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Don’t Let Stress Steal Your Holiday Joy

Plan to manage holiday stress before it starts. These tips from university Extension can help keep the season bright.

The countdown to Christmas is on, and there’s still so much left to do. There are presents to be bought and wrapped, cookies to be baked, holiday dinners to organize, and maybe a long car ride in your future. You probably have multiple lists to keep track of what needs to be done. 

With all the demands put on you (often only placed there by yourself), it’s easy to get caught up in the to-do lists and miss the joy you want to experience this time of year. 

Keep the holidays as stress-free as possible by using our last-minute holiday hacks and following this helpful advice from university Extension experts:

Just Say No

Declining an invitation or a request for help when you’re already busy doesn’t mean you’re a grinch; it means you know your limits and you recognize the importance of being able to dedicate your time to the things that are the most important to you and your family. 

Terry Clark-Jones, a specialist with Michigan State University Extension, says, “A good trick to manage is to stick the word Noon the phone or in a location that you see often, if you are susceptible to saying yes to every request of your time.” 

Think about saying no to your own expectations, as well. You may think you have to bake and decorate five dozen cookies and make three different kinds of fudge because that’s what you always do, but will anyone really mind if you scale back a bit? (Make these festive Christmas treats and call it good!)

Will gifts be less meaningful if they’re popped into a gift bag rather than meticulously wrapped with paper and tied with ribbon? What if you forgo the holiday party you’re dreading and opt, instead, for a quiet evening watching a movie with your family? 

For those who struggle with this, “Ask yourself if it will matter in five years,” advises Margie Memmott of Utah State University Extension. “Become more flexible. Some things are worth not doing perfectly, and compromise can be found on some issues.”

Turn Off the Fake News

If seeing everyone else’s perfect holidays on Facebook and Instagram makes you feel like you aren’t doing a good enough job, it may be a good idea to take a break from social media. Remember, the images you see there are only selected highlights, and you don’t have to replicate that beautiful tablescape or imitate that seemingly ideal family outing. If you don’t want to step away altogether, consider snoozing friends whose posts affect you in a negative way, or just posting updates without scrolling through your news feed. Here are some tips for reducing stress by curating your social media feeds.

“Decide what is good for your immediate family and stick with it,” Clark-Jones recommends. “Fight perfectionism and unrealistic expectations. Manage the holiday hype. It can be very easy to get wrapped up in all the holiday advertisementsto the point where you forget what the holiday season is about. Try to remember what makes a great celebration. It is family – not the decorations, expensive presents, and fancy food.”

Seek Help and Accept It

Do you have Superman or Superwoman syndrome – the mind-set that you should be able to do everything yourself with no help?

“Let others ease your schedule,” says Christine Smith of North Carolina State University Extension. “Enlist family, friends, and neighbors to help with meal preparation or childcare. ’Tis the season for helper elves.”

It’s important to remember that accepting help from other people means letting those responsibilities go. If your child offers to wrap gifts for other family members, you can’t go back later and rewrap them to your standards. Let it go if there’s a smudge left behind after someone else cleans the bathroom mirror or if the stockings aren’t all hung perfectly evenly. 

“Free yourself from your own expectations for a perfect holiday season,” Smith says.

Consider the Memories You’re Making

Whether you intend to or not, you’re making memories this holiday season. If your son drops the cheesy potatoes on the floor as he carries the dish to the table, take it in stride. Don’t let the memory be a bad one. Instead, have him help you whip up a packet of instant mashed potatoes and sprinkle some cheese on top. Let him remember how everyone raved over his delicious culinary creation. Remember that traditions evolve over time, and embrace new ones as you let old ones go.

“Most of all, take time to enjoy the season,” Smith says. “Express gratitude for all that you have, enjoy time with loved ones, and revel in the holiday spirit.” 

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