The holidays are one of the most anticipated times of the year for families. But they can also be one of the most stressful for some people, with top stressors being lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and dealing with family.
One of my strongest spiritual gifts is giving, and one of my struggles at Christmas is spending too much money on gifts for our kids and our grandkids. I’m not alone in this. Shoppers in the U.S. spend over $1 trillion; in 2018, Americans spent an average of $1,536 during the Christmas season! While it may give me (and others) great joy to buy lots of presents for our children and our grandchildren, other family members, and our friends to show them our love, it also causes us STRESS.
Dealing with family drama and strife, being busier and under more pressure at work, planning and cooking a big family meal, traffic jams, and crowded stores also contribute to our tension.
Here are 5 tips to manage and relieve stress during the Christmas holidays:
- Bring it back to a Christ-centered Christmas. For Christian believers, Christmas is supposed to be about celebrating the birth of our Messiah, Jesus Christ. Yet how often we forget this in the hectic, busy season that retailers use to inundate us with commercialism. Buy this, buy that! More, more, more! Even when we set a budget, or maybe wisely start saving throughout the year to buy our family and friends gifts, we often blow it. A good way to focus on Jesus (other than staying out of stores!) is by reading the Christmas story in the four gospels. Each narrative is told differently. There are also many good children’s books to read at this time of year, which can become a family tradition. Decorating the Christmas tree and your home with an emphasis on Christ, lighting pretty, scented candles, baking cookies for your kids and grandkids (they can help, too!), listening to Christmas music, watching Christmas movies, praying as a couple or a family, volunteer work, giving to those in need, and attending special church services or plays can all help with keeping the holiday Christ-focused.
2. Take care of yourself. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about the holidays that make me just forget all human reason and completely pig out! It’s like I go crazy temporarily, eating tons of those scrumptious, purple-, red-, and green-colored sugar cookies, chocolates, and of course, the big family meal. I also tend to put exercise on the back burner, forget to drink enough water, and stress myself out trying to buy just the right present for each of our 3 kids and our 6 grandkids, and then wrapping them all in the same night! The holidays are a great time of year to pause. Selah. Intentionally choose to slow down, pray, and reflect. Each year at the end of the year, I set aside time to pray, journal, and prepare for the coming year. Make sure that despite the busyness of the season, you’re staying hydrated with plenty of water (not just Starbucks’ yummy, holiday coffees!), eating healthy, moving your body to get exercise, getting enough sleep, and de-stressing, such as with a hot bubble bath with softly-glowing candles.
3. Give free or low-cost, but thoughtful, gifts. I have learned that buying presents at the dollar store isn’t always best. Some people will give or even throw them away! However, you can give gifts that are low cost or even free that people appreciate and even love! For example, my husband Ray has NEVER complained when I have put a “coupon” inside a gift box for an oil, back massage! Our daughters have deeply appreciated “coupons” for babysitting. Baking cookies, brownies, and Christmas goodies and putting them in those cute, decorative, holiday tin cans are always a hit. Buy a couple of movie tickets to bless your married kids or family members. Amazon, Kohl’s, Starbucks, Target, Walmart, Visa, and other gift cards can be great stocking stuffers or main gifts. There’s endless ways to give gifts that don’t break the bank and save you time and stress.
4. Simplify. To simplify means to reduce to basic essentials, diminish, or streamline. You and I can get all worked up, thinking we have to have the perfect Christmas for our family and our friends. We spend too much money, eat too many sweets, clean the house spotlessly until we’re exhausted, cook too much food (that often goes to waste!), and then when the holiday is over, we’re totally stressed out, exhausted, and maybe even resentful of others and mad at ourselves! It’s time to pare down and get down to the bones–the real meaning of Christmas, which is about Jesus and loving our family and others! Just one example is simplifying the family holiday meal. One Christmas we decided to skip the big meal and order sushi and Chinese. It was wonderful and we all loved it! Another holiday, we decided to go out to eat Italian at Cinzetti’s restaurant for their amazing buffet–delicious. (Anything where I don’t have to cook is a great idea, in my opinion!) If you don’t have the money to go out to eat or prefer having the meal at your home, just simplify your menu. It’s a shame that so much food goes to waste because people don’t like to eat leftovers, or they forget about them. Have just one or two side dishes, instead of four or five! Bake one, or at the most, two desserts. Choose one type of meat, instead of two. We don’t have to gorge ourselves at Christmas to be content!
5. Try something new. One reason tensions build at holidays is that everything is familiar. You have the same foods, see the same people, do the same things. It can become boring. Strife and drama occur, with people fighting over the same ridiculous, stupid things. Adding something new at the holidays can lighten your heart and give you joy. If you normally stay home, go somewhere you’ve never been: attend The Nutcracker ballet, see the lighting of the Kansas City Plaza lights, watch someone at a shop make fudge (and sample it!)–or try making fudge yourself with grandma’s recipe. Drive in a new, affluent area with beautifully decorated Christmas lights. When my sister Maria and her family visited us several years ago, she and her kids tried ice skating in Kansas City, MO–fun! Her daughter Katie took to it right away (being a good roller skater!) and loved it! One year my daughter Heather and I shopped at her workplace at that time, Pier 1, and chose Christmas tree decorations, representing our family members. We picked a pickle for my husband Ray, because he loves pickles; a suitcase for me (I love traveling); a diamond ring for Heather (in hopes of getting engaged), an owl for our daughter Eden (she loves owls); and a snowflake for our daughter Leah (she thinks they are pretty and loves how unique they are). Each year I’ve added decorations to represent family members, at the birth of each grandchild. You can choose new things to do or traditions that will make Christmas more fun!
These are just a few tips to help you alleviate or reduce holiday stress. What are some things you do to help make your Christmas more joyful and less hectic and stressful? Leave your comments below.