Advice & Features Articles

Holiday Stress Survival Tips

By Deborah Dobbs, MA | Contributor 

Nearly ten years ago, I made my first holiday stress “survival kit.” I was a frazzled single mom with a toddler, and something had to give. The key is to remain focused on the big picture and most importantly, the meaning behind our holidays.  The true spirit of the season has nothing to do with appearances, commercialism or party hopping. Usually this involves saying no, and that can be difficult to do. Maybe this can help you:

Categorize & prioritize
Make yourself a spreadsheet with four columns titled: Want, Should, Must and Meh. Wants are your wants (not your mom’s or your kids’ – they can do their own lists). These are activities you love or long to do. They might be traditions you want to continue or establish. Shoulds might not be necessary, but they’ll involve some regret if omitted. Musts are too valuable to leave off the agenda (attending a Christmas Eve service is a must in our family). A Meh is a forced activity or thing you do year after year for no apparent reason; it doesn’t add value to the holiday season, or the stress it creates robs all value. These might be activities you simply don’t enjoy. At all. 

Assign each tradition/idea/expectation/to-do item to a column.  Challenge yourself because often the Musts on our lists are really Mehs. Circle/highlight the winners. If you’re opting for a democratic approach, compare your lists to the lists of others in the family. Decide what gives and what stays. I encourage you to do this now, before the winter holidays are upon you. That’s quickly approaching if you celebrate Hanukkah – carve the Thanksgiving turkey, blink, and it’s time to make homemade latkes.  

Or is it? Are homemade latkes a Must? Will your loved ones disown you if, for the love of sanity, you skip the peeling, grating (and at least one mangled knuckle) of fresh potatoes and instead, you use frozen shredded potatoes? Would anyone even notice? (Do an Internet search and you’ll find recipes! It has been done!) Maybe “shredding 100 potatoes” belongs in the Should or, dare I say, Meh column. 

Include others in the process
It may help if you talk to others in the family, even if only to prepare them for possible changes. Don’t assume anything. Your mother might not be as disappointed as you expect if you move a perceived must to a meh. I have found that when I talked to others about getting back to basics and eliminating excess, they were relieved. Parts of this conversation may be difficult. Hurt feelings might be inevitable. On the other hand, the process might feel liberating for all.  

Use a Consequences Web
For the doozies, you might want to consider a Consequences Web. Pick an action/decision. Brainstorm. Write down all the potential consequences. You can extend the web to add additional consequences to consequences. Then weigh them. After viewing the Consequences Web, the decision might be easier to make. 

By focusing on the big picture and saying no when needed, the holidays can be a lot less stressful!

Editor’s Note: Debbie Dobbs is the Executive Director of The Counseling Place, a nonprofit agency providing affordable, professional and education services and counseling. Reach her at 469.283.0242 or couselingplace.org.

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