Holiday Stress

Take Back the Holidays with Intentional Planning

CAUTION! Holiday Madness Ahead!
Written by Phyllis Vokey Long, MFT

We’ve barely carved our Jack-O-Lanterns and the stores are filled with evidence that the “Holidays” are ahead. I don’t know about you, but panic sets in as soon as I see the first display of fake Christmas trees on Aisle 28 (and 29 and 30 and…). There they are, in all their glory, covered with the latest and greatest ornaments, all carefully arranged with matching colors and themes. The traditional red and green of Christmas seems passé and a hodge-podge of traditional ornaments collected over the years definitely does not fit in with these displays. The tree lights are brightly twinkling and seem to be flashing “Caution! Holiday madness ahead!”  My heart beats faster, I break into a sweat and I flee to any other aisle to practice my deep breathing techniques while envisioning my “happy place” until I can get back to my shopping agenda of buying toilet paper. I stock up for 3 months to make sure that I don’t set foot in this store again until the January clearance sales!

Each year the “holiday season” seems to begin earlier. As early as October, magazines and the internet feature articles on what to make, bake or buy to make the season wonderful. I love to read these articles and often have great intentions of making those money-saving gifts, shopping that one-hour sale, or baking and decorating cookies for all of my friends and neighbors. The reality is that life gets busy, the budget gets tight, the bar gets set higher and I get overwhelmed!  I want to go back to bed and wake up when it’s over!

Let’s Stop the Madness!
Can you relate to my experience? Of course I am over-emphasizing to make a point (or am I?). I want to see the “Thanks” back in Thanksgiving and the “Christ” back in Christmas and the “New” back in New Year. So, how do we get that? I don’t have the power of the media, but I do have power. 1 Peter 3:11 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” With intentional planning you can pursue peace in any situation. Let’s look at some ideas to consider for intentionally pursuing a peaceful and joyful holiday season:

Take Back the Holidays with Intentional Planning:

1) Prioritize expectations. Write a purpose for your holidays. In one sentence, what is the most important thing that you want to get from the holidays? Is it fellowship with others? Is it giving? Is it reflecting more deeply on the meaning of the birth of Christ? Is it worshipping and thanking God? Is it hospitality or service? Is it connecting with your children? Really look at what you want the central theme of your holidays to be. In the busyness of the holiday season, this will help you to determine your priorities in choosing which activities and events to participate in and which to pass up.

2) Create new traditions. Holiday traditions often materialize out of the media or have been repeated throughout our family history without a thought as to how they began or whether we really desire to continue them. Figure out which traditions hold personal value to you and your family and decide how to maintain those. Then, brainstorm new traditions that will support your purpose for the holidays and will be most meaningful.

3) Prepare for challenges. Loneliness and or isolation are pitfalls during holidays. If you are away from family, being around families who are all together may even heighten pain and grief. The temptation is to avoid socialization but this is the time when we really need each other. Plan ahead to spend time with other adults doing something positive and fun. Be proactive in this. You can initiate a group to go to candlelight service together or to have a Christmas dinner at your house. You can volunteer to help serve meals at a shelter or wrap gifts for someone. Serving others is a great way to take your mind off of your own neediness. Bake cookies and take them as a thank you to those who have ministered to you. Rent silly Christmas movies and have a movie night/pajama party with friends.

4) Exchange ideas. Ask others for ideas on how they survive the holidays and share your ideas with them. Avoid getting into a negative cycle of complaining. Instead, stay on track by talking about what works.

5) Plan your schedule. This is key! You may have great priorities, traditions and ideas, but you must now protect them by putting them into your schedule to see the reality of what you’ve planned. When will you bake? When will you shop? In your schedule be sure to include “time out” to just rest and relax. Leave some open spaces for spontaneous activities. If the calendar appears overly busy, go back to your priority list and begin to eliminate activities that least fit your criteria. Remember, you have the power to do this!

6) Enjoy the benefits and remember gratitude! Read Psalm 100. Be sure to take time to reflect on the good times and successes. When we begin to acknowledge what we have and what we have enjoyed, our focus shifts and our mood improves. The holidays won’t be perfect, but, with prioritizing and planning you can find great moments of peace and joy!

Phyllis Vokey Long, MA ,is a Marriage and Family Therapist as well as Co-Founder and Co-Director of the New Day Women’s Center.