Don’t Just “Manage” Holiday Stress – Rethink It!

Thanksgiving 2017 is in the books, and it’s officially December 1st – the “most wonderful time of the year,” or so they say, is here again! It kind of feels like a (nearly) two month-long holiday hurricane, though, doesn’t it?

Let me ask you this: How do you feel about it? Is it indeed “wonderful,” or does your holiday routine leave you feeling like you’ve been run over by the holiday bus?

Now, don’t get ahead of me. Don’t start looking for quotes from the Grinch to paste in the comments. Seriously. I just want to ask that question, and let you mull it over while I explain.

If you’re a long-time follower of a.healthier.happy, you may know that my husband and I lived in Jacksonville, FL, for two years, so we spent two holiday seasons away from home.

Overall, it was an interesting experience. Florida handles Christmas with a totally different vibe than states with snow. A good deal less panache, that’s for sure. I can’t even tell you how many times I forgot that it was December and that Christmas was just weeks away.

Being away from friends and family was hard, no doubt. Being away from snow was weird, not hard per se, just different. But, it also meant being away from the hustle and bustle that traditionally comes with the holiday, which changed my perspective.

Confession: I didn’t decorate for Christmas either of our two years in Jacksonville. The extent of my “holiday decorating” was to bring out my Rudolph stuffed animal from Build-A-Bear and put him on the couch. We’d tossed our dilapidated, hand-me-down artificial tree before moving, so we were tree-less. Although buying a real one in any pop-up parking lot tree shop would’ve been easy, we just…didn’t feel like it.

Okay, true, I missed the nostalgic thrill of revealing each treasured ornament, one-by-one, from the storage bin. But, we don’t have kids, so any decorating we do is literally just for us.  We stopped buying Christmas gifts for each other years ago, and any gifts for people back home had to be mailed well in advance, so a tree would’ve looked silly with a bare undercarriage, in my opinion.

It wasn’t just the tree, though. We were distanced from the whole holiday shebang, by being away from home. December is a long, jam-packed, exhausting month for most people. For us, though, it was business as usual

Can I admit something? It felt awesome. It was so. darn. freeing.

When you’re away from the holiday hoopla you grew up with, especially living in a state where the holiday is kind of an afterthought, you look at it differently. You realize just how extremely stressful we’ve allowed it to become. (I mean, he and I knew before. That’s why I’d come to dread the holidays.)

Think about it. We create a whole lot of work for ourselves in the name of “tradition,” don’t we? It looks pretty, yes, but it’s exhausting to get a tree up and decorated, and decorate the house (inside and out) just to reverse the whole process post-New Year’s Day.

Believe me, I’m not saying that there isn’t a certain magic in the air come December, as the hopes and joys of excited children grow as the Big Day nears. There is. There’s magic in a White Christmas, with soft, gentle flakes making the world look like a snow globe. I did miss that magic, because – even as an adult – it’s still infectious.

Unfortunately, though, because of the way our society has gone to the extremes in celebrating this holiday, the magic tends to fall by the wayside in all of the commercial commotion. And, sadly, there is a hefty price to be paid, both financially and health-wise.

Does anyone ever stop to ask why it’s this way? How it’s gotten this far? Why we do this to ourselves?! I know most people love the magic of Christmas, but how did it turn into us bogging ourselves down with so much unnecessary stuff? When did “magic” turn into a un-magical mountain of stress, bills, and chores?

Spending hours horsing around with tangled strings of lights. Having to bake cookies just to satisfy “cookie exchange” requirements. Stressing over finding gifts for Secret Santas. Attending holiday parties (i.e. “Do I have anything to wear? What should I bring gift/food-wise?” Etc.). Endless shopping ad nauseum, in crowded malls with no parking. Having to wrap each thing, then haul it to wherever you’re exchanging gifts. On and on and on, and if you have kids, the list of to-do’s is 10x as long.

What about the mental health toll that all of this takes? Think about it. So much stress over finding the “right” gift, making everything “perfect,” making everyone on your list happy (and second-guessing yourself constantly). Again, if you have kids I can’t even imagine the added extra pressure.

Oh, and don’t forget the associated holiday guilt! Guilt you spent/ate more than you wanted to, guilt you spent more on one person than another, guilt you spent less on someone than they spent on you. Guilt you have to leave one holiday get-together to run off to another. Blah blah blah.

Running, running, running. Stress, stress, stress. Rinse and repeat. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, right into the new year!

For our first Christmas in Jacksonville, it was the first time in all our years that we had nowhere to be. No commitments. You know what we did? We went to the beach, along with tons of other people. We got dinner from a small Greek diner that happened to be open. Nothing special by definition, but having such a stress-free holiday was special.

I’m happy that we’re back in Ohio, so this holiday season we will be able to appreciate spending holiday time with our families. Having learned what I’ve learned, though, I approach it with the attitude that minimal is where it’s at. Simple, simple, simple. There is definitely a happy medium to seek.

So, circling back to my question from the beginning, I’m curious. Do you find it 100% wonderful? Do you truly enjoy the holiday, or are you, too, feeling overwhelmed and disenchanted with all the “requirements” that go along with a holiday that itself lasts only 24 hours?

I’m not saying you should ditch the holiday (unless you want to, of course). But, what I am saying, is really take a second to audit everything you do during December. How much of it is more stress than it’s worth? How much of it do you do because you want to, versus feeling obligated to do? Can you cut some of it out? Can you simplify?

I’ve seen a lot of articles about how important it is to take “me” time during the holidays to decompress from all the holiday stress. While I agree wholeheartedly, I think prevention is better than a cure! I think somewhere along the line, it’s become frowned up to take a step back from holiday “responsibilities” (Christmas with the Kranks, anyone?). But why?

No holiday is worth stressing yourself to the max and running yourself ragged. Nor is it worth draining your bank account or racking up unhealthy levels of credit card debt, all the while adding to your waistline. (People majorly stress over gaining “holiday weight,” and to me, the fact that holiday weight is even a thing is the biggest, saddest sign that this season has gotten far out of hand.)

This season, don’t be afraid to say no. You’re allowed to! You don’t have to be part of every cookie exchange or Secret Santa. If you don’t decorate every inch of your house, it doesn’t ruin the holiday.

Instead, put the focus where it really should be. Remember what really matters. Spend the time with those you love. Embrace the magic and love of the season, not the material aspects. Be generous and giving, of things that really matter. It shouldn’t be about gifts, cookies, and decorations. It should be about people, plain and simple. If you’re all together, that’s what makes the holiday.

Wishing you a healthier, happier holiday season!

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