For a lot of us, the holidays are a magical time of year. They mean really good food, holiday movies, and family togetherness.
The holidays can also bring along some less than ideal feelings though. The scenario has been depicted in many a Christmas movie - crowded malls, overcooked turkeys, and family chaos. A time of the year that should be reserved for celebrating the birth of our Savior is oftentimes ravaged with stress. It can be hard to keep it together under the mounting pressure of decorating, cooking, entertaining, and endless shopping lists, but with the proper tools, one can make it through the holiday season with their sanity in tact.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I have always been a planner. Making lists and prioritizing tasks keeps me on track and working towards my goals, while allowing me to avoid distractions along the way. Having an idea of what we are up against helps us to avoid undesired situations, and prepares us to face the inevitable.
This year, take some time to write out a game plan for yourself - meal preparation, a chore list with tasks delegated for family members, an ideal daily schedule to follow, etc. If you have a plan to deal with the inevitable stressors, you stand a fighting chance of making it to the New Year without throwing any turkeys out the window.
Know your triggers.
We all have triggers that set us off. If we can identity and anticipate our triggers, we can make the most of our holiday celebrations. Some of the holiday stressors we encounter around the holidays can be avoided. I find that when I communicate my pet peeves to my family, they make an effort to respect my boundaries - which comes in handy at major family gatherings. Maybe there are certain circumstances that tend to trigger your anxiety. Being aware of what those are, and making a plan outlining specific actions you can take to help decrease your anxiety will be beneficial.
Other triggers are unavoidable. We cannot magically change situations outside of our control, or control the obnoxious things a well-intentioned relative says to us. Anticipating potential triggers makes them easier to deal with. Identifying the things that cause us the most stress during the holidays helps us to either avoid the triggers or work through them.
This is not about working off that extra serving of pumpkin pie (although it probably won't hurt). Many of us learned this lesson from the movie Legally Blonde, in a scene where Elle Woods is defending her client (a fitness instructor) on trial for murder: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t!” Elle was right. Exercise boosts the level of feel good chemicals in your brain. Concentrating on your body’s movement is also a great way to free your mind from the shackles of your holiday check list. Getting your body moving is an excellent way to relieve your body of some of the tension racked up over the course of the holidays.
Take some space (and some grace!).
In a busy house it can be hard to find a prayerful place. It’s important to be able to step away from the football games, activity planning, shopping, and clearing of dishes in order to take care of yourself - and your prayer life. In a culture that forgets the reason for the Christmas season, make your relationship with Jesus a priority. Carve out time to be still with God, to say a rosary or engage in some other form of prayer. Pray for your family and the grace to be present with them.
Quite a few years ago, when I was still single, my parents and I decided to attend a 6:00AM morning Mass. We figured it would be worth it to trade sleeping in for avoiding the stress of the church parking lot any later on Christmas morning. The sun was barely rising as we walked into a near empty church, and Mass proceeded almost like any weekday. There was no choir, no bells and whistles - just a baby in a manger on a quiet morning. The simplicity of it all was truly a great reminder of the humble entrance of our Lord into this world.
This memory of Christmas will always stick with me. As a child, I had not been as aware of the stress and frustration that so often came around the holidays. As an adult, however, I had fallen victim to the pressures of shopping, cooking, and explaining to family what my dating situation was. That Christmas morning I was taken back to the nativity - a quiet, simple, prayerful nativity - where my heart should have been the entire time.