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How To Avoid Stress This Holiday Season

These things can help you navigate the season with more peace.

Holidays are wonderful times of the year, but it’s easy to get caught up in trying to make each one the “best” holiday ever. A lot of holiday stress comes from that expectation. Although we all want to avoid holiday stress, it usually shows up in different ways. It may look like wanting to purchase the perfect gifts, decorating your home immaculately, or preparing the food that everyone loves. Let’s face it, stress happens! But there are some ways you can try to avoid it.

Here are some tips for avoiding stress and bringing “happy” back to the holidays.

Create and utilize healthy boundaries.

Boundaries are limits or rules that we set for ourselves or others, and keeping those can help minimize holiday stress. You don’t have to attend every party you are invited to. Respecting the boundary of your time allows you to decide what activities you want to participate in during the holidays. When you embrace your money boundary, you choose what gifts to purchase and how much to spend. Healthy holiday boundaries can save time and strengthen relationships.

Create a schedule that works for you.

Schedules can often go by the wayside during the holiday season. We become overwhelmed with things to do. When thinking about your holiday calendar, remember to keep your daily routines on it. Making time to exercise, get enough rest, and give yourself time for a break when you need it is essential.

Examine your priorities.

Many people try to do it all for the holidays. However, it’s hard to do it all and keep your wits about you. Take time to examine what matters most to you by asking yourself some questions:

What’s the most essential part of the holiday to me?

What memories do I want to make this year?

What am I unwilling to do?

Once you’re aware of your priorities, you get to choose and adapt. For example, let’s say your focus is spending time with your family. You all have a tradition of going to hear your local symphony orchestra play, but you don’t have to do that because you always have. Maybe this year, your family has a holiday bake-off instead. The main thing is that your family spends time together, not how.

Presence, not perfection.

Media has created so much pressure around the holidays. And sometimes we do it to ourselves.

Perfect tree, perfectly decorated. 

Perfect gifts for family and friends. 

You have to host the perfect holiday party with the ideal menu. 

Do you feel the stress yet? 

If your priority is spending time with your family, it’s presence, not perfection, that matters. I’m not saying you shouldn’t put up a tree, host a party or get gifts if you want to. I am saying that prioritizing your family means creating memories and moments by being there. You can choose to slow down and be present in the moment. Don’t miss your moments.

Choose to see the positive. 

Your perspective on the holidays can determine how much holiday stress impacts you. You already know that holiday stress will occur, but you get to choose whether you see the holidays as a half-full or half-empty glass. Your perspective allows you to be willing and open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Whether your holidays are a great time with family or you’re glad it’s over because you don’t have to see some of “those people” until next year depends on your perspective. 

The holidays can be times of fun, family, food, and sharing life together. They can also be filled with overwhelming expectations. Deciding how you spend your holidays NOW can help you navigate the season with less stress. I hope you’ll be able to look back and feel good about the time with your family – which is what the holidays are really about.

Other blogs:

How to Connect at Family Mealtimes

DIY Date Night: Tree Traditions

5 Ways to Build Teamwork in Your Family

How to Plan for the Holidays Without Getting Stressed Out

Happy (and easier) holidays can be yours with the people who mean the most to you!

For many of us, planning for the holidays is just another thing to add to our long list of things that stress us out. I felt the pressure as I walked into Home Depot over the weekend—I was greeted by a HUGE variety of holiday decor. 

OMG! It’s that time of year, again. 

This year, like no other, will cause you to search for the true meaning of the holidays and new ways to celebrate.

As you prepare for this upcoming holiday season, here are a few questions to consider:

  • What’s the meaning of the holidays to you and your family? 
  • In the past, what have the holidays looked like? 
  • What are some of your family’s favorite holiday traditions?
  • This year, what will be different? 
  • What needs to change?

Personally, the holidays are a time of celebration and gathering. It usually includes families who travel and friends who are like family. Food and fun are the centerpieces of activity. However, this year requires more conversation and planning beyond the menu and what football game is on television. Below are some ideas to consider as you make your holiday plans.

Think About Other Years The Holidays Were Different. Learn From Them!

This year will be like no other, but there may have been some years that didn’t go according to tradition. I recall one Thanksgiving where I had to work on the day after, but I wanted to have dinner with my out-of-town family. We decided to meet midway between our homes so we could be together. The only thing open was a southern-style restaurant. We were the only people there, and the food was pretty good. Was it our traditional holiday? No. But it is one of the ones that my children talk about and remember the most. 

Consider Creating New Traditions.

Change is not always comfortable for our near and extended family. A tradition becomes a tradition because it has meaning, and it occurs over time. Traditions take many forms: from using Grandmother’s china and silverware to who carves the turkey. As your family grows, it’s inevitable that change will occur. You may have had to create new traditions or adapt old ones. Different doesn’t mean deficient. It’s just different.

