This, after all, was the month in which families began tightening and closing and sealing;

from Thanksgiving to the New Year, everybody’s world contracted, day by day, into the microcosmic single festive household, each with its own rituals and obsessions, rules and dreams.

You didn’t feel you could call people.

They didn’t feel they could phone you.

How does one cry for help from these seasonal prisons?

Zadie Smith

The holidays are quickly approaching. These bring feelings of highs and lows, joy and sadness. But whether your holiday gather will be great or small, it will invariably be accompanied by (at least) a bit of stress.

As the holiday season approaches, your stress level will probably rise. In addition to our typical schedules at work, home and kids, we need to do more shopping, plan menus, and prepare food. The good news in all this bustling about is that, even with all the extra activities and preparations, we can still find ways to reduce our holiday stress.

Here are a few proven strategies to help decrease stress. You may find some of these so effective that you will want to use them all year long, not just during the holiday season!

1. Accept and acknowledge that everything will not be perfect.

  • The commercials and movies that we are blasted with during the holidays really miss the mark when it comes to realistic portrayals of family holidays.
  • Accept that you can enjoy some beautiful holiday get-togethers whether or not something gets spilled or you cannot find your favorite holiday dinner napkins.
  • And, most people will hardly notice if the pies are baked a little too long or that you forgot to purchase the cranberry sauce that almost no one will ever eat.
  • Perfection is overrated. Take a step back.

2. Plan and Prepare.

  • How much better would it feel, and how much less stressed will you feel if you had all (or almost all) your gift shopping and wrapping done early?
  • Plan your holiday menus well in advance of using them.
    • In this way, you will have your menu set and the store lists made before crunch time.
    • As the holidays draw closer, review your menus and shopping lists and make any minor adjustments needed.
  • Spreading holiday tasks out over longer periods of time means that you will have less stress during the holiday season.

3. Scale back!

  • Many of us, as adults have overly idealistic views of the holidays that spring from our childhood experiences, making this particular strategy hard to do.
    • See #1.
      • Scale back on your plans by letting go of your “perfect dream” of how the holidays should unfold.
  • Know in your heart that you do not have to continually repeat that special holiday memory you are holding in your mind.
    • You do not have to find the perfect gift, or spend the most money or have a room stacked with wrapped packages to demonstrate your love for others.
  • Ascribe to the theory that, “It’s the thought that counts.”
    • Most people will never remember the cool thing you got for them that one year. But they will have fond memories of the times you spent together with family and friends.

4. Take a few shortcuts.

  • Learn simpler ways to do things that will provide more time for other holiday tasks and activities.
    • One good example: Rather than baking the pies, order them from a nearby restaurant that is well-known for its delicious baked goods.
    • When shopping, do not be afraid to select a few gift cards as holiday gifts.
      • The fact is that many people prefer receiving a gift card so that they can then choose exactly what they want.
      • Gift cards are easy to shop for, and will satisfy nearly everyone.

5. Choose some things you like to do.

  • Think about what the holidays truly mean to you and then express that meaning in your celebrations.
  • Avoid getting caught up in the commercialism that has taken over the entire holiday season. By Halloween this year, some stores already had Christmas items marked down.
  • Some believe that the holiday season is all about the shopping experience.
    • But, it is well worth your time to think about what ideas you hope to portray to your friends and loved ones during the holidays.
  • Let go of the feeling that you are required to plan and carry out elaborate, lavish schemes for celebrations.
  • Perhaps you would prefer having smaller, more intimate gatherings with friends spread out over a month or two, rather than a big blowout that makes it difficult to really connect with others.
  • The best way to teach our children that the holidays are about giving to others is to take them to visit local charities or even to help serve meals at a local soup kitchen. Children learn a great deal just by watching us make our choices in life.

This year, make the conscious decision to decrease your holiday stress.

By shedding the sense of urgency that comes with striving for perfection, beginning your holiday planning earlier, scaling back on everyone’s expectations (including our own), and using a few shortcuts to save time, you will bring your tension level way down.

Think about what you really want the holidays to mean to you, to your family, and to your friends.

Then, we can let go of some of those deeply held internal expectations based on our past and really enjoy our time together.

Ultimately, isn’t that what the holidays are for?

Photo Credit: blumenbiene Flickr via Compfight cc