Why are the holidays so stressful?
One word. PRESSURE. We place so much pressure on ourselves around the holiday season. Pressure to decorate the house and make everyone’s favorite food. We feel obligated to spend hoards of money on the perfect presents. We feel pressured to be the perfect family for the Christmas Card photo you send out each year. Then there is the pressure to keep the house clean as guests come and go. When you think about it, all of this pressure is really quite silly.
The holidays are about carving time out of our busy lives to spend time with the people you love and cherish. The people who love and cherish you don’t care if your house is dirty. They don’t care what present you buy them. If you were too tired to make their favorite pie, they will understand. The people that matter in your life care about you as much as your care about them. They also want to spend time with you. I encourage you to start this holiday season with more reasonable expectations. Sit down and consider what is important to YOU. Make a list of what stresses you out about the holidays and see if you can eliminate some of those stressors. Then talk to your loved ones and let them know the changes you are going to make and why. Tell them how you feel and ask them for their help in keeping you accountable. Let them know you are going to keep your focus on quality time with friends and family. Remind them that you will be staying within your budget. Most importantly, give yourself permission to not try to please everyone else.
How can you decrease your obligations?
Our friends and family pressure us into holiday activities and gatherings. Don’t get me wrong. I love so many of my family’s holiday traditions. But a few years ago, I decided to make a change. During the fall and winter there is a constant succession of holidays from Halloween to New Years. You hardly finish putting up the decor for one before you end up taking it down and replacing it with another holiday theme. I realized that my life was busy enough, that I really didn’t need the extra pressure. I knew I had to make a change so that the holidays would be refreshing instead of exhausting.
Pick your favorite holiday
I decided to pick MY favorite holiday. I did not lot the expectations of anyone else in the family influence my decision. For once I was completely selfish. I chose Christmas. It has always been my favorite holiday. The shopping, pretty wrapping paper, and smells of cinnamon tea make my heart happy. I love the color scheme, decorating the tree, and riding the Polar Express train. The city becomes alive with beautiful lights, glittery ornaments, and giant green Christmas trees. Christmas makes me feeling like a kid again. I want to believe. I cannot get enough of Elfie, our Elf on the Shelf. Scheming his crazy antics is a great way to end a long and stressful day. I’m often so proud of myself that I have to take pictures to send to my friends and family.
So now I no longer decorate the house for any holiday except Christmas. I start slowly and gradually putting up the Christmas decor in early November. Gone are the days of tearing down Thanksgiving and throwing up Christmas decor 30 days before the holiday. Now I don’t rush or succumb to the pressure. I decorate for myself and the joy it brings me. If no one else appreciates it, then that is ok. If someone wanted it done differently than they are welcome to do it themselves. The pressure is off because I am only trying to please myself.
Decide to expect less from other holidays
I am super laid back about the other holidays. I do not get worked up and I do not have any expectations. If Halloween falls in the middle of the week and is too much to take on then we go trunk or treating the weekend before. I love to go pumpkin patches, but we have not been in several years. There has not been enough time in between the kid’s other activities. On a slow weekend, we will pick up pumpkins from the grocery store and paint them at the house.
Thanksgiving comes and goes and I focus on spending time with the family. I do not really care what we eat or where we go. I just want to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins that we do not get to see very often. Thanksgiving Day is often spent at my Aunt’s house mapping our Black Friday assault plan and watching the dog show.
How to host holiday dinners with less stress
When I started hosting Christmas dinner for my extended family I came up with some ground rules. If I was hosting then I had to make it work for me. It had to be enjoyable and not a chore. My focus for the family dinner is to transform my house into the magic of Christmas. I LOVE holiday decor and the way I feel inside a beautifully decorated room. That is my focus. I have elaborate themed decor that I work on for weeks. It is a creative outlet for me.
My Christmas Party is beautiful once you walk into my house. I do not like putting up Christmas lights. It is a beating. It does not bring me joy. While I appreciate the beauty of lights, I do not want to pay someone or do it myself. So, if anyone else in the family wants to do it, they are welcome to.
I do not like cooking. While I am good at it, it is not my passion. It is not how I show love to my family. The dinner I host at my house is a potluck. Everyone signs up on Sign-up Genius to bring a side dish and a dessert. If someone shows up to the house and their food is not prepared then I point them in the direction of the oven or stove. I keep a bucket of disposable utensils that they can use to prepare and serve their dishes.
