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!

Don’t Plan Ahead (too much)

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This is a photo of the plaza outside my town’s city hall and library. Yes, those are Advent candles. They were mounted a few days ago.

I attended 2 meetings last week–a staff meeting at the school where I teach, and a planning meeting for women’s ministry at my church. Christmas was heavily featured at both of them. A friend posted on Facebook that the first Black Friday information has already been posted online. Walmart and other stores already have their Christmas decorations, cards, and other items out on the floor for sale.

On some level, Christmas is beginning to break into the awareness of many people. In the past, hearing about Christmas in October would start to get me angry. I would exclaim that “I’m not ready to think about Christmas yet!” Shortly thereafter, I would give in and start making my to-do lists.

So many of the books and articles I have read on how to get Christmas under control focus on planning ahead. Just plan ahead, they seem to promise, and you won’t be stressed at Christmas. Planning ahead will make you more organized and you will feel happier about Christmas.

I’m not going to tell you not to plan ahead for Christmas at all. I think a certain amount of planning ahead is necessary. However, planning ahead is not the whole answer to taming Christmas. No matter how much you plan ahead, it fails to do one thing that is a very big part of my purpose for this blog and my e-book (available here). Planning ahead doesn’t keep Christmas in its proper place–as one day of the year, or maybe a week or two if you look at Christmas as a season. Planning ahead may make you more prepared for Christmas and reduce your stress level around the holiday, but planning too far ahead will still give Christmas a larger presence in the year than is necessary or beneficial. Do you really want to be actively engaged in  planning Christmas for 3 months, or 25% of the year? I don’t.

You may not be able to get away with refusing to plan for Christmas in October. Certain things need to be planned well in advance for them to go smoothly when the time comes. Our school had to plan field trips and Christmas program practices. The ladies at church needed to settle on some details about the Christmas luncheon and cookie swap (which is held early in December). And those poor maintenance guys need to put up trees and lights all over the city in preparation for the tourist season, so they need to start early. However, you can contain the planning and refuse to get too deeply into your own planning until Christmas is closer.

As Christmas comes into your awareness in little bits and pieces, try to evaluate whether it is something you really need to deal with yet. For instance, I did discuss the cookie swap with the church ladies, but I stopped short of planning what kind of cookies I will be making when I attend. That’s something I really don’t need to plan for quite yet. Our school may have it’s field trip and party schedule in full swing, but I don’t need to plan any details of my class’s party yet.

As you decide what things you really need to plan at this time, I hope it will give you peace to let go of the rest until Christmas is closer. One thing I do start to plan in October is gifts. Since I crochet and sometimes sew some of the gifts we give and some of our holiday clothes, planning in October will allow me the time I need to finish these projects early. Completing these projects at a more leisurely pace in October and November allows me not to hurry with them in December and gives me a greater sense of relaxation as Christmas draws near.

Did you like this article? My ebook, Taming the Christmas Monster, is full of ways to take the stress out of Christmas, leaving only the joy and peace of this special time of year. Available on Amazon for Kindle.

 

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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