Want to experience a more joyful Christmas season this year that doesn’t leave you depleted, miserable and broke? Here are10 ways to shift your perspective and take command of this “hap-happiest” time of the year.
1Thou shall quit worshipping perfection. Nothing burns holes into the fantasy Christmas like real life. Maybe the tree is a lopsided, the dog ate your 7-year-old’s gingerbread house, or you were so focused on creating the best holiday ever that you ended up too sick to enjoy it when the big day finally arrived.
“Decide to do things differently this year. Strive for the good and be satisfied with the good. Too often the focus is on the result, and we tend to lose focus on the beautiful process of getting to the result,” says therapist Julia Flynn, LCPC, CRADC.
2Thou shall not overcommit. Decide ahead of time which activities won’t work this year. Instead of committing to five parties and multiple gift exchanges, choose a few that you’re enthusiastic about attending.
“Be firm, decisive and assertive, always coming from a place of love for everyone and keeping the focus on the origin of the holidays,” Flynn says, who specializes in helping women manage anxiety, depression and holiday overwhelm. “Graciously decline and send a nice card or note.”
3Thou shall rediscover “the why.” Take time to re-evaluate your priorities. How do you want Christmas to feel? What do you want your kids to remember most?
“Sometimes we need to take a step back and ask ourselves why Christmas is important to us because I think ‘the why’ gets lost. It just becomes an expectation of self and family–or whoever–to have it look a certain way,” says Maki Moussavi, a transformational coach, speaker and author of The Discomfort Zone (to be released spring 2019). “Take a step back to assess, from an intangible, emotional perspective, why Christmas is important.”
4Thou shall rest. Self-care is essential all year long, but especially during the extra busy holidays when you’re stress level is more likely to sky-rocket. Pare down your list to what reasonably makes sense for your health, time and emotional wellbeing. And practice restorative techniques that relax and re-energize you.
Simple ways to recharge include a warm bath, watching a favorite TV show, a walk outside, curling up with a juicy novel, a nap or a massage.
5Thou shall honor thy family. Attempts to please others by saying yes to everyone else’s holiday gatherings without taking into account you and your family’s desires can cause undue anxiety, frustration and resentment.
“The holidays are about family time, appreciating one another and caring for each other. If the focus is switched to the less important gift exchanges and gatherings, all planned at the same time, you can’t enjoy the experience and the original meaning is lost,” Flynn says.
For those events that you’d like to attend, but can’t, firmly communicate to your extended family or friends that you value time spent with them and would like to discuss alternative ideas for getting together. And, don’t feel guilty about standing by your decisions.
“You have every right in the world to establish what you want your Christmas tradition to be. You are not obligated to participate in somebody else’s version of Christmas,” Moussavi says.
6Thou shall invite thy partner’s participation. If you feel overwhelmed and stressed because you’re trying to manage the bulk of holiday prep on top of working and taking care of your family, ask your spouse for help. Discuss what you’d both like Christmas to look and feel like.
“Sometimes it’s not that men don’t want to be involved. It’s that they are never invited to be, and they don’t ask,” Moussavi says.
Maybe your husband can mail the packages for out of town family, purchase tickets to the Christmas play your family wants to see or take charge of a few of the gifts.
7Thou shall not allow others to steal thy happiness. Plan ahead for those individuals who love to bait you into an upsetting conversation at annual gatherings. Since you know how the person is likely to behave, rehearse how you will respond when they pounce.
“The only thing you can do is get better at making it clear what you will and won’t tolerate,” Moussavi says. “You have to shut it down. You standing up for yourself is normal, empowered adult behavior.”
Arm yourself with responses like: “I’m here to enjoy myself. I don’t want to talk about that right now.” Or, “Let’s agree to disagree.”
Also, physically exit from the situation by saying: “I’m going to go refresh my drink.” Or, “I have to make a call.”
8Thou shall simplify. “The holiday can be manageable and simple if we allow it to be,” Flynn says. “What makes the holiday so difficult is our own thinking about it. We make it difficult for ourselves.”
Experiment with small changes that can relieve your stress. Hire a caterer for your party. Forgo Christmas cards this year. For the relative who has everything, send flowers or make a donation in their name to an organization that is important to them.
9Thou shall not compete with thy neighbors. As Theodore Roosevelt once quipped: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Some people enjoy casting their home in a professionally-created holiday glow while others prefer to hang a festive wreath on their door and call it good. Do what brings you pleasure and makes sense for your budget.
10Thou shall give from thy heart. Rather than twisting yourself in knots seeking the perfect present for everyone on your list, take a more light-hearted approach to gift-giving. For example, give a t-shirt with a meaningful quote, a digital photo album commemorating a fun getaway, or an experience like tickets to the zoo or a concert. Volunteering your time is also a fulfilling way to give.
“If you are intentional, you can make Christmas about the ideas of love, caring for one another, understanding, enjoying quality time together and treating each other as the precious beings each of us are,” Flynn says.