Five rules for a stress-free holiday season

Updated Dec 26, 2012

Shutterstock 41150797As a child, I thought Christmas was magical. It combines everything kids love: no school, wonderful activities, lots of presents, practically unlimited desserts. When I grew up and started my own family, I was excited to see if I could craft those magical Christmases the way my own family had. And sure, for my daughter, they were perfect. For me, though, they were stressful and tiring, and I discovered (to my horror) that sometimes I was glad when they were over.

Now, I’m not crazy. I know viewing something from a child’s viewpoint is far different than reliving the same experiences as an adult, but I didn’t understand why it was so radically different. I felt I should be enjoying it a little. Eventually, I realized my personal Christmas experience had become a marriage of too-high expectations and overwhelming stress. Judging from the behavior of my family and friends, I wasn’t the only one. So, here’s my foolproof (almost) strategy for making it through the holidays with your sanity intact.

1.       Chill out and calm down. Adopt the mindset early that you won’t make a little thing into a big one. If you can’t find one of those hairy little Furby things in purple, and your little one has to settle for teal, Christmas isn’t ruined.

2.       Don’t booze it up. Almost every resource on stress will tell you excessive alcohol consumption exacerbates the problem. The key here is moderation. If you feel enjoying a cocktail or some eggnog will put you in the Christmas spirit, there’s no reason not to enjoy yourself. Just know your limits. You want to be sociable; you don’t want to end up on YouTube.

3.       Embrace insanity when you see it. Recognize that practically everyone else is stressed out, and therefore possesses the potential for evil. If someone steals your parking place at the mall, realize it’s not the worst thing that could happen. Feel sorry for them that their heart is two sizes too small, and move on. You’re above all that now, after all, and can feel benevolent.

4.       Accept your relatives for who they are. At least, accept them for 24 hours. You may scream at them the other 364 days a year, but for Christmas, bury the hatchet (metaphorically only). Whatever you do, don’t talk politics or religion. If you find yourself in a conversation with a completely disagreeable person, see if you can find something you both dislike and talk about that.

5.       Manage your expectations. There’s an old saying I’m sure was a response to a Christmas mishap: “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” If you expect some things to go wrong, you won’t be quite so devastated when they do. Don’t expect to be happy or feel good 24/7. If you’re dealing with loss or separation during the holidays, accept those feelings and spend time with people who care about you. Reflect on what Christmas means to you in a positive way.

Even if your holiday celebration ends up a total disaster, try to maintain a sense of humor. If you find yourself in a situation worthy of Clark Griswold, at least you’ll have great stories for future generations.