Festively Flourishing! My top ten holiday worries and how to manage them – find peace and balance over Christmas
We’ve just had Thanksgiving, Hannukah and Christmas are here too, and then there are the new year celebrations. We can all get quite stressed around this time of year. For many people, that last minute shopping stress is all part of the ‘fun’ – it’s as though their anxiety is overcome by excitement.
That’s not the case for all of us. In many years, I’ve experienced holiday anxiety that is not attenuated by excitement. We don’t all need to enjoy the holidays: it’s perfectly okay to dislike Christmas, or whatever your holiday of choice (or not!) is.
I wanted to offer my top ten worries about Christmas, and how I’ve worked on getting over them. Just because it’s acceptable to have emotions about the holiday season, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to help yourself feel better!
How often do you know exactly who to give to?
And what to give them that they’ll appreciate?
Where are you even going to find the money to buy the gift they want?
The biggest thing I’ve learned here is to plan in advance.
If you’re going to swap presents with a friend this year, but money is tight, discuss it with them. Maybe they feel the same, and would much prefer something small or homemade – or perhaps an IOU to babysit each other’s children. There are always freebies you can share that will be really meaningful.
Another big worry for me is that I’m a perfectionist present giver! I want to buy everyone exactly what they want, and I get stressed about finding that ideal gift. Again, communication can help – ask people what they want! It may not be as much of a surprise for them, but at least you know you’ll be getting them something they want.
I’ve learned to stop assuming I know what anyone wants. Or at least to drop the “they’re going to love this!” expectations when I assume they’ll adore the present I’ve chosen. It’s depressing when you have those expectations, and don’t get the reaction you’d hoped for! If someone is genuinely difficult to buy for, think about a voucher for somewhere they shop, or somewhere that sells things they love but wouldn’t buy for themselves. For example, if they love toiletries and makeup, treat them to a voucher from an upscale boutique that sells luxe brands.
Don’t feel guilty about buying someone something that’s more generic. It’s okay to give gifts you know the person will use, but that don’t have the same pizzazz as more specific presents. Would you mind a generic present you’d use? No, you’d almost certainly prefer that to an ‘all bells and whistles’ gift you don’t want, right?!
Gift giving is not about being a ‘matcher’. You don’t need to give just because someone else has given to you. Also, try to avoid the expectations of getting a gift in return. Give for the sake of the giving itself.
Showing Gratitude AND Tact
Ever received a gift you hated, and grinned from ear to ear?
Yup, me too.
Firstly, we should show gratitude. The gesture of someone giving you a present is something to be grateful for.
Equally, we can show tact and maturity. If you really don’t like the gift (or it doesn’t fit), work out if it’s appropriate to discuss it with the giver. I don’t do this, unless it’s something expensive – or a fit issue, and if I do, I make sure the person knows I’m grateful before I reject their present! Most of us keep receipts, and make it easy for others to return things – I occasionally even include the receipt with the gift. That way, the receiver knows they can change it easily, and the gifter will never know!
An important question to ask yourself, though, is why that person got you that present. They obviously put effort in to get it for you. Perhaps it tells you something about them: are they sharing their passion in the hope you’ll want to share it? Have they spent more than usual on you? If so, they saw something they thought was perfect and stretched their budget to accommodate it.
Do you really want to reject and be ungrateful for something someone really thought would be perfect for you?
The holidays are the time of low bank balances, right?! Decorations, food, gifts, the parties, and so on – they’re all an added expense for December.
Think about what you actually need to buy. If you’re like me, I’ll buy way more treats than anyone is going to eat. It’s so hard to plan food for celebrations, so why not ask others to contribute this year? “I’ll buy the turkey, you get the veggies.” People generally love to help, so this is actually something many people will welcome!
You can also ask in advance for people to pop some money in a kitty for their Christmas dinner this year. If you can, try not to put an amount on it – some may be able to contribute less than others, but it will help towards your January credit card statement!
I love a bargain, so I make sure that I do most of my shopping during the rest of the year. Regardless of Black Friday, most things are more expensive, the later you buy them. Even think about buying food early that will last beyond Christmas – chocolates seem to triple in price from mid-December, right?!
My Christmas budget is prepared early on in the year too. It means that I can check things throughout the year to keep a consistent eye on my spending. This also enables me to see what I’ve bought already, and not end up with too many gifts for one family member and none for another!
We also discuss spending expectations as a household, so that everyone has an idea of spending on Christmas. If you’ve got kids, and they want an expensive Christmas gift you simply can’t stretch to, explain it to them. It’s an education for them to understand that even Santa doesn’t have a bottomless wallet!
Don’t resent your child for wanting something expensive – they don’t have the same understanding of finances in the way adults do. They simply want what they see on TV!
If you’ve agreed to host, it can be stressful making the plans for all the family members. We all have different things we ‘can’t’ live without at Christmas, and trying to get those things in for everyone is a nightmare.
