Stopping Christmas Stress in Its Tracks

Well, as promised, it has been a l-o-o-o-ng time since you have heard from me. I don’t know if you were thinking about Christmas in January as you tried to keep New Year’s Resolutions or in April as the flowers started to bloom or in September as the new school year started. I can honestly tell you that I haven’t bought any gifts yet except for a few stocking stuffers, and I’ve been ignoring my few Facebook friends who like to occasionally taunt me with memes like this:

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Wow, do we really not have anything better to do than think about Christmas almost 4 months ahead of time? Besides the fact that half of those memes are not accurate about how many more days or weeks there are. They get posted, then shared for a few weeks, and people don’t bother to check their calendars. If Facebook says it’s 15 weeks until Christmas, then it must be true, right?

To tell you the truth, a few years ago, I would have been panicking about the fact that it is now only about 9 weeks until Christmas. In previous years, I have been mostly finished shopping by Halloween. Some years I was writing out my card list and getting ready to start wrapping gifts at this point. But when I really thought about it, I realized that Christmas is one day! And no one day, no matter how special, is worth 3 or 4 months of preparation. I had to simplify.

I still think October is too early to get overly concerned about Christmas. It’s on my radar, but barely. Women’s ministry at church had to set a date for the cookie swap and luncheon. I took a peek at when the last day of school was and what Christmas vacation looked like. There are some things that it makes sense to do in October. My next post will go into some detail about what those are and why it makes sense to wait to do some other things.

I know most of the retail world is not on board with my simplified Christmas, but that is nothing new. I decided a long time ago that stores were not going to dictate my shopping habits to me. Last week, I walked into Bon Ton and saw this:

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Does the sight of Christmas decorations in October make you break out in a cold sweat? Does it make you feel behind in your planning and shopping? Take a breath. You are the one who decides when it’s time to start thinking about Christmas. It’s a process. It takes time to change habits and ingrained patterns of thinking.

If Christmas gives you joy and you enjoy decorating, shopping, planning and thinking about it for months every year, I’m not here to tell you there’s anything wrong with that. You don’t need this site, though. There are lots of sites out there for you!  If Christmas mostly stresses you out and you dread it, though, I encourage you to set firm limits on how much of your time and energy it consumes. You are the people this site aims to encourage, to support, and to help find a better way.

It’s not going to harm anyone if you send a Christmas email instead of cards this year. It may actually benefit your family if you sit them down and explain that you need to stay sane this holiday season, so you won’t be doing some of the things you’ve done in the past. More about that later. The point is, sometimes we feel trapped by the things we think are necessary to the Christmas experience of those we care about. If we don’t bake the cookies, our family will suffer. If we don’t send out fancy cards, our friends will think we won’t care.

In fact, if you courageously draw a line and refuse to do the things that stress you out, you will be pleasantly surprised at how little the people around you actually care. And if they do react initially, you will be surprised at how quickly they adjust to the new normal. In many cases, we overestimate the importance of having to do everything the same way every year. It’s okay to change things up and say no to being over-busy and stressed.

So right here, right now, banish Christmas stress this year. Just don’t allow it to come into your life. When it knocks at your door or tries to climb in the window or sneaks in through the back door and tries to sit right on your chest, you just come visit this site again, maybe take a read of my ebook “Taming the Christmas Monster,” and tell yourself that Christmas is about faith first, family second, and showing love to others third. There is simply no room for stress!

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.

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

 

 

Ebook Now Available!

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If Christmas just generally stresses you out with its busy-ness, expectations, and endless to-do lists, this blog will be a great place to get encouragement, ideas and courage to change things for the better. My new ebook. Taming the Christmas Monster, is also available for Kindle on Amazon.com. This book will take you through the process of evaluating the way you’ve been celebrating Christmas and help you discover how to have a meaningful, joyful and peaceful holiday. You can learn to enjoy and look forward to Christmas again!

Christmas Decisions

Today is October 6th. If Christmas is prominent in your thoughts today, I would urge you to put Christmas out of your thoughts for a while longer. A week is a start, and a month would be even better. Yes, I know I’m already blogging about Christmas; however, I’m doing so in an attempt to help people who are hyperfocused on this holiday to an unhealthy degree.

What is an unhealthy degree, you ask?

