de-stress during holidays

As the holidays arrive, stoves simmer, and families reunite, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year resonates in our hearts.  Our desire is to welcome guests to our home with beautifully adorned decorations, deliciously homemade delights and ambiance that rivals “It’s a Wonderful Life’s” final scene. Yet that goal, if not kept into balance, leads to…holiday stress.
“During the holiday season, most people feel a lot of pressure to pull off the perfect holiday.
We have an unrealistic, preconceived notion that’s impossible to bring to life because of all the extra work involved. There are so many additional demands on our time, and most families today are already very busy. Between all the extra parties, shopping, baking, cleaning, and entertaining, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and lose the real meaning of the holidays”, says Judy Illingworth, LCSW, St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network.
A recent survey by the American Psychological Association, states nearly 50%  of all women in the U.S. experience a heightened sense of stress during the holidays. Approximately 60 percent report feeling sad or nervous, and over half report symptoms of fatigue.
When I read those statistics, I feel the Lord whisper (well, it might be more of a yell) that I do not have to be Super “Martha S.” My home, my hospitality, my love for gathering family and friends together is a “Good Thing,” even if it doesn’t grace December’s issue of House Beautiful.
So how do we avoid being part of that statistic during this holiday season, and still embrace the best of what this season has to offer?
1. Say “No” to unrealistic expectations, engagements and entertaining that cause unnecessary stress.
I am not saying avoid hospitality, or extending generosity. We love to open our home during the holidays, but I have found a balance between unrealistic expectations that I put on myself, and realizing  people just want to spend quality time together in a loving, authentic environment.Three years ago, our family strategically starting clearing out unnecessary things from our schedule during the month of December. We were missing out on just “being” because we were so busy going, doing, going, doing. Doing “good things”, I might add, but things that distracted us from the beauty, simplicity and wonder that surrounded the holidays.
I realized it was impossible for me to please everyone, but I was responsible for how I helped engage my family in pointing them to our Savior. Now, we spend a lot of cozy times during December with special traditions and heritage building choices that are solidifying a strong generational legacy. Extend authentic hospitality? Yes. Stressful Entertaining? No.
2. Say “Yes” to a Budget.
Shockingly enough, 90% of people buy things they can NOT afford. Simply put, nine out of ten of you reading this post will make purchases over the next six weeks that you should not buy. How does that Green Eyed Monster creep in just when I feel I’ve squashed him. This is where that comparison trap gets us every time.
When I am frenzied those last few shopping days and feel the need to put more and more under the tree, I stop and ask myself, “From where is this feeling coming? When have I ever felt “stuff” mattered more than relationships?”
When the New Year’s Ball drops, and  2011 rings through with your finances in tact, and consumer debt avoided, you will be so thankful that you remembered what really matters. By January 10, most people, especially children, can’t reiterate 1/2  of the presents they received, but they will remember those special traditions that occurred with family and friends.
candle light collage
3. Engage the Senses
Within our loving, fun, chaotic home, I am passionate about engaging the senses. Stimulated senses enable us to experience life. Our senses soothe us, comfort us, welcome us, alert us, nourish us, encourage us…and so much more.  When we stimulate the senses of those around us, it communicates love. Last year, I wrote a post about “Creating ambiance during meal time” I shared how every day, I light candles.
Yes, you read that right. Don’t save them just for company. Your family is your most prized guest. Turning on the music, simmering hot cider, and lighting some candle are all simple and inexpensive ways to set a calming tone after a busy day just by engaging the senses.
I’m just getting warmed up sharing the ways I make my holidays less stressful, but suddenly,  I’m stressed just thinking how long this post will be if I continue. :) I’ll check in during December and see how we are doing when we’re full fledged deep in the middle of the season.
For now remember, as we prepare, plan and ponder the beauty of these next few weeks, let us not lose sight of the reason we gather:  to celebrate, reflect, and pour out gratitude for the blessings found through our Savior.
I  shared this post over at Dayspring’s (in)courage blog today. Click over here to participate in the comments.
In December, I’ll do a follow up post with additional ways we intentionally de-stress during the holidays.  What are the things that bring you stress over the holidays? Would you mind sharing some of those or ways you “destress” in the comments?