One thing we know is true – most people love the holidays, but also find them stressful.This is a paradox that resonates with us on a daily basis, but it is often painfully true during the Christmas season. We are wired to view paradox with discomfort because we want to resolve the seemingly opposing issues. We find ourselves paralyzed, feeling no matter what we choose to do it’s the wrong decision.
Knowing that paradox will exist during the holidays, the best way to mitigate the stressful outcomes is to plan ahead. Be aware of what is coming and make intentional choices to prioritize what’s important to you instead of trying to do everything.
Here’s some food for thought about holding space for paradox that may help reduce some of the stress and anxiety we can face at this time of year.
Paradox #1 – You can both love your family and find being with them stressful
Family relationships are complicated. If you can’t hold this paradox, you’ll likely dread the stressful dynamics that take place during family gatherings but feel guilty for not wanting to spend time with them, or spend time and be miserable and unhappy while doing it. If you can hold space for both those things being true, you can proactively prepare yourself for what’s to come and create strategies for making it easier.
THE PLAN: Set boundaries about what conversations you’re willing to participate in or decide how much time you will spend instead of being guilted into more than you’re able. Perhaps being reflective about what you love and appreciate about each member of your family before you get together will set the stage for a more compassionate experience. Planning a gracious exit strategy if things get too tense is better than storming away from the dinner table. You won’t make everyone happy, but if you can control your own experience in a positive way, you will likely enjoy family time more.
Paradox #2 – Indulgence and moderation are two sides of the same coin – you choose how they work together
It’s easy to look at things from an “either-or” perspective. Either I spend, eat, or drink too much, or I abstain from everything that’s fun about the holidays. Embracing paradox means you can indulge moderately. Planning ahead can be a lifesaver in avoiding that feeling of “too much”.
THE PLAN: If you know in advance, for example, you have three parties booked in a two-week period, plan where you’d like to indulge and where you might be willing to hold back. If you love turkey and trimmings but aren’t much of an appetizer person, you could choose to eat less at the cocktail party so you can really enjoy that turkey dinner. Or if you love cocktails, choose your alcohol indulgence at the cocktail party but pare back the wine at other occasions. Get rid of an “all or nothing” mentality and choose indulgence and moderation according to what’s most important or enjoyable for you.
Paradox #3 – You can be generous with money, but also spend less money and still be generous
Holiday stress is often self-imposed. This is especially true when it comes to gift-giving. Think about this through a different lens. If you found the perfect gift for someone on your list for $50, something you know they will love, ask yourself if they will feel less happy about your thoughtful gift than if you threw in a $50 gift card because you set yourself a budget of $100 per person.
Generosity is not linked to how much money you spend – what makes it generous is that you noticed things about that person throughout the year and that you made an effort to get something that would really matter to them. What about offering gifts of time? Invite someone over for a special meal and a movie night. Or make your gifts – who doesn’t love a hand-made or home-cooked item? Plus you get to enjoy the making of it as you think about that person. If you don’t want to end up dreading your January credit card bill, think about generosity differently this year.
THE PLAN: Look at your list through a generosity lens that is not connected to money. Think about what would be special to each person, even if the amounts you spend (or if you spend money at all) are not the same. Plan ahead and let go of your idea that high spending is the only way to show your love and appreciation.
Paradox #4 – You can enjoy seasonal activities and find them exhausting
Decorating your home, baking and cooking for friends and family, concerts and kids’ recitals, parties – both friends and work, and local Christmas events in your city or town, can fill up every crack and crevice of your December calendar. As much as you love the activities, you also long for slow winter evenings in front of the fire with carols on the turntable or holiday movies on your TV. A glass of eggnog, coffee or a Christmas brandy in your hand and people you love around you, wrapping gifts, playing games, or just hanging out.
THE PLAN: Decide on how many events you want to attend in December and be willing to opt-out of any you are attending out of guilt or people-pleasing. Schedule those into your calendar but balance them with the home-time you also want. Be ruthless about saying no to anything you haven’t prioritized. Once you have a reasonable schedule with space for both fun activities and slower chill times, stick to your decisions and don’t add more. This way, you can have both exciting activities and the downtime you need so you don’t arrive at December 25th in a stressed out frazzle.
Be aware of how often paradox arises in your life, especially around this time of year, and see whether you can reframe the two opposing ideas to co-exist in a less stressful way.