Ideally, the Christmas holiday is a magical time of year...a time that means really good food, exchanging of gifts, holiday movies, and family togetherness. But in reality, the holidays oftentimes bring along some less-than-ideal feelings. A time of the year which should be reserved for celebrating the birth of our Savior is oftentimes ravaged with stress instead.
This scenario has been depicted in many a Christmas movie - crowded stores, long lines, overcooked turkeys, and family chaos. It can be hard to keep it all together under the mounting pressure of decorating, cooking, entertaining, and endless shopping lists! However, with the proper tools, you can make it through the holiday season with your sanity intact. Read on for a few tips on how to survive this year's holidays.
1. 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.
2. Know your stressors.
We all have things that set us off. If we can identity and anticipate those things set us off and accelerate our stress response, we can make the most of our holiday celebrations.
Some of the holiday stressors we encounter can be avoided. For instance, 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 stressors are unavoidable. We cannot magically change situations outside of our control, or control the obnoxious things a well-intentioned relative says to us (as much as we may like to!). 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 those things or work through them.
This is not about working off that extra serving of pumpkin pie (though it probably won't hurt), but rather about giving your body more of what helps it feel good.
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!” Turns out, Elle was right. Exercise boosts the level of feel-good chemicals in your brain (endorphins). Plus, 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.
4. Take some space (and some grace!).
In a busy house it can be hard to find a prayerful place, but it’s incredibly 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.
A final thought.
Many 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.
My prayer is that we can all interiorly remain there, by the cradle, maintaining a sense of quiet and awe at the beauty this season brings.