Are you ready for this last part? I DO NOT MAKE A TURKEY. I do make ham and meat dish. The thing is, I personally do not like turkey or stuffing. Which is why making a turkey is a commitment that I am not willing to make. The time prepping, cooking, carving, and cleaning up after is too much for me to take on. I would be a hot, frazzled mess. The day would not be enjoyable for me and I would become resentful. Now I do realize that other people don
‘t feel like Christmas is the same without turkey. However, I recognize that it is not my duty to create everyone else’s perfect holiday. I am very open with my family by letting them know my limitations. I also let them know that I will not be offended by anyone else making the turkey and bringing it on over.
I do not like to clean. My priority is to keep a tidy house that is clutter free. I believe in the theory that the house doesn’t get messy if you clean up after yourself as you go. So, I am not the kind of person who deep cleans their house. I have a maid who comes every other week to do that for me. My time is valuable and I would rather be spending it with my kids than cleaning. Around the holidays this does not change. The maid comes the Thursday before the party. I refuse to do any heavy cleaning after she has come. Instead I restrict myself to cleaning up any messes as they occur. If I have time, I might vacuum. I have two kids ages 6 and 9, so I set the bar low. The house needs to be tidy and not DIRTY. It does not need to be spic and span.
What makes me most happy about hosting the family dinner is relaxing and hanging out with my family. Because I do not like to clean, we eat on paper plates with disposable utensils. I have a beautiful set of China in the butler’s pantry. Everyone can enjoy my beautiful platesy as they grab a slice of pie from the table below the cupboard. I will not be spending my time scrubbing plates and utensils clean when I should be relaxing with my family. Since my priority is spending good quality time with my family, I do not want to be serving everyone else. I want to be able to sit down and enjoy a peaceful dinner. With that in mind, I set up the party in ways that make it easy enough for everyone to serve themselves, dispose of their trash, and find supplies if we are running low.
Create Wonderful Memories
We decided as a family that we did not want Christmas to be all about the presents. However, we also did want each person to be able to open a present. We wanted present time to be a way to spend time together as a family and to build lasting memories. So we began the White Elephant Present Exchange. Everyone brings a wrapped gag gift and puts it under the tree. Everyone draws a number and gets to pick a gift when it is their turn. They can unwrap a gift under the tree or steal someone else’s gift. There is never a dull moment. We are laughing and giggling and sometimes there have even been tears.
How to keep perspective during the holidays
For some reason holidays tend to be THE TIME OF YEAR that we reflect on our lives. We think about what we should have done differently. Often times, we feel disappointment when life circumstances are not what we wanted them to be. We miss family and friends that are no longer with us or who were not able to join us. AND THEN we pull up out social media accounts. We look at our Facebook news feed and see the staged pictures that friends and family post. Our thoughts become warped and we find ourselves wishing our lives were more like theirs. Instead of choosing to acknowledge that Facebook is a stage where people present what they want others to see, we lose perspective. In these moments of weakness, we need to recognize that the “real” family pictures look a lot more like this:
We also place too much importance on a silly holiday. There are 365 days in the year. Just because someone declared the last Thursday in November to be special, does not mean that it has to be. The 25th day of December does not have to be any different than the 13th day of December. It really is just another day. The birth of Jesus can be celebrated in June if that is what makes you happy. So, determine what makes the holidays special to you. Spend time by yourself making that holiday special to you. Balance the time with your friends and family so that you feel relaxed and refreshed instead of depleted and exhausted.
Make your health a priority
Remember the stress of the holidays can worsen your health. There is a significant increase risk of depression and anxiety problems around the holidays. Furthermore, people with ADHD who struggled to manage their normal work load will be easily overwhelmed by the demands of the holidays. It is important to recognize and acknowledge the additional stress. Reflect on the previous years and determine what changes you need to make. Give yourself permission to say “no” and put yourself first.
About the Author
Amy Morrison is a psychiatric PA and is the Medical Director of Morrison Clinic Psychiatry. She is the mother of 2 vivacious and amazing children. She enjoys writing, crafting, playing soccer, and spending time with friends and family.