I don’t know about you, but I can't avoid some holiday stress during the “Christmaskuh” season. On one hand, I love the bustling energy and the gathering of friends and family over five kinds of cookies. On the other, I’m stressed about having to bake five kinds of cookies! The greater the flexibility in my schedule, the greater my annoyance. What's up with that?
The Christmas/Hanukkah season can launch a bundle of complex emotions for women after mid-life. By now, most of us have a few cracked ornaments on our tree. Families change, and every holiday can bring a sense of loss for what once was or what we hoped would be. This year, while using my mom’s rolling pin for cookies, I was suddenly flooded with her memory. Some of us are alone not by choice, and some of us are not where we expected to be at this time in our lives.
Add expectations to “do Christmas right,” and it's no wonder that our holiday stress is high! But is baking five different kinds of cookies really necessary? Here’s how to get control of your holiday "shoulds" so that you can enjoy the season.
Decide how much holiday stress is OK.
How about zero? OK, maybe just a little? While you can't control all stress, you can control your reaction by changing your approach to the season.
Start by asking yourself what feelings you want to have when the holidays are over. Boil it down to one or two words. Let's say, for example, that you want to feel connected and light. Write your feelings down and why they are important to you.
Ask, “What needs to happen for me end the holidays with the feeling I want?” Make your ideal and bottom-line goals. For example, the ideal may be to feel connected by giving everyone the perfect gift. How realistic is that? How much stress does it create for you? What are other ways to feel connected? Set a goal that will get you that feeling of connection without the stress of perfect gift-giving.
Ask, “what can get in my way of actually sticking to this goal?” (More on double binds below.) Make a plan for managing around your known obstacles. Write that plan down.
Then, every day check in with the feeling you want and how you are doing with your plan. This is important because it keeps your intention front and center.
Get out of double binds.
Often, what throws our plans off are double binds that pit one value against another. For example, if you value generosity as well as fiscal responsibility, the result can be anxiety for over-spending on holiday gifts or guilt for not being generous – or both! Add in a life partner with his or her set of values and the potential for holiday stress is high.
How does this double-bind serve you? What’s the worst that would happen if you didn’t by that one extra gift or you baked only 3 kinds of cookies? Or – drum roll – you asked for help?!? What gift of kindness can you give yourself this year to lower your holiday stress level?
Share what is important to you with your loved ones. Ask what is most important to them. You may be surprised by how short the list is. Work together to create a holiday based on shared values. Let what’s no longer working go.
Just say "No" to Noel (the Hallmark way).
The uber-commercialization of this holiday drives us towards black and white thinking (red and green thinking?) We get the message: See that merry family gathered around the tree? They are the Christmas winners. If this doesn't look like us we can fall into the losers' trap. Feeling sad or angry is perfectly normal when the kids have gone to the in-laws, the budget won’t stretch, we don’t have a partner, and we can’t stand going to Cousin Joe’s for Christmas dinner once again. Where’s the joy in that?
This year, say "yes" to what really matters to you. What’s the worst that would happen if you decline Cousin Joe’s invitation? What opportunities would that open up to celebrate differently? If you must go to Cousin Joe’s how can you keep things civil (use the AIKIDO method). If you are alone, what can you plan for Christmas that will nourish your sense of connection and hope for the future?
Love is more than a transaction.
In our hearts we know that love cannot be bought. We are connected to the ones we love, regardless of the number of gifts given or airline miles flown on one holiday. Love flows with every thought and memory of the one who loves. Generosity is the expression of love, and it can be given with a word, a touch, a shared memory.
This holiday season wrap up your loving presence and give it to the ones you love. The cookies will take care of themselves.