Destressing the holidays: time

We are in a blog series about destressing this holiday. This is the second post in the series. To see the first post, go here.

Calendars and planning may not sound like the most exciting part of the holiday. In fact, the thought of looking at our calendars this time of year may provoke a desire to run for the hills.

I really believe one of the keys to having a holiday with less stress includes looking at our calendar. I don't mean look at it after every invitation and potential opportunity is put in. I mean look at it realistically.

I am queen of optimism. I love big visions and projects. I can see far into the future. I see potential. Reality is hard for me to see. I look at a project that realistically will take 10 hours and believe I can get it knocked out in a couple. The principles in this blog post are years of lessons, years of effort. A gradual process of figuring out my limits and accepting my limitations. The best part of learning my limits has been a surprise: I am experiencing a lot more joy, peace and freedom. I enjoy what I am spending my time on. I am more present. I find myself laughing more and taking joy in what I do have time for.

Before I get into some of the principles of looking realistically at our calendars it is important to mention a key element to looking at the calendar: talk over everything with your spouse or significant other. A major source of stress over the holidays is miscommunication or unspoken expectations. Getting on the same page is crucial. Whether it’s going through the entire month or week by week, talking together about what to commit to and when tasks will get accomplished will reduce a lot of stress. You will be working together as a team. This is important over the holiday.

Here are some key principles when looking at our holiday calendars more realistically:

Every Year Can Be Different

It’s important to say this at the beginning. Not every year needs to look the same. There may be important traditions for you and your family that will always be there. Perhaps this year it is not realistic for a particular tradition to happen. This does not mean it won't return next year. Some holidays there are major interruptions. The first Christmas I had newborns, my main goal was to make sure we were fed and slept. I was disappointed about letting go of some of our traditions, but when I look back on those years, I don't remember what wasn't done. I remember I am grateful I prioritized basic needs. If you have lost a loved one this year, you will be grieving. This season may look different. It’s ok. We can get this idea that if we let a tradition go one year it means it is lost forever. It simply is not true. It is ok to say this year we can't do as much. And next year may be different.


A key element to scheduling during the holidays is identifying priorities. Some holidays the priorities are different, some holidays they are similar. The main idea is to name your priorities. Part of the challenge is the amount of great opportunities this time of year. Parties to enjoy, people we haven't seen in a while, fun memories to do as a family. There are so many great experiences, it is hard to say no. If we are looking to destress and create more white space this time of year, identifying our priorities will help. When an invitation or opportunity comes to us, we can identify where it falls in the priority list.

Here are some questions to identify your priorities:

- What traditions are most important this year?

- What people are a priority to see this year?

- Are we traveling?

- Am I hosting?

- If you are traveling or hosting, how do the days or weeks prior need adjustment to reduce stress?

Identifying priorities acts as a filtering system. When an invitation comes in, it goes through the priority filter. It helps us know when to say yes and when to say no. For example, this year I got a really great invitation. My neighbor invited me to an advent candlelit service. I was really touched she invited me. The event was something I would enjoy. But, one of my priorities this holiday is to take each of my sons on a special mom/son date. The only day I could take my son was the same day and time as my neighbor's invitation. It was hard, but I had to say no to my neighbor.

Focusing on our priorities this holiday season will ensure we get to the end of the holiday satisfied, without regret.

When looking at your time this holiday, here are a few other things to consider:

Your Limits

Are you an introvert? Are you an extrovert? Do crowded spaces create anxiety for you? Does jet leg effect you? Identifying the answers to these questions helps as we look at the commitments on our calendar. If you are an introvert and you have people commitments 3 days in a row, scheduling a rest day may be important. If you are traveling and you know jet leg will be an issue, add a day to your plans so you can have a transition day.

You may be thinking "I am not even sure my limits." It's ok. Grab a notepad or create a list on your phone. Over this holiday season if you find yourself really stressed out, take note. Write down the circumstances. If possible, identify the source of the stress. As an example, I love going to stores for holiday gift shopping. I like having a list and also time to browse. I enjoy a leisurely couple of hours to look, as well as check items off my list. But I get extremely stressed out if the stores are really crowded. I get stressed if I am shopping a couple days before Christmas. I get stressed if I have somewhere else to go and not enough time to shop. It took me years to identify it wasn't shopping in stores that was stressful, it was when I went shopping that created stress. This is something I can control. So now if I want to shop in a store, I pick times I know it will be less crowded. And I make sure to calendar the amount of time I will need. This is an example of identifying one area of stress over the holidays.

