Usually, negative feelings are rooted in unmet expectations. Examining those expectations and deciding if they are reasonable can be particularly helpful when life changes. I recently adjusted my expectations for the holiday season, and now that we have made it through and are settling into the new year, I can reflect on what was the most enjoyable and least stressful holiday season ever.
The busiest time of year
Late fall through early winter is busy for most families, including mine. Our family observes Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and all the festivities associated with each holiday, along with some birthday celebrations. The potential for being overwhelmed is significant.
This season, I had the added busyness and stress of court proceedings and a theater production. Diligent scheduling is essential when managing appointments and events, but time management can only accommodate so much.
I have choices
I could attempt everything I wanted and barely get by. But there’s not much joy in zipping through the motions just to get something checked off a list, especially when the effort is so taxing that I cannot enjoy the outcome. Or, I could simplify, let go of some items on my to-do list, and focus on the essentials.
I revisit the purpose of each observance and its relevance to my family
Beginning with Thanksgiving, I concentrated on the activities that were most meaningful and relevant to my family. My children and I have a lot to give thanks for. The previous Thanksgiving was incredibly stressful, as my oven stopped working at some point while roasting the turkey. Thankfully, I was able to salvage the meal with my pressure cooker.
Looking back, neither the oven disaster nor the food was what made that Thanksgiving memorable. What I remember most about that Thanksgiving was each of my children, without prompting, taking turns speaking someone’s name and saying what they appreciated about them, along with the other things or circumstances they were thankful for.
Expressing gratitude is a good tradition that I want to keep. I want us to be able to focus on thankfulness without unnecessary stress for at least a day. We have the rest of the year to be thankful amid complications.
I convened a family meeting to discuss what we wanted our Thanksgiving celebration to be. We decided how we wanted to spend the day and planned our dinner menu to include only the food we wanted to eat. Each of us planned to prepare a dish appropriate to our skill level. The children and I decided that all we wanted to do that day was watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, relax, eat the meal we had each helped to prepare, and give thanks.
There was minimal stress going in, as the expectations were clear and we weren’t burdening ourselves with things that weren’t significant to us. I wasn’t planning a spread worthy of a magazine cover. I wanted my children to remember more than what we ate. It was the most relaxing Thanksgiving our family had ever experienced, and I feel that we were better able to stay in a thankful mindset. Thanksgiving worked so well that I went into Christmas less exhausted.
One stress-free celebration begets another
I finished most of my shopping online to conserve energy and minimize my exposure to illness. I also was able to decorate the outside of our home, albeit in stages. Inside, I put up a few Christmas decorations on the walls and erected our pre-lit, artificial tree. I tasked my youngest daughter with hanging the ornaments. Handing that over to her was liberating for me and enjoyable for her — until she grew tired of hanging ornaments a third of the way in. And that was OK! We enjoyed the tree just the same.
We baked and decorated cookies together on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was peaceful. We opened gifts, played, talked about the wonder and mystery of the season, and FaceTimed our family members who could not be with us. We ate a simple meal of food we agreed we wanted to eat, just like we did for Thanksgiving. All in all, I could not have asked for a better Christmas Day. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were equally as relaxing.
Less stress made problems more manageable
We encountered several unexpected problems along the way, including illness, a bad spill on the ice that sent me to the emergency room, and the passing of a beloved family pet. I feel that we were able to take these things in our stride because my resources weren’t already spread thin when the unexpected occurred. I am keeping that in mind going forward.
How have you lessened your holiday stress? Please share in the comments below.
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