It was an effective exercise in venting and I feel much better. I wrote my blog on “Dread-ember” listing all the reasons I strongly dislike this month and the holiday season in general. Then, I read it over, accepted my grievances, realized I was being grumpy (albeit honest) and admitted that I don’t want to bring other people down who legitimately love this season.
However, I will equate my problems this month with one word – STRESS. December is, legitimately, the most stressful month of the year. Shopping and presents, food preparation, cards, socializing, crowds, different schedules and routines, decorations, spending, pressure to buy the right thing for the right person – and not forgetting anyone.
Instead of harping on all the reasons I struggle this time of year, I am going to be productive and offer some practical suggestions for people that also have issues getting through to January. Here are Julie’s TOP 10 TIPS based on my own experiences as a busy mom, but also as an occupational therapist who often helps people to break down tasks into more manageable, and less stressful chunks:
- PLANNING – this is everything. Often the stress of shopping is not the shopping per se, but rather the planning beforehand. Who do I need to buy for? What will I get them? When do I need to deliver it or mail it so it is received on time? Spending endless hours in the mall looking for the “right gift” works for some, but for others some planning ahead of time can really reduce the stress of the season.
- ORGANIZATION – plan it, buy it, store it, and then cross it off your list. Make separate lists – cards to send, presents to buy, food to coordinate, functions to attend, decorating to do – then set it and forget it. Pull out one list a week, tackle it, and then discard. Repeat.
- START EARLY – don’t be a dude and end up in the mall on the 24th. If you do, say hi to my husband. Seriously though, starting early can really reduce the pressure to get it all done in time. Personally, last year I was done my shopping September 9, and this year I bought my first present in February and was done in August. Soon, I will use Boxing Day to shop for the next Christmas. But being done early lets me focus on other things in December, and allows me to avoid the crowds and chaos on the roads and in the malls.
- GIVE BACK – nothing says Christmas more than charity. Think of those less fortunate, donate your time, no-longer used items, or money to those that are less fortunate. Get your kids involved with this by sponsoring a family, sorting through toys they no longer need, or having them come with you when you drop off donations. Have a social gathering and in lieu of a hostess gift, ask for items for the local food bank.
- GET OUTSIDE – I agree with this completely. Cold schmold. Put on some layers and get some fresh air. Snow is beautiful, the air is crisp, and getting outside will really assist with de-stressing and avoiding seasonal affective disorders. If it is windy, hit the trails to escape the wind chill. If you are alone, listen to some tunes. Last winter I would always hike with my snow pants on so that if the mood struck, I was freely able to stop for some snow angels (which I do).
- MAKE A BUDGET AND STICK TO IT – this world of abundance does not mean we need to live that way. What can you afford? Make a list within your budget, total it, and stick to it. Financial strain is stressful anyway, let alone this time of year when there are high expectations to buy the right gift, that “wow” item, and to think of so many people. Simplify – draw names, play a gift giving game, or just consider “togetherness” and a pleasant meal as your gift to each other. Consider giving people photos you have taken in the year that you can print in larger sizes for minimal cost, or do what we do and make a DVD of the kids from the year set to their favorite music for the grandparents. This year, we realized we have a bunch of Visa points and will be clearing these off to save our bank account.
- MAKE IT PRACTICAL. Sometimes the practical gifts are the best. Kid’s activities are expensive and some money towards the hockey skates, dance outfit, or Karate uniform would be appreciated by most parents. Or, everyone needs haircuts, and Mom’s love Starbucks or Tim’s, getting their nails done, a massage, or maybe even a housecleaning service as a treat.
- LAUGH. Never underestimate the value of a good laugh. Time with friends, or a good movie can do wonders for the psyche during this hectic time. My favorite holiday movies are Christmas Vacation and Elf, and of course the timeless A Christmas Story. Grab some eggnog or a warm tea, curl up with a blanket and laugh for a while…
- SIMPLIFY – try buying things online. They come to your door! Shopping online provides a practical way to compare prices, avoid the crowds, save some travel and search time, and to look around without being bothered. Toys, books, games – these are all great online gifts.
- DELEGATE – can anyone help you? Perhaps provide a list of items to your spouse that they can grab on their lunch break maybe for the teachers, bus driver, or the table gifts or stocking stuffers. Do you have a parent that can hit the mall with a list for you? Can the kids help you with stuff envelopes and mailing these? You don’t need to tackle the stress of Christmas alone.
But the biggest thing I think we need to realize is that not everyone enjoys this time of year. For some, it will bring terrible or sad memories, guilt, pressure, stress, financial hardship, anxiety, and loneliness. Respect that not everyone can manage this season as they would like, and if that means you are missing a card, an email, present or phone call from someone you expected to hear from, let it go. We all have different capacities to manage stress, and the holiday season is no exception.