Create A Plan.

You have considered how things used to be. Now, think about the new possibilities for the holidays. It’s ok to look at a variety of conditions in order to create a plan that works for your family this year. (You may need to work on contingency plans as well.) 

Here are some thoughts that may enhance your planning:

  • What are the latest health guidelines and recommendations? 
  • Are we willing to travel? If not, will we allow family to come to us?
  • How many people can attend? 
  • Should we be tested before gathering? 
  • Should we gather in homes or try to find a large space for our festivities? 
  • Can we celebrate earlier? Later?

Talk and Listen to Family

Seek out your family to discuss plans. Everyone may not be on the same page and that’s ok. Be open and willing to be flexible with the plan. Listen for concerns and fears, but also new opportunities. Remember the meaning of the holidays and how you can work together to make it come together this year. 

Family and friends are what matter. The holidays are moments of concentrated time we have with those we care about the most. It may not look the same as it has in the past. It may actually be better because we’re keeping first things first.

With all of the expectations around the holidays, things can get kind of crazy. And if that’s not enough, COVID is hanging around like a cloud over everyone’s head. So this year, there’s bound to be disagreements about how, when or IF you do all the things. Think traditions, party plans, travel—you name it. The very time that’s supposed to bring families closer together is often filled with more fun stuff like extra stress, fighting kids, awkward extended family dynamics, and sometimes marital tension. Whew!

Sometimes the craziness gets the best of us and family members start to feel disconnected. This leads to all kinds of holiday drama—the very thing we all want to avoid.

Want to help make sure the holidays are a time where family members feel connected and close (6 feet apart kind of close, though)? Here are some things you can do at home, in the car, during meals, and out in the community that not only will create conversation, but also laughter, insight, memories, and you guessed it, CONNECTION!

IF YOU’RE TRAVELING…

If you do decide to travel, make sure you spread the love and not COVID by practicing social-distancing when you’re out and about. But while you’re in the car, instead of automatically plugging into technology, what about giving your kids a limited amount of time with tech stuff? Don’t be intimidated by the pushback and don’t expect them to thank you any time soon. Get creative and offer some motivation for participation and keep them busy so you don’t hear, “They’re breathing on me!” during your hours-long trip. For example, for every 30 minutes you play the game you get X number of minutes with your screen. During the downtimes, stay safe and healthy with some of the socially-distant/safe activities on the journey:

  • Categories:  Pick a category (Disney movies, popular songs, flavors of soda) and take turns naming something in that category until someone is stumped. (This person loses and the winner picks the next category.)
  • Going on a Picnic: This is a memory game for all ages! The first person starts a story with, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring…” and then lists an item. The next person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring…” and then lists the first person’s item PLUS a new item. As the story grows and grows, each person repeats the list and adds a new item. The first person to incorrectly list all the items is out! You can keep playing until only one person remains.
  • License Plate Game: Interpret the letters in each license plate you pass. For instance, TMK could stand for “Toasty Miniature Kangaroo.”
  • People-watching: Watch a vehicle traveling on the road near you for a few minutes. Make up a story about the people in the car. Answer questions like: What are their names? Where did they come from? Where are they going? Why are they going there? What are they going to do when they get there? The sillier and more detailed the story is, the better!

IF YOU’RE STAYING AT HOME AS A FAMILY

  • Plan a walk and play “I Spy.” When you exercise together, your brain releases endorphins that create “feel-good memories” you can all enjoy for years to come. Walk around the yard, neighborhood, park, or find a local hiking trail, but encourage the whole family to come! To keep the kids engaged for the walk (and to keep things playful for the adults), play as many rounds of “I Spy” as you can. Then keep track of who wins the most “I Spy” rounds and award them with a special treat when you get home, like hot chocolate, a cookie, or maybe watching the movie or show of their choice.
  • Make something special. Baking goodies for the ones you love is fun, but baking goodies for someone in need, or someone who doesn’t expect it is even more fun. It also teaches the littlest ones in the family that holidays aren’t just about receiving, but giving! Choose one or two people, families, or organizations you’d like to delight this holiday season. Then, gather together in to bake something yummy together and share. Consider giving to an elderly neighbor, a family friend, the staff of a local nonprofit your family supports, etc.

IF YOU’RE SHARING A MEAL WITH OTHERS…

To avoid awkward silence at the dinner table with relatives or friends you may not see very often, try a few of these conversation starters:

  • What is one way you have helped another person this year?
  • Who is someone in your life you’re thankful for and why?
  • If you could have dinner with anyone (past or present), who would it be and why?
  • If you could have a superpower what would it be and how would you use it?
  • What is the most beautiful place you have ever seen?
  • What is the hardest thing about being your current age?

