I usually look forward to the holiday season: I like to put up the Christmas tree with my husband while we drink an old fashioned. I enjoy wrapping gifts while my cat, Penny, rolls around in the tissue paper or chews on a ribbon. I love the frenzy of watching my nieces and nephews open their gifts, and the (much) quieter exchange my husband and I share over coffee and pancakes.
But even with all the parts I enjoy, the holiday season comes with its own unique mix of stressors. This year, after almost 2 years of living with Covid, brings with it a host of new or compounded stressors. But with a little thought, intention, and kindness we can all better manage this stress and enjoy the festivities ahead!
What’s the same about holiday stress this year?
Even at the best of times, holiday stress is normal. The 6 weeks leading up to the end of the year are a crescendo of activity. Most organizations try to wrap up projects, prepare year-ends, and update annual strategic plans. Retail businesses work to capitalize on Black Friday and holiday spending. Everyone wants to get as much done as possible before vacations start and questions are met with out-of-office emails.
During the holidays there is an increase in social commitments and the anticipation of complicated family interactions. It’s a time when the loss of loved ones and challenging family dynamics are felt more keenly. Christmas is also a time of financial stress for those who don’t have the resources for gifts or large family meals.
Add in the domestic responsibilities of things like decorating, figuring out gifts, mailing cards, wrapping gifts, children’s concerts, crafts, parties and family expectations...
There’s a lot.
What’s different about holiday stress this year?
This holiday season, the second since Covid, adds in some extra elements that will amplify the normal holiday season stressors.
In 2020, most of the world was in various stages of lockdown. This meant that holiday travel was discouraged, even impossible with closed borders. Many families didn’t get together at all.
For some, it was a nice break from what is often a chaotic time. Traditions changed or new ones were started. For others, it was hard to miss the time with the people they love and enjoy their family traditions. It felt isolating and sad.
In 2021, things are even more complicated. Because the Covid restrictions and vaccine uptake are different everywhere, there are hard questions like:
- Will there be big family gatherings again?
- Should you attend holiday parties?
- Will you travel to visit family?
- Has your family dynamic changed over Covid?
Last year some of these decisions were easier because the lockdown rules in most places meant you just didn’t get together. The decision was made for you. This year there are situations where some family members chose not to be vaccinated. Air travel requires extra steps with negative Covid tests and extra time at the airport. Many people are struggling financially after so many businesses and industries were hit hard by the pandemic.
Oof. All that combines into a sizeable amount of extra stress.
5 Steps to Reduce Stress This Holiday Season
While you don’t have control over many of the things I mentioned, you do have control over what YOU do. With a little planning, you can take steps to set this year’s holiday season up to go as smoothly as possible.
- Map out your known commitments in your calendar
- Make a list of the things you know you have to take care of
- Make a list of things you want to make sure you have time for
- Schedule when you are going to do the things you have to do AND the things you want to do
- Schedule protected self-care time
1. Map out your known commitments in your calendar
Bust out your calendar and map out everything you know is coming up. Include all the events and commitments that you are aware of between now and the end of the year:
- Christmas concerts
- Business events
- Family gatherings
- Community or volunteer events
- Travel time
...whatever you can think of that will take up time and energy.
2. Make a list of the things you know you have to take care of
Based on your calendar of commitments, make a list of the tasks related to those commitments.
- Gift shopping
- Baking for your kid’s school party
- Getting an oil change before you drive to a family event
- Putting up Christmas decorations
- Buying the groceries for a special meal
- Covid tests before air travel
This will not be a perfect or exhaustive list and things will come up as you go. But that’s ok! The idea is to capture the big things so you aren’t scrambling.
3. Make a list of things you want to make sure you have time for
Now that you have more clarity on upcoming commitments and tasks, what are the things that you enjoy most about the holiday season? What do you want to make sure you plan to make time for?
Think about traditions that you want to keep or activities you want to try. They could be:
- Learn a new recipe
- Toboggan with your kids
- Read a book by the Christmas tree
- Binge-watch the Harry Potter movies
- Go to a local festival
Some examples of things that I have already booked in my calendar that I enjoy every year:
- Bake cookies with my sister-in-law
- Build gingerbread houses with my niece and nephew
- A small secret Santa gift opening with my close girlfriends
There are any of a million things that you might like to do during the holidays. Make a list and commit to doing them.
4. Schedule when you are going to do the things you have to do AND the things you want to do
You made your lists, now schedule them in your calendar. Map out the tasks you have to do and the tasks you want to do. You will get a better idea of the time you have available, given all the other commitments.
When you see how much time is available (or not available!), you will be more intentional about adding new things. It will smooth out that crescendo of activity by reducing over-booking and over-committing.
5. Schedule protected self-care time
Make sure that you include self-care time as you map out your schedule. 4 weeks of back-to-back commitments and activities (even if they are things you enjoy) is a recipe for burnout.
Block off unplanned, open time. Block off time that is for you. Protect that time and it will pay dividends in ensuring that you don’t enter into the new year exhausted from everything that comes with the holiday season (especially this holiday season!).
Be kind to yourself and others
There are things you have to do, things you want to do, and everything else. Be kind to yourself this holiday season and try to let go of everything else. Give yourself permission to not do ALL THE THINGS. Remember what is important to you and leave the rest.
Also, when you are out and about, travelling or buying gifts, at holiday events or seeing family, remember that everyone has been through, and is still going through, a lot. You never know what someone else is dealing with (in addition to Covid!). While it’s not always easy, giving others a little extra grace and kindness is a gift we can all stand to give (this holiday season in particular, but really always!).
Set boundaries around your time and keep them
The purpose of brainstorming lists and mapping your schedule is NOT to book every moment of your life.
- It’s not meant to be rigid or restrictive
- Your schedule will change many times as new things come up and commitments change.
- New things will be added and space will need to be made.
- Other things will drop off your list and won’t get done.
The purpose of brainstorming lists and mapping your schedule is to set boundaries around your time. This activity is meant to:
- Give clarity on your actual available time so you don’t over commit
- Set realistic expectations for what you can and can’t achieve during this stressful time
- Encourage you to plan ahead so you can do the things you want to do
- Reduce your mental clutter so you aren’t carrying swirling thoughts of what’s coming up over the next few weeks.
Nothing is set in stone. Your plans will change. But this year, when there are so many additional stressors to consider, take some time to set yourself up for a more relaxed holiday season. Think through what's coming up, what needs to be done, and what you want to make sure you do. Write it down and schedule it!
Do you need help working through this process? Get in touch with me and I will help you brainstorm and map it all out.