Take Time To Evaluate

An important part of change is the process of evaluating experiences. So how was Christmas this year? What was good about the day, and the season of preparation? What didn’t go how you planned?

Take some time to think about all the aspects of your Christmas celebration–the preparation, the execution, and the aftermath. While it’s fresh in your mind, write down some of your thoughts. Make plans for next year and write them down. Then put them in a place where you will be sure to see them next year at the right time. Maybe store them with your Christmas decorations–or even with your fall decorations if that’s when Christmas starts trying to get your attention.

This year was a good Christmas for my family. It was probably the Christmas I’ve felt least stressed and pressed for time since before I was married. In evaluating the reasons for this, though, I need to be realistic about recreating this experience.

Part of the reason I felt less stressed was because I didn’t do as much. We cut back on the amount of gifts we bought (but not the amount we spent), so that meant less gifts to wrap. I had changed my diet in the months leading up to Christmas, so we baked much less. We didn’t plan any day trips in the days before Christmas like we had other years, either. These changes helped make the days leading up to Christmas calmer and less busy.

But there were other reasons why this year probably seemed so relaxed. First, the school where I teach part time decided to give an extra-long vacation this year, including 5 days off BEFORE Christmas. This is unusual and is unlikely to be repeated every year (probably depending on when Christmas falls in the week). Being finished with school so early gave me a lot of extra time to work on all those last minute details. The second reason why this year seemed so relaxed is that my husband took off the same days as I had off from school. As I have mentioned in other posts, he is extremely helpful, and he did everything from last-minute shopping to a whole day of baking cookies for the family.

I can’t count on these two reasons above to repeat themselves every year, but I certainly did enjoy it this year. When next year comes, I will reflect on the simplicity of this year and do what I can to recreate it. Other years, I have not had experiences as great as this one, and I have used this time to reflect on what I want to be different next year.

One thing that didn’t go as planned for me was the posting schedule for this blog. I had planned many more frequent posts to help navigate the season with joy and without stress, but other writing commitments and several (seasonal) family illnesses ate up a lot of my time and prevented me from keeping to my schedule.

I may post a few more times as we head into January, but I will not be keeping this blog going continuously until next year. To do so would defeat the purpose of this blog, which is to stop Christmas from taking over too much of our time and energy throughout the year. In October of next year, I will resume postings. Until then, my e-book, Taming the Christmas Monster, is available on Amazon if you would need to get a head start on the season.

Today is New Year’s Eve, and so I wish everyone a Happy New Year and every blessing for 2015!

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The Home Stretch

It’s a busy time. Just 8 days left until Christmas, and if you’re like me, you have a  long list of things to do. As much as I’ve relaxed and managed not to be stressed up until this point, it’s very difficult not to feel it now. My advice: just take it one day at a time. I have a list–several lists, actually–but if I get too caught up in looking at the whole picture of what I have left to do, I get easily overwhelmed, which doesn’t help me keep moving and get things done. If I focus primarily on today’s tasks, my productivity stays high and I’m pleased with what I can accomplish each day.

Today I am getting together my little token gifts to all my students (I teach in a small school, so there are only 17 of them), and for my daughter’s teachers. The class parties are tomorrow, and it’s a good time to hand everything out. I also ordered some Christmas cards, which will hopefully be done tomorrow so I can pick them up and give them out to my colleagues on the teaching staff. This was a last minute decision, which happens when you don’t obsessively plan. Sometimes it makes things a little busier, but I’ll take that trade-off, because obsessively planning just stresses me out. Things never work exactly according to my plan, and when they don’t, I stress. For me, it’s better to stay flexible and deal with the problems of being last minute.

I’m going to keep this post short, because I know you probably have a lot to do, as I do. Keep going, take as much time as you can to enjoy these days. and check back for a few more posts as the big day draws closer. Feel free to share your experiences of this last week before Christmas in the comments below.

Christmas Priorities

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I found this list on Facebook. I’d be happy to give credit if I could find out where it came from (but I can’t). Read this list and then ask yourself: How much of what you are doing this Christmas is really important? How much of it will last?