It’s possible to be in a room or a car full of people who are not interacting fully with each other, especially when routines get thrown to the side and people are tired and cranky. When people feel disconnected and schedules are upside down, chaos reigns. Instead of chaos, plan for what you know is coming, whether it is boredom, difficult conversations or unwanted silence. During the busiest season of the year, these tips may help lessen the drama and help you make memories with family and friends.

Image from Unsplash.com

If you’ve ever been a caregiver during the holidays, you know how stressful it can be when caregiving tasks already fill your day. Heap the expectations of a joy-filled season on top of that, and there is real potential for feelings of guilt, anger, resentment and complete fatigue to take over.

Many caregivers are constantly exhausted, and sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other seems daunting. It can be tempting to hide away until after the holidays to avoid dealing with the added stress.

If you can relate, these suggestions may help you as a caregiver during the holidays.

Give yourself permission to put self-care at the top of the list. 

You probably know that you can’t give what you don’t have to others, but that is just plain easier said than done. Some family and friends may have more flexibility to give you much-needed breaks to exercise, sleep, treat yourself to some time with friends or to just do nothing.

Instead of trying to do it all yourself, let someone help.

Driving to doctor visits, picking up prescriptions, changing beds, grocery shopping, fixing meals and keeping the house clean can keep you going 24/7. Friends are usually looking for ways to be helpful, especially during the holidays. It will bless you both if you take them up on their offers or ask for what you need.

Think about what makes your heart happy when it comes to celebrating the holidays. 

Do those things and eliminate the rest even though you might want to do more. Instead of doing all the decorating, ask a friend if they would do it for you. Send an email instead of cards or have someone help you address envelopes. If hosting the annual holiday gathering feels like too much to handle this year, ask someone else to host. If you still want to host but want less responsibility, let others bring the food.

Take control of your mind and guard against negative self-talk.

If you typically do everything yourself, this can be a particularly complicated time of year. On one hand, you know you need help, but on the other hand, you hate to seem needy. Healthy people ask for what they need and don’t feel guilty about it.

Caring for a loved one goes on for a season, and that time period may be months or years. Whatever the time frame, most people understand how hard it is, and there are often many people in your life who are willing to help you shoulder some of the load so that in the end you don’t end up sacrificing yourself in the name of caring for the one you love.

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 9, 2018.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

What are your goals for this season? If you want to provide a time and place where people can enjoy the holidays, relax, celebrate relationships, laugh, count their blessings, play, and help create warm memories, you may want to rethink how you’ve always done things and change things up a bit. As the old saying goes, simple is better… and it’s often a lot more fun for everyone involved.

These ideas can help you celebrate with more focus and less fuss. 

  • Make a list of everything you plan to do. Divide it between must-do, would like to do and not really necessary. 
  • See what you can mark off your list. For example, maybe you won’t send holiday cards this year. Instead of throwing a holiday party now, put it off until July. 
  • Let each family member choose a few of their favorite decorations to put out and leave the rest in the closet. 
  • Participate in alternative gift-giving. Tell everybody that all gifts have to be homemade this year. Challenge your children to be creative and let them do it themselves.
  • Donate to the favorite charity of a family member or friend in their honor instead of spending hours at the mall purchasing a gift they don’t really need or want. 
  • Ask family members to bring a favorite dish to the family gathering instead of doing it all yourself. 

The key to enjoying the holidays and feeling good about the way you spend your time and money during the holidays is to make a plan and stick to it. It is important to involve your family in the process, so share your goals with them and discuss ways you would like to simplify. Encourage them to find creative ways to celebrate. Then work your plan together.

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 25, 2018.

As you gather with friends or family, chances are good that at some point you will encounter some difficult conversations this holiday season, such as politics, faith, raising children, immigration, or… you fill in the blank. While emotion surrounds these topics, it is possible to have civil conversations about any one of these things with capacity to agree to disagree and remain friends or connected as family.

Keeping the following things in mind can help create more civil conversations:

  • Remember that what you believe makes perfect sense to you, but other people have reasons for why they believe the way they do. Instead of shutting them down, ask questions to help you better understand why they believe the way they do. You may still walk away from the conversation shaking your head, but having a reasonable conversation may lead to better understanding on both sides of the fence. Many of these issues are not cut and dry; they are often deep and complicated.
  • Your words are like a construction site; they can either build people up or tear them down. You have the opportunity to be respectful and gracious regardless of the topic at hand. When children in the room watch you navigate a complicated conversation in a respectful way, you are teaching them. Whether you believe they are paying attention or not, they are more than likely taking in your words and your every move.
  • Speaking respectfully makes a difference. If you demean, degrade and disrespect the person you are speaking with and then walk away from the relationship, they will have one less person in their life who has a different perspective that could elicit thought-provoking conversations.
  • Self-control is key. We are all in charge of our own emotions, actions and behaviors. Even when people are disrespectful toward us, we can choose to respond in kind or to do something different. It absolutely takes two to tango, but it only takes one person to change the dance. If you refuse to escalate and meet like behavior with like behavior, it becomes a different kind of conversation.

