With the holidays come ideals of unrealistic, perfectionistic goals: the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect dinner spread, the perfect everything.
So is it really necessary that we hang our stockings around the chimney with care? Most of the time, we’re lucky if we can even locate the stockings from last year, save hanging them on the mantle with loving attention.
Nowadays, the media is reflecting the actual lives of Americans -- for instance, throw the images of It’s A Wonderful Life out of the door and think of the Target commercials, instead. You know, where the blonde woman is on the edge of a breakdown, while trying way too hard to be the picture-perfect face of The Season? Let’s get real and admit that she’s the majority of us, over-worked, over-fatigued and ready to, really, just crack.
For these reasons, so many Americans dread the holidays. It’s an ultimately sad, terrible reason to loathe the season that’s designed to bring family and friends together, a time that should be a reminder of our good tidings and faith. Oftentimes, it’s the addition of our holiday “musts,” like participating in the work cookie exchange, that pack on holiday stress and detract from moments spent with loved ones.
In particular, stress levels generally escalate because it’s easy to think that you’ll have everything under control and taken care of by the time Christmas rolls around (work cookie exchanges, included). After all, you have the whole month of December, right? Despite the mental time frame you may have allotted for holiday preparations, the big day can still sneak up on you.
To guard against last minute stressors, make a things-to-do list, and remember that you can’t do it all. In other words, make use of that one magical word and delegate.
For instance, delegate household chores to your spouse and children, if at all possible. According to Kristen Putterman, LMHC, delegating chores to others, like her husband, isn’t always easy but it’s what needs to be done when time is tight.
“I am someone who likes to have control and get things done my way, but I have learned over time that this contributes to overwhelming stress and anxiety,” she said. “It is more efficient to delegate for our own mental health and our loved ones around us.”
Maybe the steps won’t be vacuumed with those perfect, horizontal lines of yours, but at the end of the day, the steps will be vacuumed. Don’t criticize the vacuuming skills of family members willing to help out, either -- they’ll be less inclined to pitch in around the house if they know they’re being watched under your hawk-like eye.
Prioritize your holiday “musts,” as well, like shopping; clearly, shopping is more important than, say, decoupaging your children’s faces on Christmas gift wrapping paper. Then, set aside a realistic time frame for accomplishing such goals. Think you can shop for 12 family members in two hours? Unless you’re Santa Claus, paired with a team of speedy elves, the answer is probably not.
Instead, designate an entire weekend to shopping and incorporate other events to which you can look forward, like catching up with a friend over a steaming cup of peppermint latte (with skim milk and sugar-free syrup, of course). Maybe drop by the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden for some ice skating. Or, try checking out ICE! at the Gaylord National Resort, where you can catch a glimpse of colorful scenes, carved out of two million pounds of ice, from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Note that your personal battery can die out, too, and you need to recharge to prevent from getting sick. After all, holiday stress can take a quick toll on the body when added with the responsibilities of work and family, among other things.
Create a specific time each week when you can, basically, cut yourself some slack. What should you do to promote mental well-being? The answer is simple.
“People should do what makes them happy,” said Putterman. So if that means you hate baking cookies, then don’t do it and buy rugallah from the bakery, instead. Then, use the time saved to catch up on that long-lost novel pushed underneath of your bed.
Even though there are ways to manage holiday stress, for some people, the season is just an overall, depressing time -- especially if the holidays serve as a reminder of loved ones no longer around. For others, the holidays are a magnet that draws in annoying, nagging relatives and family members, like that mother-in-law who always thinks each dish of yours needs a little more salt and a dash of something else (she can never put her finger on it, though).
If this is the case, leaning on the shoulder of positive friends and family members, and volunteering at local community organizations like Miriam's Kitchen, may be beneficial in promoting general positivity. If you're not sure where to lend a helping hand, try checking out www.volunteermatch.org to look up organizations that best meet your volunteering interests.
As Christmas approaches, maybe the images of blissfully happy, holiday cheer-filled families are unrealistic, sure. Here’s the thing, though -- our lives may be stressful, they may even be terribly sad at times -- but it’s our attitude that will ultimately determine if the holidays are going to be served with glasses half full of egg nog or with glasses half empty.
Maybe we all won’t be holding hands, singing kumbaya at the dinner table, but it truly is a wonderful life, nonetheless.