The winter holiday season as portrayed in storybooks, movies and TV specials is a wonderful time of year filled with meaningful religious services, school programs, family get-togethers, parties and colorful celebrations.
In reality, however, the winter holidays can turn into a nightmare of unrealistic expectations. Most of those expectations we create for ourselves — every year we try to top the year before and as a result we find ourselves tired, impatient, cranky and even depressed.
It's important to identify what things create the most stress during this season. It's hard to admit, but for a lot of people, the greatest source of stress is family. Family relationships can become quite complicated. There may have been changes in our family since last year — the death of a family member, a divorce, or grown children not able to come home for the holidays. Any and all of these factors may add to holiday stress.
This might be a good time to simplify holiday traditions. Talk to family ahead of time and see if you could perhaps draw names instead of trying to buy for everyone, have pot-luck instead of taking on the whole meal preparation, or change the venue for the family get-together. You may find that visiting some friends and family the week after the actual holiday results in a less hurried and even more enjoyable time. Families are often relieved to make a change but are afraid to suggest it, so they may appreciate you for taking the initiative.
Another source of stress is the management of time. We take on more and more every year. Make a list of things that absolutely must be done and then prioritize. The simple act of marking things off a list can be very therapeutic. It is equally important to mark off those things that are impossible to do this year.
If you become overwhelmed with the commercialization of the season, try volunteering at a local shelter or buy gifts for a child in need. You will be amazed at how these kinds of activities can lift your spirit.
I truly believe that this is a magical season. The magic, however, comes only by taking the time to slow down and enjoy the moment. Let the dishes wait, rest when your body tells you to and let go of impossible goals. Most importantly, take time to reflect on the real meaning of this season.