Handling Holiday Stress

It’s December. Here come the articles encouraging us to relax, simplify, and just enjoy the holidays. We all need these reminders to slow down, remember what we’re celebrating, and take joy in the people we love. At the same time, this advice can come off as yet another stressor, leaving us wondering, What’s wrong with me? Why am I not relaxing and enjoying this enough? Why do I feel sad or overwhelmed?

Sip a cocktail, laugh, and don’t worry about observing any of the trappings and traditions of Christmas, one article advised.

My reality as I read it? Chugging coffee, crying tears of exhaustion, and spending every precious free moment prepping for the holidays.

The truth is, holidays involve family, family involves love, and love involves sacrifice. If any food is eaten at your gathering, someone had to prepare it. If any gifts are exchanged, someone had to shop and wrap. If the setting is festive, someone had to clean and decorate.

It’s not that we should center our holidays around living up to others’ expectations or striving for a magazine-spread Christmas. I believe that holiday shopping, cooking, baking, and decorating can all be done in a spirit of joy. But for many people–those with kids, extended family, or those opening their home to people without a home base—it’s just not as simple as sipping a hot toddy and shrugging off tradition.

That doesn’t mean Christmas has to be complicated. In the past few years, we’ve found new ways to simplify. We’ve shaved our Christmas day stops down from four to one or two. We attend fewer Christmas parties. We host a small low-key fireside gathering rather than an epic get together. Our decorations are beloved but minimal. Some years we hang Christmas lights on the house. Other years we don’t. Our shopping list (and pile to put away) has shrunken as we’ve asked our families to do gift exchanges. I’ve whittled my baking list down to two or three favorites. I wear the same few outfits to every party and family function, year after year.

This year we’re even taking a weekend in the busy season to get away as a family and just hang out, hike, and play together.

Every year, I’m excited for the festivities leading up to Christmas. I look forward to buying gifts, putting up the tree, and our little family traditions like visiting a Christmas tree farm, looking at Christmas lights, and ice skating.

And every year, at some point I find myself exhausted, stressed, and feeling too busy. The “slow down and simply” philosophy would have me think I’m doing something wrong if the year’s biggest holiday, the most wonderful time of the year leaves me feeling anything but wonderful.

But then the feeling passes as I take time to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice as the reason we celebrate. I’m sure it didn’t feel great for him to leave perfect fellowship with His father and become a human baby, subject to all the suffering of this earth.

And then I know it’s not wrong to feel stressed and overwhelmed sometimes in the midst of a joyous but hectic season. It’s okay for sacrifice to feel hard; that’s what makes it sacrifice. After a sacrifice, you know the difficulty was worth it. If it’s not, it’s time to cut that activity or obligation.

So don’t stress about feeling stressed this year. Cut what you need to cut. Talk to someone if you’re truly down. But don’t shy away from the sacrifice that comes with making Christmas a beautiful time for others.

How do you handle holiday stress? What ways have you found to simplify?

19 Responses to “Handling Holiday Stress”

  1. Tracy says :

    Yes, this! I appreciate the move to simplify, but there are so many wonderful things in life that just aren’t simple. We’ve demonized “busyness” so much in the minimalism community, but busyness in the service of others can be beautiful and joyful. Thank you for giving words to the feeling that’s been in my heart.

  2. Tonya says :

    I think if you REALLY enjoy it it’s a stress worth having in your life. It’s temporary. I think there are lots of things people can do to have less stress though, for instance, if you are financially strapped, having a conversation with your relatives about different and less expensive ways to handle gifts is one idea. Not that it’s yours. I think having kids adds a whole other layer on top of things. For me, Christmas is one of the LEAST stressful times of year. We “slow down” at work, I don’t have many obligations, and no kids. But, I also don’t have that warm fuzzy feeling about it that a lot of other people do….so there’s that. And I’m not religious so I don’t connect a lot with that side of things either. I think you are right to say don’t stress about stress! 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      You’re right that there are reasonable steps to take to simplify and reduce stress, where possible. And then there is accepting some of what comes with the season if you enjoy it. That’s nice this is one of the least stressful times for you!

  3. Brian says :

    We’ve learned to simplify over the years. The key, like you mentioned is to try and live up to someone else expectations. For example about five years ago, we started going out for dinner on Christmas Eve. It’s a new tradition that our family really looks forward too, and all we have to do to prepare is make the reservation. 🙂

  4. Ann says :

    Great column. Lately, when I start feeling stressed at whether I’m doing something adequately, even after years of practice, I tell myself, “Hey, you’re good at this!” Most of us are critical of ourselves and subject to a lot of second-guessing. Especially at times like celebrating Christmas. I agree with your advice to cut complications where you can, but don’t be afraid of the work that goes along with making your dear ones and yourself enjoy this wonderful season. As you said, sacrifice is very meaningful, and those pretty trees don’t decorate themselves. Never underestimate, either, how important traditions are to your children. Merry Christmas!

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks, Ann. That is a good thing to remind ourselves. Or, there are things that I’m not good at, and I just have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter, I can’t be great at everything. And if it’s not something important to you, then who cares?

      Merry Christmas to you, too!

  5. Shannon says :

    I love this so much! Wise words and sounds like you have found a great balance! I really enjoy making Christmas special and exciting for my kids…it’s a gift of special memories, so while I kinda kill myself to make it happen, it is worth it.

  6. Oldster says :

    I think we over emphasize the stressful part of the holidays. I agree with your synopsis, any gathering of family and/or friends will naturally give rise to some additional stress that did not exist while you are floating in your sensory deprivation tank. But the net gain in joy is almost always worth it. Being disconnected from family would be much more stressful. Relax and let the joy of the season, and the over use of the colors green and red just wash over you.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree that missing out on the personal connections would lead to more stress or other negative feelings in the long run.

  7. David says :

    Christmas was always the time of year I dreaded most until 2009. That was when I decided I was not going to observe the holiday. Since then I have spent December 25 working, ice fishing or skiing. Life is good without Christmas.

    • Ann says :

      That’s rather sad, though. As if Jesus never came.

    • David says :

      Ann, the reason I dreaded Christmas is it celebrates something I do not believe to be true. The stress was from going against my own beliefs. Distancing myself from Christmas and other religious events has freed me from that internal conflict. There’s nothing sad about being honest with one’s self.

    • Ann says :

      Yes, that type of conflict sets off a great deal of stress for sure. A more comfortable and peaceful life is far better as long as it is based on truth. You feel that yours now is. I would just hope that you keep your eyes open to any new evidence to the contrary that might someday come your way. Meantime, best wishes for a good December. 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      I suppose if you don’t have any religious connection to the holiday that approach would make perfect sense.

  8. David Houston says :

    In north america Christmas seems to have gone overboard with the commercial side of things. In other countries it is much more subdued especially in terms of buying things. Here its a chance for stores to make you feel guilty if you don’t buy a bunch of stuff.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, the materialism and commercialism is definitely an unnecessary stressor. I’ve come to just laugh at the ridiculous junk stores try to market as “gifts” this time of year.

  9. Teresa Baker says :

    Merry Christmas!

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