Bake cookies, visit relatives, go see Santa, decorate the tree, mail Christmas cards, buy presents, wrap presents, drop off donations, go to special holiday attractions, plan the holiday dinner menu, watch favorite Christmas movies, wrap more presents....
For many moms whose families celebrate Christmas, this time of year can fill your head to bursting with to-do lists and activities.
Everything seems like it should be fun and festive, but in reality the opposite is true when you can't figure out how to fit all the things you want to do into your already busy, hectic life.
We don't think we're being unreasonable. We just want to make the holidays special for our families and ourselves. We want to share treasured memories with our children and honor traditions. "The perfect Christmas."
You know what else should sound familiar? Loneliness. Stress. Pressure. Tears. Anger. Depression. Frustration. All of these feelings and emotions are the natural result of putting too much pressure on ourselves to meet unrealistic expectations.
Don't worry - I'm no less guilty. I was dreading the holiday season this year. Isn't that sad? Running a business and a family keeps me crazy enough. Just thinking about adding all the holiday to-do's to my already full list was producing lots of anxiety. The kind that makes me want to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head to hide. Because how can I possibly get it all done??
For me, the answer is simple - I can't. I do not have enough time to do everything I would like. And the first reaction to that truth is that it makes me feel like a failure. Which is terrible, and my own fault.
Because it does not mean I am a failure. It means I am normal. And so are you.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Can we try to stop pretending like we are perfect and we can do it all without any help and everything will be amazing? Because no one can do that. No one.
I'm writing this post for you, but also for me. Because I want to help you. And I want to help me. For as often I as I remind myself that I do not have to do it all, I forget 2 seconds later when I'm distracted by the next task.
So I did the research and the soul-searching, and below are the best tips I've found to help us stop ourselves from drowning in holiday stress.
Write these down on a piece of paper to help cement them in to your mind. Come back and read them again later when you inevitably forget them and are drowning your sorrows in slightly-burnt butter cookies and too-strong egg nog.
Then I hope you can take a deep breath and carry on with a fresh outlook, knowing it is not just you, you can enjoy the holidays, you do not have to do it all, and everyone (even you!) will be the happier for it. A Christmas miracle!
Tip #1: Laugh.
Seriously. Laughter is the best medicine. And you know the best thing you can laugh at right about now? It's you. And the ridiculousness at putting all this pressure on yourself to do things that are impossible.
It may sound harsh, but it's true - laughing at yourself is one of the best forms of stress relief.
Here's my suggestion on how to do this now: get out your phone and text one friend who you know will not judge you (<- important!), and tell them what is driving you crazy today. Maybe it's your kid's costume for the school play...maybe it's your spouse who wants you to host a last-minute intimate holiday dinner for 25 people...maybe it's that your toddler will not stop knocking ornaments off the tree and if you have to glue one more ornament back together you will lose your *$#@ mind.
Sharing the craziness and hearing what someone else is experiencing can help you feel less lonely, supported, and also give much needed perspective. Everyone goes through this. We are all nuts, but we're nuts together. And that's when we can laugh at ourselves.
Tip #2: Ask for Help.
Ask your spouse, your mother, your child, your friend.
"[HOLIDAY THING] is important to me, but it's really stressing me out. I think I need some help. Can you help me?"
"I want to do [HOLIDAY THING], but I'm not sure how to fit it in. Can you help me think this through?"
Or something to that effect.
Most people do not know you need or want help unless you tell them. So tell them. You are human. You cannot do it all alone. Give them the opportunity to feel good by helping you. (P.S. Afterward, don't forget to say "thank you" and that you appreciated their help! This is a perfect excuse to write an old-fashioned thank you note that you will enjoy sending.)
Offer to help them in return, too. Helping others who genuinely need assistance is food for the soul.
And remember - asking for help has an added bonus for your children, too. Show them you are not perfect and that's OK - you don't have to do it all by yourself, you can ask for help, you shouldn't set unrealistic expectations for yourself. These are all important lessons they can learn from watching you at this hectic time.
Plus most little ones love helping out - it makes them feel valued and capable.
Tip #3: Give Something Personal.
Whether it's something tangible or intangible, pick a person or charity to give a personal gift to this year. Spend some time doing it, too. Put thought into it. You can't always do that for every gift, but for the ones that you can, those are your favorite gifts to give. The ones you can't wait for the recipient to unwrap.
Maybe go to a small local store and spend a few minutes talking with a salesperson. Ask for gift advice. Select something unexpected for someone you love.
It's better to give than to receive. And it makes you feel genuinely good.
Tip #4: Be Realistic.
This is the hard one. Because we want to do it all. All of it. Every cookie, every carol, every activity, every moment. But we have to come to grips with the fact that we do not have an endless supply of time (or money). We can only fit in so much.
I'm a list-maker, so my go-to suggestion is to sit down for a few minutes and empty your brain. Dump every holiday thing that you feel like you have to do on to a sheet of paper. Your holiday bucket list, if you will. Fill the page.
Then? Cross off everything that isn't a must do. Be ruthless. Do not let all the holiday things you want to do control you. You can control them. You might be surprised that once you write everything down, the list in your head feels more manageable and less overwhelming.
Here's another motivation to cross things off - if you try to do too much, it can prevent you from being present in the special moments you worked so hard to make possible. And really - what's the point if you aren't even enjoying the things you are doing?
Be deliberate. Choose the things that are most important to you and own those. They are your special holiday moments. The rest are a bonus.
Tip #5: Take Care of Yourself.
So many of us are so terrible at this. As soon as things get busy, taking care of ourselves is the first thing to go. "I don't have time." "Things are too crazy." "I'll do it later."
Of course, none of this is true. They're the things we tell ourselves so we feel less guilty about our choice to neglect our self-care.
Again, I too am terrible at this. I haven't exercised in months. I can't remember the last time I took a few quiet minutes for myself. I walked to Starbucks to pick up a sandwich for lunch today - does that count? (Don't answer that.) But I'm trying to do better.
We neglect ourselves and it inevitably shows in the way we feel both physically and mentally. When we care for ourselves, it makes us better in all our roles. There's a saying that you can't draw water from an empty well, and it's very applicable here. Give to yourself and you'll be able to better give to others.
It doesn't have to take a long time, either. Meditate for 10 minutes. Stretch in the morning before your shower. Next time you are waiting in line, unplug from your phone and stop to admire something beautiful. Enjoy a cup of tea in a quiet setting.
Make carving time out for yourself a priority. Repeat it to yourself. I will make carving time out for myself a priority. Etch it in your mind. Hold yourself accountable. And then enjoy it and the rewards it reaps for yourself and others.
What wisdom for enjoying the holidays have you gleaned over the years? Take a moment to share your stories with others in the comments.
And if you celebrate other holidays, substitute your family's most important holiday for "Christmas" and tell me - do the same feelings and pressures carry over? What are your strategies for managing them?
Coralee Dixon is the founder of Shortcake Albums. She lives with her family in NJ, and is the mother of two awesome little girls. She does not have it all, but she does have just enough.
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