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Press 'pause' to enjoy the holidays

How to de-stress and make the best of the season

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Or is it?

If popular holiday songs have you pondering where your joy has gone, you’re not alone. Most of us feel stress or anxiety at some point this time of year. According to one Consumer Reports survey External Site, 97 percent of us dread at least one aspect of the season, like long lines at the store, getting the house in order, and aggressive or thoughtless driving in  parking lots.

With many of us juggling work and home obligations, adding holiday-related tasks like shopping and even small-scale entertaining to the to-do list can be overwhelming. By the time you check each item off your list, it can feel as if there is no time left to simply sit back and enjoy the season.

What’s more, the holidays can make already stressful situations worse. For example, if you are already struggling to pay off debt, the holidays can sabotage those plans. If you are having a disagreement with someone in your family, a holiday gathering may make the problem even more tense.

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s up to each of us to determine how to manage. If you want to enjoy the process, or at least most of it, these tips might help you along the way.

Adjust your expectations

While certain holiday traditions may bring you joy, remember that you are not obligated to continue holiday traditions that leave you broke, overwhelmed or tired.

  • Decide to do less. Limit baking to one favorite cookie instead of several desserts. Decorate one room instead of the whole house. Skip holiday greeting cards, or send Valentine’s Day greetings early next year.
  • Step away from certain traditions. Just because you started a holiday tradition when your kids were young doesn’t mean you have to continue when they’re teenagers. For example, it may be time for The Elf on the ShelfTM to take the year off — or retire altogether.
  • Switch the focus. It’s true: Giving makes us happier External Site than receiving. Instead of shopping for each other, shop for a family in need. Sign up to ring bells for charity External Site, or treat your neighbors or total strangers to random acts of kindness.
  • Delegate. Put older kids in charge of wrapping presents, taking down the tree or cleaning the house.
  • Avoid perfectionism. It’s more enjoyable for children to decorate the cookies or the tree the way they want to — not the way you want them to.

Stick to a budget

Nearly 30 percent of us are worried about going into debt over the holidays. And, your holiday budget might be a little tighter this year if you're like the 46 percent of U.S. households who are facing serious financial problems during the COVID-19 pandemic External Site. Here are a few ways to prevent the stress of paying for holiday gifts from spilling over into the new year:

Four types of gifts for children
  • Buy fewer presents. Even though you want to give your children everything, it may not be in their — or your — best interests. One way to keep this manageable is to give four gifts to each child External Site: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.
  • Get creative. Make your own gifts or find alternatives External Site.
  • Switch gears. If your toddler is more interested in playing with a new toy than opening another present, quietly put the remaining gifts in storage to open on a rainy day, save the present for an upcoming birthday, or donate to children in need External Site.

Make family gatherings more fun.

More than a third of us dread political discussions with certain family members — or visiting them altogether. When spending time with relatives, try these tactics:

  • Make the best of it. For example, if you find out that your sister and her family can’t make it to the family gathering, plan a visit after the holidays.
  • Don’t expect people to change. Rather, expect old patterns or behaviors to emerge. For example, if your father-in-law grumbles every time he opens a present from you, expect that he'll probably do it again this year.
  • Don’t engage. If the topic turns to politics, excuse yourself if you don’t want to be get involved.
  • Breathe. Slow, deep breathing will keep your stress responses to a minimum.
  • Choose one destination. If you can, simplify your schedule to avoid shuttling everyone between households. Instead, spend some quality time in one place.
  • Get outdoors. Ask if anyone would like to join you for a walk. Bundle up the kids and take them outside to play. A trip outside will not only be refreshing, it will also ease the tension.

Three simple reminders that require no effort

Make a snowman

There will be things you will not accomplish this holiday season as well as circumstances beyond your control. Instead of focusing on those things, focus on what you can accomplish and what you can control. These three reminders are simple and require little to no effort:

  1. Take time for yourself. Do whatever makes you feel refreshed – walking the dog, getting coffee with a friend, reading a book, getting in a workout or drawing a nightly bubble bath. Just a little self-care can make a big difference.
  2. It’s okay to feel sad. Memories – both good and bad ones – tend to resurface during the holidays. So if you are already feeling down about something, the holidays will probably make the situation a little worse. Don’t force happiness upon yourself or others. Remember that the season will pass quickly and you’ll be able to cope better with grief and sadness once they are over. If you are wondering if and how to get help with anxiety, depression or stress, a virtual visit might help you decide.
  3. It doesn’t take much to make holidays magical. A day of sledding, a walk among the twinkling lights or a night of tree-decorating may be all it takes to make the holidays magical for children and adults alike. These are the moments to pause and cherish.