good understanding of those you are shopping for, you can often find gift items at their lowest cost year-round by shopping during non-holiday periods when costs of items are often inflated due to supply and demand problems.   
  • Shop Local. By supporting small businesses, you are contributing to the strength and future of your local community. Gifts from small businesses are often of greater quality and uniqueness, and the thought put into the selection process will be appreciated by the recipient.    
  • Shop with Purpose.  For the children in your life, consider the four-gift giving rule: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. This provides guardrails to help avoid over-spending, incorporates enough variety to keep children interested and content, and reduces the number of items that will quickly be placed in a bin for the summer garage sale.   

5. Consider Alternative Giving 

Rather than exchanging gifts, suggest to family members and friends that the tradition be replaced with an experience. This could be ice skating, a holiday movie with hot chocolate and popcorn, or a game night. The options for creating memories are plentiful, and the memories priceless.   

6. Do Good for Others 

Participating in meaningful activities is a wonderful stress reliever. Helping others can distract you from your own problems, provide perspective, and promote feelings of belonging and purpose. Some small acts of kindness can include: donating clothes, toys, and books to local shelters, picking up litter, giving someone a compliment, clearing snow from a neighbor’s driveway or vehicle, opening the door for someone – and so much more! 

7. Remember to Care for Yourself, Too 

It’s easy to fill up your calendar with holiday gatherings and end-of-the-year goals, but neglecting yourself in the process could have a serious impact on your physical and mental health. A study conducted by the APA discovered only 27% of women feel they can permit themselves to relax during the holidays. Exercise self-compassion by acknowledging your feelings and treating yourself with kindness. Remember to breathe through the difficult moments, and stay true to yourself, your needs and your boundaries.  

8. Surround Yourself with Love 

After several months of limited social gatherings and events, its hard not to feel like we’re making up for lost time. Not to mention, over half of Americans consider being with family and friends the best part of the holiday season. What better reasons to scale back this holiday and focus on what matters: human connection, conversation, laughter and making memories with the people we love. Don’t sweat the small stuff, focus on the joy! 

Need help managing the holiday blues? Visit our health library to learn more about avoiding – and managing – the stress of the season.

Tags: alternative giving holiday budget holiday stress management Volunteering

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