Ah, Christmas. . . Joy to the world, peace on earth, blahblahblah. For some, the Hallmark card fantasy of the perfect family Christmas is nigh impossible to achieve without the accompanying requisite levels of artery-damaging stress and anxiety by the time the New Year arrives. As Michele Meyer wrote in Heart Healthy Living:
“Whether your family resembles the Waltons or the Sopranos, few family gatherings are without potential for unspoken tensions.”
And psychologist Dr. Susan Heitler reminds us in the the same article:
“Both unresolved resentment and anxious anticipation of conflict during the holidays can harm your heart by spiking anger and depression. The higher the level of emotional arousal, the more stress on your heart.”
If you’re sometimes tempted to just skip Christmas and go straight to Mother’s Day, consider some of these stress-busting tips this year from Toronto author Susan Stern (Awakening Your Life Skills) who says that we should all start a plan in advance for de-stressing the holiday season as much as possible. For example:
- Lower your standards: “Your guests aren’t coming to check for dust bunnies under the bed. And if they are, don’t invite them back. Set realistic goals. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Relax and enjoy yourself. Stop being such a perfectionist already!”
- Don’t do it just because you’ve always done it: “Ask yourself why you are doing all the things you’re doing this year. If any tradition has outlived its reason or usefulness, drop it.”
- Do less: “Stop taking on so much. Don’t do everything from scratch. Make it potluck this year. Ask others for help with shopping, cleaning, cooking. Remember that when you say YES to one task, you’re saying NO to another.”
- Rethink gift-buying: “Instead, donate money to a local charity. Give a magazine subscription, concert or sporting event tickets, a store gift certificate, or a no-cost ‘gift of service’ coupon for future favours like babysitting, gardening help, etc.” Or draw family names for a gift exchange this year with a clear spending limit (buy one gift instead of 12!)
- Be realistic in your expectations of your family: “Relatives who don’t like each other the rest of the year do NOT become bosom buddies on December 25th. Invite the people who get along. Plan something else with the others (but only if you really want to). Remind your family not to drop emotional bombs at this time like announcing the divorce over Christmas dinner.”
- Have a plan so you don’t overeat: “Decide before the festive meal how much you’ll eat and stick to that decision. Have a small taste of everything including a small slice of dessert. Fill up on water, salad, veggies. Go easy on gravies and sauces. Keep occupied with non-eating activities.”
- Take time for YOU: “Book a massage. Take a nap! Meditate. Go for a walk. Ready a trashy novel. Rent a funny movie. Spend a night in a lovely hotel. Write a gratitude list.”
- Do not try a new recipe for company: “This is not the time to be Julia Child!”
- Recognize what’s within your power and what isn’t: “Keep in mind what you can and cannot do. You can lose weight over the holidays, but you cannot make your spouse lose weight. You can be thankful for even having the means to celebrate the holidays, but you cannot make your children feel thankful. “
And what about planning to manage some of the stress around The Big Day itself?
Canadian Living magazine’s ‘Family Life’ editor Kathryn Dorrell warns about the importance of reducing every stressor possible on Christmas Day. She tells of a simple but effective family rule in place for her family: no commitments before 2 p.m.
“On December 25th, we enjoy a lazy morning at home. We won’t commit to be anywhere before 2 p.m. so our daughters can enjoy their gifts and none of us feel rushed. Then we head over to my father-in-law’s place for a leisurely late lunch (thankfully it only takes 20 minutes to get there) followed by an evening dinner at my parents, who also live close by. On occasion, we have even packed our PJs and slept over at my parents’ so we could all have a more relaxing evening.”
Q: What are your best tips for de-stressing for the holidays?