Destressing the Holidays: Is it even possible?

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

We say this with a huge smile on our face while our teeth are grit and our body tense. We hear messages about peace, joy and love, nodding our heads, while secretly wondering why we just can't get it together. The kids are fighting. The to-do list gets longer by the day. There is a constant tension with your spouse because ALL THE THINGS aren't getting done. It doesn't feel like the most wonderful time of the year. We fake a happy smile while wondering what in the world is wrong with us. Everyone else is posting their perfect family photos and perfect family memory making on Facebook and Instagram. What am I doing wrong?

For many of us it is the most stressful time of the year.

So we look up how to destress during the holidays. We find words about peace, we find devotionals that will at least fill our minds with thoughts of wonder and joy. We often will focus on changing our thoughts this holiday season "if I just thought about peace more maybe I could be more peaceful." I know our thoughts effect our outlook and even how we live our life. But here's the thing: our lives still look like a freight train going 90 miles an hour from Thanksgiving all the way to December 25. So year after year we keep searching for that magic thing that will help this time of year feel magical.

After years and years and years of trying to find the magic bullet, I have come to believe it doesn't exist. And this is not resignation or defeat. It has been a process of identifying what is going on this time of year that causes so much stress. So much is crammed in to a one month time frame, we feel obligations to make lots of memories, to go to all the parties and to fulfill all the added expectations. We are adding so much to our plate during the holidays. What is coming off or how are we making adjustments so we can fulfill these extra obligations? Often we don't even consider this. The truth is we have limited time, limited budgets and limited energy.

It is ok to say we can't do it all at the holidays.

If you need permission to say this, I am giving you permission. It is ok not to do it all.

White Space

There is an element of design called white space. It is the concept of creating margin and space so the design does not run together. In design, less can be more.

What if magical happens with less?

Maybe your heart rate just went up after reading that. Or your mind started listing everything that simply cannot come off your list. You may be arguing with me in your head "this is great in theory, but is this even possible?" I know. I know. This time of year it is hard to let people down. There are oodles of great ideas for making memories with the kids and the family. The concept of getting more with less is a genuine struggle.

When I think back on the holiday seasons that have been the least stressful, it was the years I was forced to minimize. The first Christmas I had babies, I set my expectations really low. The years we traveled out of state for the holidays I let go of doing all the decorations. The years I was very intentional about what filled my calendar have been the holiday seasons that have been the least stressful. And I am discovering I think this may be the key. It is not a magic bullet to eliminate all the stress, but I believe it can make a significant difference in our level of stress.

I believe you can destress this holiday season.

In this blog series, Destressing the Holidays, we are going to walk through a step by step process over the next couple weeks on how to destress this holiday season. How to identify the source of our stress, how to decide what stress we don't need this holiday, and how to find joy in the midst of a very busy season. We are going to create white space.

When it comes to stress, there are two types: stress we can't control and stress we can control. During the holidays there are going to be things that come up, things we didn't anticipate. No matter how much we plan or prepare there will inevitably be something that comes up that we just did not see coming. I wrote a blogpost about it a couple years ago. There will be things that come up during the holiday season that are out of our control. But there are areas of stress that we can control. And this is primarily what we will be talking about in this series.

The first step in the destressing the holiday series, is to create two lists. One is a list of things in your life this holiday season you know you can't control. Now, you may need to add to this list over the next month, but it will be helpful to identify which circumstances are out of your control. The next list is going to be areas of stress you can control. Those are the things we are going to be primarily talking about over the next couple of weeks.

Here are some examples:

Stress you can't control - getting sick

- car accident

- snow blizzard

- delayed flight

- Toys sold out at the store - death of a family member - divorce - children having meltdowns

Stress you can control - your budget - what holiday events you say yes to - what meals you make - when you go shopping - shopping online versus in the store - how much or how little you decorate

And sometimes there is stress that is hard to identify, stress that can feel out of our control. Take some time to think through these more difficult ones and make a list of what of those you can't control and what you can. Examples are: - Expectations (our own or from others) - Relationship tensions - Miscommunication with spouse on who is doing what This hidden stress can at times feel like areas we can't control but if we take some time to think through it ahead of time, discovering the areas we do have control over it will help reduce the anxiety around those. Naming our stress is a first step to helping know how to address it. If we can name it, then we can know whether we can do something about it.

I have created a printable for you to write your lists on. Sit down with a cup of cocoa, coffee or tea and spend 10 minutes writing on each of the lists. I promise, you will begin to feel the load lift as you are able to identify what is causing you stress this holiday.

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