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Tips to help make the holiday season more enjoyable, less stressful

November 08, 2012|By BETH ROWLAND | Special to The Herald-Mail
By Chad Trovinger/Staff Illustrator

How many days left until Christmas?

If that question made you flinch or think a panicked “yikes,” you are not alone, just ask around.

But Gretchen Rubin, who is author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Happiness Project,” said it doesn’t have to be that way. The cause of holiday stress for many people, she said, is “trying to get too much done in too short a time.”

“For me,” Rubin said in an email, “it helps to start earlier than I otherwise might (decorating, shopping), lightening my load (in my family, adults draw out of a hat and only buy for one other adult), or postponing tasks (we send out Valentine’s family cards instead of winter holiday cards). That way, I have more time to get less done. And that reduces stress.”

Sylvia Frye of Sharpsburg has always been a good pre-planner for the holidays, dating to her days as a museum curator in St. Louis.

“I had to plan for Christmas exhibits and decorations in August,” she said.

That carried over into her personal life in getting ready for the holidays.

“I have a list of people to buy for and in August I start looking for gift items. During the months before August, I keep my eyes and ears open listening for people’s ‘wishes’ and looking for bargains and sales,” Frye said. “The potential gift items are stored in the attic by name and in plastic tubs. Whatever I choose not to give as a gift is either saved for next year or is incorporated into a gift basket donated to a good cause.”

Frye even has shortcuts for gift-wrapping quickly and easily. “I use bags and tissue paper from the dollar store.  I pick up various sizes and patterns throughout the year. I think it’s fun — and not stressful!”

Kate Shunney of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., starts early to gather the materials her family will use in making their gifts, materials like pine cones for homemade firestarters and jars for food gifts. Perhaps surprisingly, Christmas shopping got a lot less stressful for her once she had kids.

“Not only do our boys make the whole holiday season more fun, the hit on our finances — diapers are expensive — meant we pared down the gift lists,” Shunney said. “Now, unless you share our DNA or helped us build our house, your gift is likely to be homemade (probably edible) or really small. A few years back, we also decided to try and only buy gifts made in the USA. This further pared down the shopping experience, leaving locally made crafts or food, gift certificates for local businesses or socks (still made in the United States). ”

The theme of the season is to be stress free.

“We don’t know how other people swing the holidays,” Shunny said, “but they seem to spend a lot of money and go to a lot of stores. This isn’t really feasible for us low-budget people with little kids (shopping tolerance of about 45 minutes), so we do it our way. We de-stress by driving around to look at local Christmas lights and listening to goofy holiday music at home by the woodstove.”

The best thing Janeen Solberg of Boonsboro does to start early on the holidays is “to work on putting myself in the right frame of mind.  What is it that I want to experience during the holiday season — for myself and for our family?  I make sure key events get on the calendar as soon as possible to avoid double booking.  We’ve cut way back on excessive gift giving, and that simplifies things a lot.  I still like to have a stash of gifts on hand to let people know I appreciate them — bottles of wine, soy candles, fair trade coffee, handmade jewelry, cloth napkins — things that add to quality of life, not clutter.”

She also doesn’t mind spending a little more at a small local shop because it keeps her away from the chaos of the big box stores. This goes a long way toward keeping the holidays happy and less stressful, she said.

Thinking about other people is a surefire holiday stress-reducer, said Kevin Moriarty of Hagerstown.

“Many people have difficulty during the holidays, with disappointments, unhappy memories, or a feeling of inadequacy,” he said. “So go out of your way to be pleasant and kind to strangers. You could change someone’s stressful trip to the grocery store into a pleasant outing.  They’ll pay it forward.”

Rubin’s absolute best tips?

“Get enough sleep,” she said. “This will make a huge difference. Give yourself plenty of time. Leave room in the suitcase. Never let anyone get too hungry or too tired. Respect your children’s limits — and your own. Don’t drink too much. If something is very important to someone else  — going to midnight Mass, everyone dressing up, using a particular cranberry sauce recipe — try to accommodate their desires, out of love. For a holiday, try to spend at least some time on an activity that’s fun for you.”


To learn more ...

For even more tips for relieving holiday stress, Gretchen Rubin’s website Happiness-project.com has some very useful lists and ideas.


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