We spend so many hours each December, finding all the perfect gifts, then wrapping them. We bake beautiful, tasty cookies. We go to parties, we go on lights tours, we search for that perfectly symmetrical tree and decorate it with precision. Let me ask you: How much of the stuff we spend hours and hours doing every December is actually important to what Christmas really means?

Let me put it another way. On December 26th, when the presents are all unwrapped, the cookies sampled, the new dresses worn, and the tree is dying, are you going to feel like everything you are doing now was worth it? Or will you be feeling like you should have spent more time being present, giving hugs, helping others, spreading peace, and being the light?

Don’t live with regret. You can change what you are doing so that you do feel you’ve spent time on the important things when Christmas is over this year.

Some things I will not regret:

1. Cuddling on the couch watching a Christmas movie with my 8 year old.

2. Making special date time with my husband during the busiest time of the year (we saw a play and we went to the local craft fairs together).

3. Participating in Operation Christmas Child events and a Christmas party for low income kids sponsored by my church.

4. Continuing to work on my writing rather than making excuses that “it’s just too busy in December.”

How did I make these things happen?

1. I gave up one of my part time jobs for the month of December. This has helped my stress level so much! Having the luxury of time is worth a lot more than the few hundred dollars I would have earned.

2. I streamlined my Christmas routine by delegating a lot of the shopping to hubby (he likes it), buying fewer gifts on the same budget (less wrapping), and baking a few items as I have time, rather than having a huge baking list that I strive to complete.

3. I decided ahead of time to ask for help if I start to feel stressed and like I’m falling behind.

What can you do this week to ensure that your Christmas priorities are met this year?

What’s Behind the Stress?

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Photo credit: Flickr

On Mondays until Christmas, I’ve decided to write about the stress we can experience surrounding Christmas and what we can do about it. In this post, part one of the series, we will recognize what is behind the stress we are feeling.

There are 23 days until Christmas. Does that statement make your heart skip a beat or your stomach lurch? For years, my strongest feeling about Christmas was something like panic. Sure, I had some joyful moments, and I recognized the significance of the season, but the anxiety I felt overshadowed it all and crowded out far to much of my enjoyment.

Behind my near-panic were some fears I had to deal with in order to really enjoy Christmas again. Identifying these fears and changing the thoughts behind them is the key to defeating them. How many of these fears can you identify with?

1) The fear of not getting everything done. I used to think of Christmas as the mother of all deadlines, looming over my head. My huge to-do list had an end point, and it was December 25th. This led me to look at parties and Christmas-related events as obstacles to my to-do list, making them impossible to enjoy. Instead of looking toward Christmas with anticipation, I dreaded it.

What changed: A combination of prioritizing (read: shortening) my to-do list and realizing that my Christmas-loving husband was just waiting to help me get it all done led me to see that my fears were unfounded. Who in your life will help you with the necessary tasks?

2) The fear of forgetting something. Many nights in December, I would drift off to sleep only to wake up shortly after, heart racing. Something I needed to do or at least write down had stolen my rest yet again. No wonder I ended up sick or even further behind because I was too tired to keep up the pace that Christmas seemed to require.

What changed: Keeping a notepad (or in my case, my phone has a notes app) next to the bed helps immensely with remembering things, but I notice that I don’t even typically wake up needing to write things down anymore. I guess I just realized that I will remember the important things and the rest, I have just let go.

3) The fear of disappointing someone. This is a big one for a lot of people. By nature, we want to make other people happy, and the prospect of disappointing our loved ones by not doing everything we’ve done in the past or not making Christmas special enough is a scary one.

What changed: Realizing I couldn’t make people happy, they had to make themselves happy. Even if I did disappoint someone, they would most likely forgive me and love me anyway. And that I was probably disappointing people much more by being stressed and grumpy than by not getting every little thing on my list done.

Recognizing the fears that are causing us stress and anxiety at Christmas is the first step to overcoming them. What fears are causing you stress this Christmas? Post them in the comments below. Chances are, you aren’t alone. Now go enjoy Christmas!

Next post: Christmas Priorities