In the end, we must figure out how to live civilly with people who don’t think exactly like us. Thinking about those difficult conversations during the holidays ahead of time can help you handle those topics with confidence.

 ***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

How To Make The Most of Breaks From School

Planning how you'll spend your time can make the breaks more fun.

Thanks to online shopping, my purchases were virtually complete. I asked my family what they wanted, and then I bought a few perfect presents (within my budget, of course).

But after the shopping was complete, I needed to plan how we’d spend Christmas break together.

For. Two. Whole. Weeks.

I didn’t want to waste precious time in front of a screen or do pointless things, so I decided to think ahead. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail, right?

Believe it or not, I do actually get excited about breaks.

I look forward to all the breaks from school and homework, for all of us. It’s a welcome relief from an all-too-often insane schedule, and we need the rest. But if I am honest, I’m usually a little too happy when school starts back.

But, when school’s in, we’re so busy that we don’t truly enjoy each other. And I realize it’s not fun to be around a mom (or wife) who is constantly barking orders to hurry up, get in the car, clean your room, help me with dinner, fold the laundry, etc.

So, I decided our Christmas break this year was going to be different.

Thankfully, my office was officially closed while my kids were home. So, it was up to me to make the gift of time with my family really count.

Instead of trying to guess what my family wanted, I decided to ask — the same way I asked about their Christmas list.

“What would you like to do with me during your Christmas vacation? Make a list of everything, and we’ll try to make it happen.”

It didn’t take long for me to find out what they wanted. In fact, I really already knew. It’s probably the same thing your family wants: UNDISTRACTED TIME.

Whether you officially have “time off” or not, whether it’s a holiday or not, you can still make all their wishes come true in some way. Find out how to spend the time you DO have with the ones you love — then make the most of it.

Just in case you’re wondering exactly what my kids wanted from me during our school break, here’s a sample of what we did over Christmas vacation:

My youngest child did my makeup (and hair). We read and sang together, shopped, and enjoyed cocoa and marshmallows by the fire. We created delicious food in the kitchen, played games and worked puzzles. We went ice skating and got coffee and doughnuts. And there was still be plenty of time to watch movies and sleep in.

This year, I’m going to make memories and intentionally enjoy my family. I have a feeling we could get used to these “things” that are not really “things.”

I can’t wait. And who knows? I just might be a little sad when the kids go back to school.

The countdown to Spring Break begins…

Image from Unsplash.com

Thanksgiving a month early?? But why??? Well. My oldest son is now a college freshman… and the cost of travel (as well as his school schedule) made it impossible for us to celebrate Thanksgiving on the traditional 4th Thursday of November—so we did it early.

I’ve taught families through our parenting classes at First Things First for almost 10 years now. That means I’ve talked to thousands of people about the importance of creating new family traditions. This year, I actually had to put my money where my mouth was. I cleaned and shopped like it was nobody’s business, about a month ahead of everyone else! I may have spent a little more on food items. But I didn’t have to deal with the crowded conditions of grocery stores.

The weekend of our early celebration was also my Big Guy’s first visit home since we took him to college in NYC. I should have remembered that “the best-laid plans of Mice and Men go astray” because I was anxiously anticipating his arrival. And, of course, his plane was delayed 2 hours.

I was looking forward to spending time with him. I couldn’t wait to attend the regular Friday night football game at his alma mater. He reminded me that he wanted to play with the band for old times’ sake, so I had to take him to practice an hour and a half before the game. I saw him for a bit his first night home, from afar.

The next morning, I made plans for us to have a big breakfast and for me to send all my fellas (husband and 3 boys) off to experience the Vol Walk and Homecoming at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Well, remember that best-laid plans statement I mentioned earlier? Big Guy had a paper due on Saturday by 6PM, so there was no opportunity for male bonding. And I spent the entire day cleaning and prepping the meal for Sunday—which included turkey and all the traditional Southern fixings.

Finally, the morning of our big Thanksgiving celebration arrived. Friends and family filled our home and we had A BALL. We talked, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. When it was over, I was mega-tired, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I still celebrated Thanksgiving with my whole family.

Image from Unsplash.com