Your Kids' Limits

In a discussion about accepting limits, it is equally important to talk about our kids' limits.

Our kids have limits too. Extra sugar, staying up late, lots of stimulation, extra activities (which includes extra transitions), jet leg, meeting new people. Any one of these can negatively affect our kids’ ability to cope. At the holidays all of these could happen in one day!

Obviously, I am not suggesting avoiding these, but I do think it’s important to consider the implications when planning. A sudden meltdown at the mall can create a lot of stress as a parent. When we can identify our child has had a full day of travel, is on a different time schedule, and just met their cousins for the second time, it can help us understand the impetus for the meltdown. It can help us recognize how to handle the situation. If they are over stimulated, take them to a quiet place for a little bit, then return to the group. If jet leg has been difficult before, consider not over scheduling when you arrive at your destination. This will help the transition to go smoother.

We may not be able to anticipate every limitation, but we can take notice when they do happen, have increased understanding for how to handle the situation, and make a note for next year.

We are still human during the holidays

As a part of talking about limits I think it’s important to make this observation: we are still human during the holidays. We often have high expectations during the holidays, to the point of forgetting we are still human. We expect our kids to never fight. We expect to never disagree with our spouse. We expect that awkward relationship to just magically go away.

We can still have good memories, even with our humanness

My kids had a major fight on the way to go get our Christmas tree this year. My mom was with and she said, "I remember you and your brother would fight when we would go get our tree." So, we sat in the parking lot at the tree lot and dealt with the argument. Then we went and had a great time picking out the tree. When we got home there were a few squabbles, but we also had so much fun opening the box of ornaments. The kids got excited rediscovering their ornaments. They enjoyed looking through my ornaments and asking "mom is this really you" to the ornament with my second-grade picture. We sang along to the carols on the CD player, and had a wonderful time decorating the tree. The entire process was not ‘perfect.’ The kids fought at times. In the end, it was a really good memory. I am learning to let go of the idea we will stop being human at the holidays. Your kids will fight, you and your spouse will probably have a disagreement. And you can still have good memories!

Schedule the "extras"

This may seem obvious, but buying gifts, creating and mailing Christmas cards, decorating. All of these take time. We still have to go to work, take our kids to their activities, and prepare three meals a day. It is easy to think "I will just squeeze it in when there is time." The year I began putting in my calendar the extra holiday tasks, my stress was reduced significantly. I calendared the extra tasks as though it was an appointment. I had a day and time to do the shopping. It forced me to think through how long the task would take and factor enough time. This can also be an exercise in identifying our time limits. It will help to see what extra tasks we actually have time for. If it’s a task that must get done, it will force us to look at our other responsibilities and what might need to be adjusted.

White Space

Part of scheduling the holiday extras includes scheduling margin. For instance, I schedule an extra shopping day, just in case. If I think a project will realistically take 4 hours, I schedule 5. If you are an optimist, like I am, scheduling margin can help reduce the stress of getting it done in enough time.

Another way to add white space this holiday is to schedule a night with nothing planned. I know this may sound anti holiday, especially if you choose to say no to an invitation to stay home. Here's the thing - you can have plans to stay home. Write it on your calendar: home for the night. Keep the commitment. If someone asks you to do something, say you have plans. Time and space to rest will do wonders to reduce stress this holiday. The only person who can make that time is you. Calendar time at home. This one step may transform your stress level over the holiday season.

In the first blog post I talked about destressing the holidays is a step by step process.

Here are the elements to step 2 of destressing the holiday:

- get out your calendar

- Identify what your priorities are this holiday

- Put those in your calendar

- Schedule the extras: gift buying, Christmas Card, Decorating, Cookie making, etc.

- Schedule a night (or two) with nothing planned

- Talk through all of this with your spouse

- Have a notepad or app on your phone for taking notes this holiday season of what is causing you stress

* At the end of this series, I will have a whole blog post about how to prepare for next holiday. One of the elements I will talk about is the notes we have taken throughout the month.

As a reminder, the goal of this is not perfection. This is a process. Some of the things I mentioned in this post have taken me YEARS to implement the way I want to. And there are some I still am. You will learn a lot this holiday. You will implement some new things. Some will go as you hoped, some may not. Its ok.

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