Well, if your thoughts about Christmas are causing you stress now, in early October, when it won’t even be Christmas for another 79 days, I think that’s an unhealthy degree of focus. If you are already making to-do lists, I think that’s an unhealthy degree of focus. I can say this because for many years I did make to-do lists in October. Because of my work schedule (and my inability to ask for help and/or sijmplify), I thought it was necessary to start Christmas preparations in October. I no longer do this, although between work, writing and my kids’ activity schedules, I am probably busier now than ever before.

If your thoughts about Christmas are dark and angry, I also think that’s an unhealthy degree of focus, even if you aren’t doing anything about Christmas yet. Let me make it clear: this blog is NOT anti-Christmas. The purpose of this blog is to get rid of the stress and negativity many people feel toward Christmas so that true joy and peace can be felt. The things causing the stress need to change, but we won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, and I like it even better now that I’ve tamed it in a way that works for me and my family.

If you just can’t put Christmas out of your mind, this would be a good time to decide what changes you want to make this year. What things have worked well for you? What did you enjoy most last year? What things do you want to try this year to simplify the holiday or make it more a more meaningful time?

Making decisions before you start your Christmas preparations (which I still think should be in about a month or even a little more) will help you celebrate purposefully and not miss any important aspects of the season, while giving you the best chance of being objective about what you spend, what events you attend, and other aspects of the holiday that may be causing you stress.

Before jumping headfirst into what I used to call “Christmas craziness,” take some time, be honest with yourself, and try to figure out where Christmas has gone wrong in the past. I guarantee you that making decisions about Christmas before beginning preparations for it will give you more peace and joy than almost anything else you could do this year.

Feel free to post in the comments section any questions or comments you may have about the blog or about taming Christmas. I am working hard to finish up the editing and formatting of the e-book this week, so check back for updates!

 

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Photo credit: Copyright 2007 by thornypup

 

Don’t Panic!

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If this graphic makes you tense up, take a deep breath and stay tuned! Over the next few weeks, I will offer lots of good ideas and suggestions on how to have a peaceful feeling about Christmas.

For today, I want you to focus on the fact that Christmas is one day out of the year. The Bible says that each day has enough trouble of its own, so for today, just think about today. It’s Friday–do something enjoyable, spend time with loved ones. Check back Monday for some more ideas.

No More Dreading Christmas

It’s a horrible feeling, dreading Christmas. For years I felt it when October rolled around. I had a physical reaction to the beginning of Christmas preparations. My chest tightened; my stomach clenched. Instead of thinking about beautiful decorations or the look of surprise on my kids’ faces as they opened gifts, I was thinking about the loss of all my free time until January and the expenses for which we weren’t prepared. Instead of meditating on Advent-themed scriptures and the miracle of Christ’s birth, I was making long to-do lists and wondering how I was going to get everything done on top of work and all the kids’ normal activities.

A few years ago I decided it wasn’t worth it. I had to change the way I was doing things so I could find true joy in Christmas again. The end result–this blog and an e-book called Taming the Christmas Monster, which will release to Kindle next week–is intended to help those who feel frazzled by Christmas back to a place of peace and sanity again.  This year, I don’t yet have a to-do list. My stockpile of gifts is smaller than ever. I don’t have much of anything planned for December yet, but when I think of Christmas, my thoughts are good. Whatever happens, I know I will sense the joy and wonder of this time of Christ’s birth, and that is all I need to know right now.

If you have dark thoughts about this special time of year, this blog and my e-book are for you. If you just want to crawl under the covers and wake up on December 26th, subscribe below. If the thought of buying gifts, sending cards, decorating, baking and attending parties, performances and other events overwhelms you to the point where you feel like a failure before you’ve even begun, stay tuned. I will be posting frequently as the time draws nearer, and the book WILL be on Amazon next week to guide you through action steps that will make Christmas manageable again.

It is possible to love Christmas again, to find its joy and peace. If you don’t celebrate Christmas from a place of faith, this blog and the e-book are still for you.  The stress of Christmas never had anything to do with my faith–it was everything else that seemed to get in the way of what Christmas was supposed to be about. My faith is an integral part of who I am and my experience, so I need to talk about it when I share those experiences. The same principles apply, however, whether one celebrates the coming of baby Jesus or just sees Christmas as a special time for family and togetherness.

If you like this blog and what it has to offer, please subscribe below. There are many harried people out there, overwhelmed by Christmas and all it signifies. If you can relate, tell your friends. Chances are, they can relate too.