I love the holiday season, but it can be a super stressful time for many of us, regardless of our love of fruitcake, reindeer sweaters and chocolate Hanukkah coins.
In my family, we celebrate so many holidays between Thanksgiving and New Years that sometimes I find myself glossing over the reasons for the celebrations or turning into Miss Cranky Pants. Some of my friends find the holiday season so stressful that they decide to just opt out. Sad. It doesn’t have to be that way.
A couple of years ago I became determined to deeply enjoy the holidays and not become a basket case. I am going to share with you the system I created for myself so this year, you are going to adore the holiday season in a big way.
Step 1: Plan
I know that it can be difficult to start planning for Thanksgiving and December in October or November—but I promise it will make a huge difference. I don’t mean just planning where to celebrate or with whom (though this is obviously essential), but also deciding what you will be making, buying and doing. It is way more fun to plan a delicious Thanksgiving feast today than on the Wednesday evening before it.
Make these three lists:
1. For Whom You Will Buy Presents
On this list make three columns: name, gift and place to buy it (a specific store or web site).
2. Non-negotiable Events
Even if you don’t know the exact date they will be occurring, put down all events that you can’t wait to attend.
3. Meals to Make
Start imagining the great meals that you want to participate in making. Write down all the dishes, décor ideas and beverage selection. If you’re hosting, include things that you want guests to bring, so that when they ask you, you have ideas that fit into the menu ready for them.
Get the details in your calendar—events, prep time, etc. Also, protect your sanity by making sure to put in your calendar any other obligations you’ll have during this season—meetings, bar mitzvahs, elective surgeries, funerals, cat grooming, etc.
Step 2: Maintain Priorities
Let’s be realistic: you can’t do everything. This is where your list of events from above comes in very handy. Know what is important to you during this time. Is it time with your friends? Time with family? Making everyone’s gift by hand? Cooking for the masses? What makes you feel the love and joy of the season?
Whatever it is, concentrate on that and make it priority numero uno. If you aren’t excited to go to your neighbor’s gravy tasting or your co-worker’s craft night, politely decline. Save your energy for things that make you jump for joy.
Traditions are wonderful. If you have family traditions that you just love, do them. However, if there are traditions that you do just because your grandma did, but they don’t mean anything to you, nix ‘em.
In my family, we have always baked enough cookies to supply each person on the planet with at least one. I felt obligated to do the same. It’s tradition, right?
When I examined this, I realized that it was taking three days of my life to make all these cookies that, although admittedly delicious, were not important to me (or healthy for the recipients). When I stopped baking them, the world continued on as if nothing had changed—imagine my surprise!
Step 3: Take Care of Yourself
An often-overlooked key to preserving our mental health during stressful times is by maintaining our physical health. I advocate health maintenance all year long, but it is especially important when we are busy, which is exactly when it is most likely to slip.
Here are my top four things to do in order to feel as vibrant and shiny as a gold menorah all the way through New Year’s Day.
1. Eat Healthy
It is of the utmost, super-mega-importance to eat healthy at every possible opportunity. One way to stay on track is to ask yourself, “What is the healthiest option available to me right now?” Sometimes that means eating a bean and cheese quesadilla instead of a bucket of French fries—but hey, at least it is healthier.
I don’t know about you, but if I wake up feeling so good that it’s kind of unfair to sick people, the best cure is to spend some time in a mall.
If you don’t want to leave the mall feeling like you just went shopping for communicable diseases, I highly recommend bringing healthy snacks with you. At the very least, if you gorge yourself on almonds, carrots, an apple, a hardboiled egg and a liter of water, you may only have room left for a medium Orange Julius and half a Cinnabon.
I find that I “forget to eat” while I am on a mission to find the perfect gift for my father (who, by the way, is impossible to shop for) and then I end up hypoglycemic and craaaanky. The aforementioned snacks help curb the crazy until I can sit down for a proper meal.
2. Work That Body
Exercise releases endorphins that decrease stress and improve your mood. Any kind of movement is useful and helps to improve your sense of self and your overall health.
It is easy to not prioritize exercise because we tend to think “I just don’t have time to exercise.” I beg you to reconsider. Exercising regularly throughout the holiday season is likely to give you a resilience and vitality that is worth every second. And, if you only have it in you to commit to one New Year’s resolution, since you’ve already got the exercise taken care of, you can finally do something about that porn addiction.
3. Get a Massage
I would venture to say that getting a massage is the one of the very best ways to relax. Taking the time to slow down and be still while someone releases the tension in your body removes you from the frenzy and instills you with an inner calm. Worth it? Most definitely.
4. Have Fun
If you find yourself in the middle of a task that isn’t fun, make it fun. There is always a way to inject humor and silliness into the most mundane activity.
In fact, a lot of the holiday activities we do are things that are objectively pretty fun: shopping, wrapping presents, baking, writing cards and decorating—but we forget to have fun while we do them. Turn the fun knob up to at least seven (I don’t recommend going past 11 though), and all those tasks become lighter and more enjoyable.
One thing I love to do when shopping alone is to listen to my own music on my iPod. This way I get to block out some of the ear-numbing holiday music and I can dance my way through Macy’s—even if everyone looks at me like I’m crazy. Whatever, it’s my fun.
Step 4: Be Present
The more you can stay engaged with the people and activities around you, watching and feeling the connections, noticing the gifts beyond the ones in wrapping paper, the more joy you’ll get out of it. And the less likely it is that you’ll be drained or disenchanted by the end of the season.
Remember to breathe and try to always keep a portion of your attention on how you feel in your body. This is especially important if your holiday plans include family members who push your buttons and have you regressing back to your rebellious teenage self.
We all have those moments, but instead of reacting from that place, feel the discomfort as it comes up in your body, breathe through it, and decide what kind of energy you want to bring to the environment. You may find that the rest of your family starts to treat you like who you are presently, instead of the teenager they last lived with. It’s miraculous.
Practice this four step process and you will be giving yourself the greatest gift of all—a meaningful, joyful and stress-free holiday season.
Briana Borten is a peace engineer and entrepreneur that works with people to decrease their pain, increase their relaxation, optimize their health and get exactly what they want out of their lives. She’s on a mission to create a more peaceful world through more peaceful individuals! Find out more about Briana here.
Editor: Jamie Morgan
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