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Ah, the holidays. They’re supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”, but they often fall short of our lofty expectations. The effort to make things magical (especially for our kids) saps our energy and stresses us out. What if it were possible, though, to enjoy your holidays again? To sail into January with your sanity intact? I’ve got good news for you: it’s totally possible, but it’s going to involve re-examining what you’ve done previously and making some changes. If you’re wondering how to stay sane during the holidays, keep reading for some ideas.
When it comes to invitations (or anything else), If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no
There are lots of events begging for space on our calendars during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Family parties, get-togethers with the neighbors, pageants, visits with Santa—the list goes on and on. If you get invited to one of these events, and it isn’t something that gets you (or another member of your family) super excited, just say no.
This really should be your policy all the time, but it is especially vital during the holidays when more things are competing for our time and attention. Practice letting go of the idea that you “need to make an appearance”. Know that a few special holiday activities will be more special and memorable for your kids than dozens of them.
Simplify your gift giving
You don’t have to give presents for any holiday–even Christmas. I know, this is crazy talk, but you could skip the gift-giving part altogether. You could say you’ll only give gifts to people in your family under 18. You might only give gifts to everyone in your immediate family. You can adopt the Want-Need-Wear-Read theme for your kiddos, whereby you buy them only one of each of those things. You can give everybody you love a coupon for a special date with you in February when nothing’s happening.
Despite what the marketers want you to believe, people will know that you love them even if there isn’t a box for them under the tree. Talk to your family and friends to see where you can all simplify. Chances are, many of them would love to stop buying so many gifts, too.
The Holidays often end up being stressful simply because we fail to plan ahead. Whether it’s pre-baking and freezing some cookies for your party, or chatting with family members about giving fewer gifts, you need to start early.
You’ll want to start giving thought to your celebration at least six weeks in advance. This gives you an opportunity to plan your meals, clean your house, and buy and wrap any gifts without running around like a crazy person.
Use pre-made food
One of the special parts of many holidays are the recipes we make every year. Making these special foods is often a treasured family ritual, and it’s often a pain in the ass.
In recent years, I’ve begun to cheat on our holiday meals a bit and supplement with store-bought, non-homemade food when appropriate. Mrs. T’s pierogies taste almost as good as our homemade ones did on Christmas Eve, pecan tarts made using Grandma’s recipe sit next to Pepperidge Farm cookies on the cookie tray, and our New Year’s Eve spinach dip uses a packet of dried soup mix and sits in a store-bought bread bowl.
Can you make your celebration any easier by supplementing your special goodies with pre-made ones? Would you enjoy your meal just as much if the entire thing came pre-cooked from the grocery store or was eaten out at a restaurant? Make the effort where it serves you and feels like it’s worth it. Save the energy where it’s not.
Let go of perfection
I know, you want the holidays to be amazing for your kids. You want your friends and family to feel loved this season. You want your house to look amazing and your food to be delicious and your gifts to be the most treasured ones ever.
Putting all this pressure on yourself makes the holidays stressful, though. Allow yourself to fall short of your idea of the ‘perfect’ holiday. What you are doing is enough.
Don’t compare on social media
The Holidays are a dangerous time on social media. Everyone is posting that sweet picture of their little darling staring up at the Christmas tree while neglecting to share the screaming, snot-nosed tantrum that happened five minutes later when bedtime was announced.
Limit your time on social media, and don’t make yourself feel bad about your own celebration by comparing your full experience to someone else’s cherrypicked best moments. (And if you want to help us all out, share a picture of the snot-nosed tantrum.)
Set a budget and stick to it
A lot of the stress of the holiday season comes as the bills start appearing in January. Plane tickets to visit family, expensive food and alcohol items, and, of course, all those gifts, can really bust the budget. Sit down in the fall to get an idea of how much you have to spend, and do your best to stick to it. Dave Ramsey has some wonderful suggestions regarding creating a Christmas Budget here. Replace the word Christmas with any other holiday or special event you’re saving for, and the advice still stands.