I will ask people to bring their own specific items that are very much ‘their thing’. If they want a certain cocktail, they can bring the spirit if it’s not something I have on my bar cart. If this feels embarrassing, simply make the point that you know there are many brands out there, and the person themselves will know which brand they want. Also point out that they can take it away afterwards, and then they get a gift that keeps on giving!
People overstaying their welcome at Christmas is a thing. If people are coming to stay with you over the holidays, outline the parameters in advance – how long they can stay for, what meals you’re going to be providing (versus them contributing to a takeaway, for example), and so on.
Create time out for yourself, no matter how many people you have over. It’s important to avoid (as much as possible!) the overwhelm of being the host. Remember you can ask for help, too, and assign jobs to everyone. This gets everybody involved in the hosting, and you’ll end up way less frazzled than if you try to do everything yourself!
Can’t Cook? Don’t Cook
Do you hate cooking? Or it’s something you’re uncomfortable with?
If you’re hosting, there are so many options that avoid a dried-out turkey and you sitting sobbing in the corner over a glass of Bailey’s! Although it is, indeed, just a big version of a roast dinner, that doesn’t make it any easier to handle.
Option one is to buy in ready prepared food. This usually just requires you to heat it up in the oven, and it will be just as delicious!
Option two is to rely on those who love cooking to do the hard work. I adore cooking the Christmas lunch, so I’d happily take on that role, wherever I was staying. Meanwhile, you can rely on others’ skillsets (cocktail making, child entertaining, house decorating, etc) to take other jobs off your hands!
Whoever’s cooking, check the turkey will fit in the oven! My husband’s family once bought one that didn’t fit in the oven, and they ended up having to saw off turkey legs on Christmas morning.
Overindulgence during the few days of Christmas is common – and it’s a time we should go easy on ourselves for such a short period of time.
The problem comes with the eggnog lattes that start in November, the Christmas parties, and so on. If you can plan in advance for the week, you’ll be able to include the indulgences here and there. Even though all those mini mince pies add up in calories, you can plan for them, so that you don’t have to miss out!
Movement is important for mental as well as physical health. It may be that you encourage a family walk, or you might prefer an online workout alone in your bedroom. Whatever you do, make sure that you move – you really will feel better for it!
Family dynamics are a biggie all year, let alone during the holidays!
We’ve all been there with the relatives who ask awkward questions, or offer their opinion on your life. I am learning to smile and gently move the conversation on. We get to choose conversation topics by simply changing the subject. We don’t have to answer every question or enter into debates we’re not comfortable with.
In advance, I try to think of things I can talk about with the most problematic relatives. I remind myself of what they like (e.g. their gardening hobby, or the fact they’re always knitting something), and figure out how I can get them talking about those things instead.
I am allowed to take time out, when I need to. If I need a rest, I will go and do something on my own, or move on to chatting to members of my family I feel more comfortable with. I get to choose what to do in any given moment.
We’re at a time of year where there are all sorts of parties going on. You don’t have to attend every one of them.
If you do go to a party or a family gathering, find a trusted friend you can go and chat with if things get too overwhelming. Social anxiety and, indeed, social fatigue are incredibly common during the holidays.
Work out what calming behaviours work for you in advance of party season. Perhaps it’s breathwork, meditation, even just closing your eyes for a few seconds, use whatever works for you.
If certain members of your family or friendship group you don’t really get on with are also attending the party, it may be that you decide not to go. This is a way of protecting your mental health.
Of course, the flipside of no parties is loneliness. Lots of people spend Christmas alone, it’s really no big deal.
If you don’t want to be alone on the holidays, start finding ways beforehand to manage the loneliness – for example, by engaging with others in the same situation on social media. Volunteering for a charity is another way to spend time with others at Christmas, and help those who are living on the streets or who are also alone.
Memories and Mistletoe
Do you have any holiday traditions? The ones you feel the need to re-enact every year, regardless of how they make you feel?
I am not someone that feels the need to recreate the same traditions every year, but I know lots of people are. That can get overwhelming when you’re trying to incorporate 40, 50, 60 years’ worth of traditions from every relative!
If there are traditions you’re wedded to, there may be ways to make them simpler or more suitable for your space or the people present. If the tradition is a real Christmas tree, and your relatives are allergic, compromise with a decent artificial tree and the same traditional decorations.
For those who see a properly decorated Christmas dinner table as important, reject the snow scenes of years gone by. Instead, save time and energy by simply spreading some holiday flowers down the centre of the table. The table is still decorated, but in a way that hasn’t overwhelmed you!
We, as human beings are imperfect. That’s okay. It’s our humanness that makes the holidays special. They’re never going to be perfect. Don’t think you have to please everyone else this year – do what you need this Christmas. Sometimes the celebrations become burdens to us because we’re trying so, so hard.
My wish for you this Christmas is that you don’t try too hard. You do what you want, you do what you enjoy, you do you.