The Holidays: A Recipe for More Joy, Less Stress

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Deborah P. Rattle, MSSW, CSW, Seven Counties Services, Inc.

 It is that time of year again – the holiday season which for many Americans begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s Day.  It is a season that can bring many of us joy, renewal and hope for the future.  For others, the season brings stress, disappointment and anxiety.  For all of us, it brings a combination of feelings and emotions.


If the holiday season leaves you overwhelmed or feeling stressed out, try these practical tips that can help maximize the joy and minimize the negative feelings:


1. Examine your expectations. Do you expect a holiday season that demands ‘perfection’ based on your expectations and past experiences?  Remember that perfection is rarely attainable – so set expectations based on current realities – embrace the present.

2. Pace yourself.  Make a list of what you need to get done, prioritize the list concentrating on the top three most important.  Once the most important tasks are complete – and only then- make a new list of three tasks.  Remember, the more you push yourself, the greater the chance of feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.

3. Stick with some holiday traditions, but let go of others.  For instance, if decorating the tree and hanging outdoor lights are both tradition, but you can accomplish only one, choose the tradition that is most important to you and your loved ones.

4. Stick to your budget. Establish a maximum dollar amount that you can comfortably afford to spend.  Stick to it, and if possible, spend a bit less and donate the difference to a favorite charity. 

5. Be inclusive. If you are a caregiver responsible for an older relative, try to include the relative in as many holiday preparations as feasible.   Focus on your relatives’ current strengths and capabilities to help with small, simple tasks.   Tasks such as choosing the color of wrapping paper and ribbon or having the individual assist with preparing a dish using their recipe will help the individual feel a part of the holiday festivities.

6. Take care of yourself.  Take time out to participate in activities that are not holiday related or focused and set aside “me” time.



After the holidays are over, consider these tips to help you maintain the joy throughout the year:


1. Be realistic. Recognize that no matter how well you planned, something will probably go wrong.  Acceptance and a sense of humor will help you get over any disappointment that may occur.

2. Create special events and new opportunities to look forward to after the holiday season.  Audit a class at the university, join a fitness club, or learn a new technology.  The point is to engage in an activity that can refresh you throughout the year.

3. Stay connected with family and friends.  There are many opportunities to stay connected with e-mail, cell phone access, and social media.

4. Re-emphasize healthful habits.  Take a critical look at your nutrition and make changes that will not only make you healthier, but also make you feel healthier. 

5. Look ahead. Learn to view each successive holiday season as “new” versus a necessary continuation of “old” or past holiday seasons.   Be creative in adding a new tradition to carry forward.


Remember, the ultimate joy of the holiday season should be a sense of peace and togetherness.