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Entries in stress (1)


Holiday stress: Practical tips for worrying less and enjoying more

  Describe your holidays.

  Are your holiday memories scenes right out of a Norman Rockwell portrait? Strolls down the walk singing Christmas carols, sights of happy people bustling about in merriment, and the slightest hint of cold nipping at your nose as you enjoy the unique and welcoming tastes of the season.

  Or are your memories more of logistical nightmares? Driving between family homes in blizzard-like conditions, gulping down quick meals as you get to the next event with concern over:

• Everyone getting along.

• Food preparation of entrees/sides/desserts cooked only once a year.

• Gifts….and their size, color, features and cost.

  The holidays can be stressful; no one knows this better than parents. Dr. Charles Wolfson, a psychologist at Active Counseling Associates in Westborough, had one overarching message when it comes to avoiding holiday pressure: “Preserving the most important relationships around you is far more important than any holiday ‘fun’ you’re trying to have.”

  Spending quality time with people, whether folks you see daily or only once a year at the holiday, is the key to relationships. When completely focused on a task, and the task doesn’t go perfectly, tempers can surface, he notes. And when this happens, people need to remember why they are getting together. 

  The objective is spending time with the special people in our lives. People should not fray relationships over a contrived event or task intended to bring friends and family together,  “whether it’s putting up decorations, attending gatherings or baking a particular goodie.” 

  April Hatfield of Florence shared techniques for helping her family look forward to holidays with her young daughter. First, she tries to stay out of the stores by shopping extensively online.

  “Mall shopping is too crazy for me,” she says. “This year I am putting together an Amazon Wish List and an overall shopping list for my daughter.”

  She’s also very aware of how the holidays can drain family funds, creating an unpleasant lingering holiday memory: “I’m going to try to stick to a budget this year, as well.”

One concern Hatfield still has is working the logistics of getting everyone together at the holidays.  “I’m hoping not to spend all the holidays on the road driving my daughter around, and it might be tough to get everyone together. I haven’t thought that through yet.”

  Westborough mom Michelle Travis has a suggestion passed down from her family: “We really want to get together with people, and doing so on the exact holiday is just too much, especially when juggling multiple families. We plan a big family dinner and hold it on a non-holiday day.”

  Knowing that getting people together is the goal, Travis’ family uses planning to help spread the responsibilities and not create a burden for any one family.

  “Rather than hold a random pot luck, we make it a planned pot luck,” she says. “Everyone with ‘specialties’ gets selected to bring them, and it becomes a ‘best-of’ holiday meal!”

  Another suggestion Travis offers centers around gifts and budget: “People just go overboard with gifts.  It’s almost becomes a contest on who can give the most, and it takes away from the real holiday spirt.”

  With that in mind, she established a rule to deal with that reality.

  “We limit gifts to a single gift for every year of life,” she says. “So if the child is two, holiday gifts are two.”

  She laughs when challenged about how this strategy will hold up in later years: “I suspect by the time the child is nearing 10 we’ll have modified the rule, and for now the simplicity works.”

  Like many moms with young children, Travis lives in a ‘tight space’ and has developed strategies for holiday entertaining.

  “Using Space Bags or plastic containers, I make a point of putting off-season clothes and toys away,” she notes. “For example, all summer clothes and toys are put away for the winter holidays. When the seasons change again, I rotate the summer clothing and toys out, and put winter things away. This makes our home feel less cluttered and makes it more inviting for guests.” An added bonus: “It also helps with determining toys and clothes for passing along.”

Remembering Wolfson’s prime goal of preserving relationships is key as families strive to enjoy the holiday season thanks to a little upfront planning.

  “Even with all our planning, we still have things come up we didn’t anticipate,” Travis says with a smile.  “We can’t let those ‘opportunities’ become disabling.  We try our best to roll with changes, and make the best of them.  I always remember in those stressful times, when things are at their worse, we can always smile and have some egg nog. In the end, it’s all about the egg nog.”


Tips for enjoying more, stressing less

• Avoid stores, shop online when you can.

• Use an online wish list to streamline gift-buying.

• Limit gifts to one for each year of a child’s life.

• Make a gift budget and stick to it.

• Move your celebration with extended family or friends to a day other than the actual holiday.

• Make your holiday celebration a planned pot luck.

• Rotate your summer clothes, toys and gear out to make room for fall/winter.

• Expect and roll with the hiccups.


Article originally published in baystateparent magazine - November 2015