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 even looking at our calendars this time of year may provoke a desire to run for the hills.
But I really believe one of the keys to having a holiday with less stress includes looking at our calendar. And 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. So 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 its going through the entire month or week by week, talking together about what to commit to and when tasks are getting accomplished will help reduce a lot of stress. You will be working together as a team. This is so important over the holiday.
Here are some key principles when looking at our holiday calendars more realistically:
Every Year Can Be Different
I feel like its important to say this at the beginning. Not every year needs to look the same. There may be some traditions that are super important for you and your family that will always be there. But maybe for this year a tradition needs to not happen. This does not mean it won't happen 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 the traditions, but when I look back on those years I don't even remember what wasn't done. I just remember I am grateful I prioritized basic needs. If you have lost a loved one this year, you will be grieving. And so this season may look different. And that's ok. Sometimes I think 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 for this year we can't do as much. And next year may be different.
One of the key elements I have found to scheduling during the holidays, is first identifying what the priorities are. Every year the priorities are different and some years they are similar. But the idea is to name what they are. If this idea is a new concept, starting might be a challenge. Part of the difficulty is there are really great opportunities this time of year. Parties that are enjoyable, people we haven't seen in awhile, fun memories to do as a family. There are really great things happening. It can be hard to say no to good things. If we are looking for how destress and create more white space this time of year, identifying what our priorities are can help. When an invitation or opportunity comes to us, we can know where it falls in the priority list.
Here are some questions to help 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 leading up need to be adjusted in order to reduce stress.
Identifying priorities is like a filtering system. When an invitation comes in it can go through the priority filter. It can help us know if we should say yes or 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 really would enjoy. But one of my priorities this holiday is to take each of my son's on a special mom/son date. The only day I could take one of my sons was the same day and time as my neighbor's invitation. It was hard, but I had to say no to my neighbor.
Even if we can't make every opportunity this holiday season, focusing on the priorities will ensure we get to the end of the holiday satisfied, and without regret.
When looking at your time this holiday, here are some other things to consider:
Are you an introvert? Are you an extrovert? Do crowded spaces create anxiety for you? Does jet leg effect you significantly? Knowing these things can help as you look at the commitments that are on your calendar. If you are an introvert and you have 3 days in a row with people commitments, scheduling a rest day may be important. Or if 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." That'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 what is happening. And if possible try to identify the source of the stress. As an example, I love going to stores to do gift shopping. I like having a list but also seeing what is available. I like having a leisurely couple of hours to browse as well as get things checked off my list. But I get extremely stressed out if the stores are really crowded. I get stressed if its just a couple days before Christmas. I get stressed if I have somewhere to be and not the time to do the looking I want to. It took me years to identify that it wasn't shopping in stores that was stressful, it was when I went shopping that was stressful. And this is something I can control. So now if I want to shop in a store I pick times I know it will not be crowded and I make sure I calendar the amount of time I will need. This is an example of identifying one area of stress over the holidays. This was a couple year process for me. Taking notes and then reevaluating for the next year.
Your Kids' Limits
In a discussion about accepting limits, I think it is also important to talk about our kids' limits.
Our kids have limits too. Extra sugar, staying up later, lots of stimulation, extra activities (which means more transitions), jet leg, meeting new people. Any one of these things can negatively effect our kids ability to cope. And at the holidays sometimes all of these happen in one day!
Now obviously I am not suggesting to avoid these things, but I think its important for us to consider these. A sudden meltdown at the mall can create a lot of stress as a parent. But when we can identify that our child has had a full day of travel and is on a different time schedule and just met their cousins for the second time it can help us have a better understanding of why our child is having a meltdown. And it can help us know how to handle it. If they are over stimulated, taking them to a quiet place for a little bit and then returning to the group. If jet leg has been difficult before, consider not scheduling anything when you arrive at your destination to help the transition go smoother.
Again, we may not know ahead of time what to consider but as we notice one, we can make a note about it.
We are still human during the holidays
As a part of talking about limits I think its important to make this observation: we are still human during the holidays. We often have such high expectations during the holidays, to the point of even 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. And 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 so excited rediscovering the ornaments they had. They liked looking through my ornaments and asking "mom is this really you" to my ornament with a second grade picture. We had carols going on the CD player, we sang along, and had a really enjoyable time decorating the tree. The entire process was not "perfect." The kids fought at times. But in the end it was a really good memory. I am learning to let go of this idea that we will stop being human at the holidays. Your kids will fight, you and your spouse will probably have a disagreement. But that doesn't mean you still can't have good memories.
Schedule the "extras"
This may seem obvious, but buying gifts, creating and mailing Christmas cards, decorating. All of this takes time. Because we still have to go to work, take our kids to their activities, three meals a day to prepare, it is easy to think "I will just squeeze this in when there is time." The year I began putting in my calendar the extra holiday tasks, my stress was reduced significantly. I put the extra tasks in my calendar as though it was an appointment. There was now a day and time to do the shopping. It forced me to think about how long the task would actually take and factor enough time. This can also be an exercise in figuring out what our limits actually are. It will help us to see what extra tasks we have time for. And if its a task that has to get done, it will force us to look at what needs to be adjusted in our calendar in order to be able to make it happen.
Part of scheduling the holiday extras has also included 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, sometimes just 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 the idea of this may seem anti holiday, especially if you choose to say no to an invitation in exchange for staying home. But here's the thing - you can have plans to stay home. Write it on your calendar: home for the night. And keep the commitment. If someone asks you to do something you can say you have plans. Time and space to rest will do wonders to reduce stress this holiday. The only person who can make this time is you. Calendar time at home. This one step may just transform your stress level over the holiday season.
In the first blog post I talked about this being a step by step process of destressing this holiday. I have just given you a lot of principles to consider. Take what is most applicable to you. Maybe just try one this year. This entire process is for you. It is about applying what is most helpful for you this holiday season.
Here are the elements to step 2 of destressing the holiday:
- get our 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.