How To Avoid Holiday Stress
This piece originally appeared on Fix.com.
I love holidays. They’re full of family, food, celebration, and a much-needed stretch of rest and relaxation. But let’s be honest – holidays can also be a source of stress: the planning, buying, coordinating, traveling, cooking, problematic family member(s), and the struggle to work ahead or catch up on work when you return. All this can easily lead to a frantic vacation instead of the idyllic picture we like to imagine will unfold without a hitch.
It’s easy to fall into patterns of panic when time crunches and elevating responsibilities start to multiply in the weeks before the holiday season. However, if you are armed with these five simple and effective mindfulness techniques, you can successfully get through the season and enjoy every moment, just like you deserve to!
Plan Ahead: Don’t Allow Yourself to Reach the Rushed Stage
When I say plan ahead, I mean really far ahead. The trap I always fall into, particularly around Christmas, is thinking that I have plenty of time to think about my gifts, do my shopping, and get everything done without sweating. More often than not, I am fooling myself.
Thinking about and shopping for gifts is one of those activities that’s hard to budget time for because you may find exactly what you’re looking for the moment you step into a store – or, as often happens in my case, five hours and five stores later, you go home empty handed. Those of you with a few too many impossible-to-buy-for relatives know this pain all too well.
Make sure you set aside more time than you think you’ll need for all the things on your list that need to get done. That way, you give yourself room to prepare at a more enjoyable pace. Get gifts well out of the way first – a good rule of thumb is one month in advance – so you can move on to planning the things that have more predictable time allotments. Get your children to write their Christmas list for Santa in early November so you have time to find and purchase what they would like.
You’ll be amazed at how much stress this simple rule will save you down the line. Being mindful of the negative moods and lessened productivity that can result from being rushed will help motivate you to get things done early.
Make Lists: An Uncluttered Mind is a Happy Mind
No matter how hard you try, you simply can’t keep track in your head of all the things you need to do before the holidays (scientists generally agree that seven is the average number of things you can keep track of in short-term memory at one time).
Lists not only ensure that you don’t end up forgetting something but also allow you to de-clutter your mind, freeing it up for more important tasks such as problem solving when issues arise and coordinating effectively with other family and friends leading up to the main event.
I prefer to write my lists with good old-fashioned pen and paper. The act of forming the letters of each word may help you remember the items better than simply typing them. Make separate lists for separate responsibilities, e.g., gifts, groceries, recipes, who’s driving who, etc. This will make your responsibilities seem less daunting.
Being overly organized on paper will feel like a huge relief cognitively and help ease some of your pre-event stress and anxiety.
Prioritize Taking Short Breaks: Ensure that you Remain Fresh and Productive
There’s nothing better when you need to solve a problem or work on a task with renewed motivation than scheduling short breaks from the task at hand.
A short break could be as simple as getting up, stretching your limbs, and drinking a glass of water. It could also involve going for a walk, watching an episode of your favorite TV show, or having a chat with a friend. The important function of the short break is that it gives you a permitted pause that can help you refocus and re-motivate, and it could lead to better insights on a problem you’ve been struggling with. Above all, a short break can help break up negative emotions such as frustration and anger, which can often creep into our holiday tasks, particularly when we’re tired and feeling overworked.
The best kind of short break gives both your mind and your body something different to do for a while, so enjoy them! Because these breaks have the power to improve and expedite the process of completing holiday tasks, I consider them just as important as any of my main responsibilities, both in the lead up to and following the main event.
Keep Setbacks in Perspective: They’re Insignificant in the Long Run
Okay, so you may have burned the turkey. But before you panic and consider Thanksgiving or Christmas ruined, take a moment to put your blunder in perspective. One burned turkey isn’t the end of the world, and your family and friends will forgive you. Who knows, it may even turn into an amusing shared family memory you can laugh about later. Just think of it as a learning experience and try again – a turkey really isn’t that hard to master when you follow a few simple guidelines!
With so much to remember and handle around the holidays, it can be unrealistic to believe you’ll pull it all off flawlessly, and that’s okay. Accept the fact that you’ll make some mistakes, and focus on moving forward with an alternative game plan when it happens. If there’s no time to cook another turkey, why not look at buying a cooked turkey or substitute chicken or ham instead? If you couldn’t find the perfect gift, why not handwrite your own gift coupon, promising said gift when you find it?
Keeping setbacks in perspective can help you let go of residual anger and frustration that can color your experiences, thus helping you enjoy the moment.
Remember Why You’re Celebrating: Family, Friends, Food, and Good Fortune
Gratitude has repeatedly been shown to lead to a host of positive outcomes for you and the people around you. While you’re running around trying to keep track of your grocery shopping, gifts, cleaning, and planning, regularly remind yourself why you’re doing it all: family, friends, food, and good fortune.
If you practice keeping a sense of thankfulness at the top of your mind leading up to the holiday, you’ll help yourself stay calm, focused, and motivated. You’ll even feel happier through it all, which is what holidays are all about. Start in the grocery store: be grateful for the full shelves and the range of different options that will let you create an enjoyable, satisfying meal for your family. If you have a long list of people to buy gifts for, be thankful that you will be surrounded by so many loving, supportive people.
When you begin to notice the joys of and appreciate the small things, hardships become easier to handle, and you can face your stress armed with the positive emotions that result from practicing gratitude.
The Mindful Way to a Stress-free Holiday
The key to sailing calmly and happily through the holidays lies in taking a few steps now that will save you headaches later. While it can seem difficult to take a mindful moment out of your day when you have more than enough to do, you’ll be surprised to find that it makes a world of difference. You’ll end up saving time, making fewer mistakes, and staying stress-free so you can enjoy a special day with your family and friends. For more useful tips and techniques, check out this complete guide to mindfulness techniques to reduce stress .