According to a recent poll, 67% of Americans rate their holiday stress levels as moderate to extreme. And not surprisingly, parents are the most stressed. A primary cause of all this pressure is being overly committed to making the holiday special and enjoyable for everyone else.
I know a lot of us can relate.
Although many of us expend considerable effort creating a memorable, Instagram-perfect holiday, there are a lot of aspects of that goal that are simply beyond our control. Some people may not be able to attend, the gift you thought was perfect could land with a thud, others may be in a less-than-cheerful mood, and it’s not uncommon for the occasional awkward moment or argument to ensue. You can’t force people to be cheerful, kind, considerate, respectful, or even good cooks. And don’t get me started on the “joy” of gift returns.
But isn’t that what the vision of a magical holiday experience demands?
We can see the impossibility of it all. So, I guess what’s surprising is that only 67% of people said they were stressed about the holidays.
So, back to you—how do you maintain your inner peace even when everyone and everything around you refuses to cooperate with your festive vision?
Step 1: Decide that your experience isn’t going to depend on anyone else’s experience.
I acknowledge it is easier said than done, especially if you find yourself in the midst of a maelstrom of emotions that you can’t help but feel are somehow your responsibility. If someone doesn’t like your whiskey-infused cheesecake, who cares? (They’re wrong, of course. It’s delicious!)
Do you like it? If yes, savor every bite.
In moments when you feel your mood start to slide from merry and bright, give yourself a mental shortcut, something you can think of or repeat to yourself. Try: I’m exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to do. And if that isn’t true, make it true. You should have a special day independent of other people’s choices.
Step 2: Prioritize what makes the holidays meaningful to you.
What are the individual elements that make the celebration special?
Maybe it’s the decorations. If so, lean into that aspect. Great-Grandma Johanna’s stuffing recipe may be a cherished family tradition you enjoy cooking every year. However, it’s probably the making of it that is most fulfilling. Your most memorable holiday moment might happen in the kitchen the night before, where you teach Johanna’s great-great-granddaughter how to make that stuffing.
Step 3: Throw praise and gratitude like confetti.
There are few things more disarming to a curmudgeon than gratitude. Dig deep, and I’m certain you can find at least one complimentary thing to say to even your most disagreeable relatives.
Receiving a compliment or praise activates areas of our brain known as the ventral striatum and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex, the same reward centers that light up during physical pleasure and relaxation. It is also associated with the area of our brain that fires when we receive money or material gifts. By offering praise, you’ll not only be offering your gratitude to the other person but also giving them the “gift” of feeling good and relaxed.
I wish you and yours a festive, peaceful, and unstressed holiday season. And remember, elaborate table settings, 14 different kinds of pie, and refereeing family disputes can be somebody else’s job. And honestly, the rest will be just fine.
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