Holidays tend to be overwhelming, as new responsibilities and chores seem to rapidly pile up on top of the everyday ones. Suddenly, we are expected to attend multiple events, create or purchase a variety of thoughtful gifts, bake delicious treats, decorate the house, and still manage to keep the kids alive, the work done, the house clean, the food made, and stay somehow looking vibrant, beautiful, and non-disheveled after all this. If you are fortunate to have little ones in your life, this pile of to-dos get topped with fewer than desired hours of sleep, combined with frequent colds and short tempers when outside time is less available due to capricious weather. No wonder we end up tired, sick and stressed during this time that is supposed to be full of joy.
Here are a few strategies to make this time less stressful and more enjoyable:
1. Say no to anything you do not see yourself enjoying. There are so many invitations in December coming at us from every organization, friend, and acquaintance. Consider these invitations from the following angles:
- Picture yourself being present at the occasion. Where are your children? Are you comfortable leaving them with childcare or bringing them with you to the event?
- Do you see yourself enjoying the event or are you feeling obligated to attend?
- Do you see your children enjoying the event or can you plan something pleasant for them during that time? (A date with a relative or a familiar babysitter might be fun while you enjoy your outing.)
- Are there additional responsibilities the event entails? If it’s a potluck, you will be expected to bring a dish (often with accompanying restrictions of it being paleo/vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free, depending on the company). Do you have time and desire to cook or funds to purchase something to bring? Some events might require a gift exchange, others expect you to pay an entry fee, yet others request a donation to a charity or the food bank. If you are not willing to deal with the logistics, perhaps you’d be happier to skip the event.
- Would you enjoy yourself more just having a date with your partner, having a dinner out, going to the movies, or doing something else? If so, consider declining the invitation, booking a babysitter, and enjoying what you would like to do instead.
2. Plan ahead. Every year many people get caught up in the urgency to send postcards, host holiday parties, bake treats, and purchase gifts. Yet if you start doing some of that throughout the year, you can have a lot more leisure time over the holidays.
- Many treats can be baked in advance and frozen, like my recently-discovered favourite – gluten- and dairy-free cocoa balls.
- You can compose the list of people for whom you would like to find gifts or send postcards ahead of time, including their addresses and gift ideas. The cards can even be written over several weeks leading up to the holidays, so that your wrist does not feel like it’s falling off after three hours of non-stop writing. Envelopes and stamps can be purchased in advance, to save money and time at the post office during the days when the line-ups are the longest.
- Gifts can be purchased throughout the year, on sale. If you are getting closer to the holidays, take advantage of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and many holiday sales. Doing this in advance will help you keep within the budget and find the most thoughtful and fun gifts.
- Make the gifts yourself — and if you are feeling adventurous, involve your kids. You can make simple jewelry, greeting cards, various craft projects, baked treats, drawings — even if they do not end up being gifts, kids will cherish the time you spend with them.
- Hosting holiday parties is not hard. Aside from sending out invitations, making the house presentable, and having a few decorations, it’s easy to host a potluck. Forget fancy dinners and formal parties, unless, of course you enjoy planning those. If you cook for your holiday parties (for instance, I usually have quite a spread, following the Russian tradition of hostess cooking everything), record the list of ingredients and your favourite set of holiday dishes and refer to it in the future, so you don’t have to repeat all the planning steps. I find that a few favourites make their appearance year after year, and it’s easy to swap the main dish and dessert while keeping most of the appetizers the same. Fewer surprises lead to fewer missing ingredients and unfortunate culinary experiments, which in turn means less stress for the hostess.
3. Simplify. You do not have to get everyone multiple gifts and stocking stuffers. Especially with children, the fewer the gifts, the more they are cherished. Giving a child fifteen toys means that only two or three will be played with, leaving the rest to clutter up the floor or the basement. Purchase one or two toys and skip stocking stuffers — most of them are cheap items made without thought and not fulfilling any need or desire, adding to more clutter. You can follow the idea of getting one thing a child needs, one thing they want, one thing to wear, and one thing to read. This way they get clothing which needs to be purchased anyway, another needed item, one item they truly would like, and a book, which is great.
For adults, focus on one item, perhaps two for your partner. Choose it with love and thought. You will likely share a meal as a family, which is a gift in itself, and watching your kids unwrap and play with their presents brings its own joy.
4. Slow down and rest. Prioritize sleep and relaxation, and make the holiday to-dos an extra, not a necessity. Take care of yourself, don’t skip meals, take your supplements, keep up with the exercise. It’s ok to switch it up and do more stretching or dancing instead of, say, weight lifting or cardio. Take a bath, get a massage, diffuse some cinnamon and citrus essential oils. Nourish your body with hot tea, bone broth, vitamins, minerals, love, and attention. It will help you stay healthy throughout this indulgent time of many sweets and sumptuous meals.
5. Do not stress over your choices. Holidays are full with temptations — make your choices and do not regret them. If you feel it is hard to stick to your convictions, take steps in advance:
- Eat a protein-rich snack before you leave for a gathering with a lot of heavy foods or alcohol.
- Take a few deep breaths before tasting your food and savour each forkful — you will enjoy it more and likely eat less.
- Sample sweets in small amounts, it’s only the first few mouthfuls that give us pleasure, by the law of diminishing returns. Don’t feel the obligation to finish up everything on your plate.
- Drink lots of water, whether you consume alcohol or not.
If you do overindulge, be philosophical about it. Think on the enjoyable aspects of the occasion. This does not happen every day, the discomfort will pass, and there is no need to load up the guilt on top of it. Tomorrow is another day.
6. Overall, cherish the time you get together as a family, when everyone is spending these few lazy slow winter days at home, and life can be taken slowly and thoughtfully. Play games, cook and share delicious meals, read, do puzzles, watch films, rest, listen to music, and remember to breathe. Winter brings out the need for warmth, love, and comfort, and holidays are a perfect time to satisfy that need if we take care not to drown in self-imposed obligations and embrace the flow.
Much love and light to you and your family this festive season.