Watch out for Pinterest
I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but it is easy to go down the rabbit hole on Pinterest. All of a sudden, you feel the need to make reindeer tracks to your door on Christmas Eve, set aside a corner of your dining room for a hot chocolate bar and make elaborate scenes each day for your Elf on the Shelf. None of this is something that you have to do. It’s not something that most of us are doing (despite the cherrypicked moments you see on social media). Unless doing these things brings you great joy, just say no. (And if you need a really good laugh, check out these Christmas Pinterest fails.
Make time to be mindful
Amidst all the noise—the carols, the ads, the bell-ringers—the holiday season has some beautiful feasts for the senses. Stop, whenever possible, to feel the warmth of a cup of cocoa in your hand, to really listen to the message of a favorite carol, or to breathe in the scent of cookies baking. It only takes a moment.
Focusing on these little bits of sensation and really experiencing them individually (rather than letting them all assault us at once) can have a grounding and calming effect in the midst of the chaos. (Add in some thoughts of gratitude, and you’ll feel even better!)
Don’t neglect your daily habits and self-care
It’s easy in the midst of all the hustle and bustle to forget to drink enough water, take our vitamins, or do the yoga video. We stop writing in the gratitude journal every night and skip our meditation practice and then wonder why we are sick and frazzled when the season’s over.
Try to keep your daily routine as consistent as possible in the midst of all the holiday craziness. Caring for yourself should be your first priority even when countless other things are competing for your attention. Remember, you can’t make this season magical for your family if you are completely depleted.
This is a tough one. We shop for gifts imagining the delight on the recipient’s face when the package is opened. We pile the kids in the car to visit Santa imagining that perfect photo we’ll get to post on Instagram. We prep for the holiday meal picturing a Norman-Rockwell-Style gathering around the table.
When these magical visions in our minds fail to meet the reality of actual life, we’re disappointed. We’ve missed out on the chance to experience and enjoy what is because we were so preoccupied with what could have been. Try, as hard as it is, to let this season surprise and delight you rather than picturing it all in advance.
Eliminate the ‘Shoulds’
I’ve danced around this idea already, but as much as possible, if you’re doing something over the holiday season, it should be because it’s really important to you–full stop. If a particular tradition is not serving you, consider cutting it out. If travel to visit far-flung family is too expensive or stressful, make plans to visit another time instead. If buying gifts for everyone you know will put you in an uncomfortable financial state, don’t do it.
Although it might feel that way in your head, there is no road map for the way the holiday season ‘should’ go. It doesn’t matter if you’ve always done it this way and your mother and grandmother did it this way, too. You can always rewrite the script. You don’t ‘have to’ do anything.
Ask for help
You don’t need to be the Holiday Fairy, magically making things happen all on your own. You can ask for help—from family, friends, and even professionals, if need be.
Hosting a holiday dinner for your clan? Make it a potluck. Ask certain guests to handle different aspects of the celebration, such as coordinating games, bringing decorations, greeting guests at the door, or wrangling little ones.
Remember that there are people who are paid to do those tasks that are overwhelming you this season. Let them bake a pie, wrap a gift, or clean your house. Oh, and it goes without saying that any family members above toddler age should be helping where they can with the holiday magic. Make sure the other members of your family are pulling their weight.
It sounds a little cheesy, but it’s helped me to make a concrete list of priorities to focus on during the season. Mine typically include things like “making things fun for the kids” and “spending time with family”.
When a task or commitment is really stressing me out, I can refer back to my priorities. Is standing in the kitchen alone baking my twelfth dozen batch of cookies making things any more fun for the kids? Is it providing me time with my family or taking me away from them? Putting tasks up against my “why” makes it easy to decide whether or not to do them. In the midst of all the crazy, remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. If what you’re doing doesn’t reflect your priorities this season, opt out.
I hope that if you’ve been wondering how to stay sane during the holidays, these tactics will help you. Remember that big changes don’t happen all at once. If you can eliminate just one thing this year that makes the holidays less than wonderful, or you put one time-saving technique into effect, you’ll be making a step in the right direction. Happy Holidays to you!
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