The radio plays continuous Christmas music. The stores suddenly sprout six extra rows of decorations and triple their ads. Tension builds into a frenzy of buying. For many of us, the holidays herald feelings of dread. We have too many tasks and too little time.
To add to the merriment, there are mounting debt, squabbling relatives, and the to-do list that grows faster than a five-year-old's wish list. It starts in November and doesn't stop until the New Year is under way.
Stop the holiday stress with some of these simple strategies. First of all, sit down right now and make a list. Include gifts to buy, cookies to bake, indoor and outdoor decorating, parties, relatives to visit and any other activities you usually do. Now look at each item and ask yourself these ten questions.
Some of these questions are more difficult to answer than others. It is hard to let go of the responsibility of doing everything all of the time. However, you will feel relieved if you simply ask for some help.
A lot of holiday stress is caused by unrealistic expectations. Remembering past holidays through the rose-tinted glasses of memory can leave you feeling flat or disappointed when your own preparations don't measure up. Relax! Plan doable activities that everyone can participate in, and even if a few things go wrong, your attitude is 90% of the battle. Years later, it is the "disasters" that we recall with a chuckle or a groan, not the uneventful days.
Do you have eighteen boxes of Christmas decorations? I did, until I streamlined our decor by only putting out the things we cherish. It saves time, energy and my sanity. I used to feel run over by a freight train after a grueling daylong decorating session, where every item had to be perfectly placed.
Last year, we had a particularly cold winter, below zero degrees most of the time. So I hung our outside lights in the windows. You could see them at night and it was easy to plug them in and out. I doubt if I'll ever get up on a shaky ladder in freezing winds again.
Money is always a source of holiday stress. The simplest way to avoid extra debt is to make a budget and stick to it. Believe me, most of your family and friends don't care if you give them a $20 gift instead of a $200 one, especially if you stick within that range for everyone. The spirit of the season is more about thoughtful giving than extravagance.
Practice saying "no" once in awhile if you're feeling overwhelmed. Being busy is fine, up to a point. Then it becomes another stressor that sucks all the fun out of the holidays. Take time to really celebrate instead of cramming in one more task.
Baking twelve dozen assorted cookies from scratch might be an ingrained tradition and one you hate. If you're strapped for time or just want to skip the hours over a hot stove, go the bakery or grocery store route. Use the extra time to arrange your selections in a pretty gift basket or nice serving tray. Add a tag that says "assembled with love." The sentiment is still there and you can bask in the time you save.
Not all of these ten steps will apply to you and your family. The key is to prioritize your list and only do the things that add to your happiness. So this year, take a deep breath and vow to eliminate holiday stress. Give yourself permission for a smaller to-do list. The holiday season is not about how much you get done, but about the warmth of the spirit and the love of family and friends.
Shaunna Privratsky is a fulltime author. She lives in North Dakota with her family and is busy enjoying the holidays, preparing for guests and shoveling snow. Visit The Discount Diva for more money-saving ideas here.
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