No ex-boyfriend of mine was ever this persistent. Which is another story altogether, but let’s stay focused.
Holiday stress and I have a terrible, yet consistent relationship: like two people who are clearly the wrong match but just can’t seem to quit each other, annoying everyone with their bickering and co-dependency.
Every freakin’ December, I swear I will be calm and collected and do only the things I want to do. I promise to say no to the pressure of the season and yes to feeling merry, bright, and peaceful.
And each year, this lasts about 1.5 days until I find myself on the couch, immobilized and feeling as though a Mack truck carrying the entire holiday section at Target has run over me. (Regular readers may be concerned about the other dysfunctional relationship I have in my life, which is my ongoing dependency on Target, but that is for another blog. I can only address so much on any given day.)
This year, my holiday overwhelm arrived on Tuesday. I began spinning like a top, unsure how to do everything that needs to be done. How to get through another season that boasts the tagline “Hap-Happiest Time of the Year” while feeling like there is not enough of anything – money, time, sleep, etc. – to sustain me.
There has to be a different way.
Which is what I want to share with you today.
Listen, I can’t promise that reading this will make you feel less stressed and stop you from sticking your face in a box of Christmas fudge every night. So, instead, let’s consider this the beginning of a conversation that we have with ourselves and each other. In other words, let’s set the bar low, which is something we can all get behind.
I’m working this out as I go, as I’m sure you are. But here are the steps that came to me when I sat and asked my soul for the way out of this madness.
- Sit and breathe for a second. If this makes you roll your eyes, then sit there and roll your eyes. That’s cool too. I love a good side eye.
- Realize that this time of year, your to-do list becomes a magnet for strays. If you’re like me, all of sudden, every task you’ve ever needed to do will find its way onto your list and ALL of it will feel really urgent.
Step one is sitting down with your list and dividing it into two sections:
- Stuff that actually does need to happen before the end of the year.
- Everything else.
Voila! You’ve likely just magically cut your list by about 70%!
With new list in hand, you’ll be able to focus on tasks like buying gift cards for teachers, making cookies for friends, stopping by the Dollar Store to purchase a bobble-head for the White Elephant gift exchange at work, and causing semi-permanent damage to the nerves in your hand by addressing 150 holiday cards.
You’ll be able to tackle these tasks because you will no longer also be focused on organizing every digital photo you’ve ever taken, duplicating house keys for a reason that is not well-defined, and buying an iPass for your second car, which you have no plans to take on a toll road until at least March 2018.
- Examine the list of things that need to get done before the end of the year, and ask yourself which you are doing from of a sense of obligation and/or “I’d like to be that type of person” reasoning. Get rid of these tasks immediately.
If you’re able to do this, stop reading this blog. You need to be teaching ME.
On the other hand, if you’re like the rest of us, being asked to “simply” get rid of such tasks may feel like I’m asking you to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
In this case, the task becomes simply noting which items you are doing from a sense of “should.” You have my full permission to still do those things, but beginning to note the difference between things that give you real joy and those you do because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t is real progress. It’s the start of honesty with yourself, which changes absolutely everything over time.
- For the tasks that remain on your list, ask for help in getting them done: from your partner, your kids, your friends, your mom. If you’ve got an iron grip on your list (cough) and don’t like to share, that’s cool. Again, just note your reaction and if you’re able, get curious about why that is. Let it all be okay.
- The last – and most important step: ask yourself what it is that would truly make you happy this time of year. What would give you a sense of meaning?
When I did this, I realized that what I really want is to do nothing. No part of me wants to run around seeing zoo lights, take the kids to see Santa, or even hang the stockings. Which I haven’t done yet. (Progress!)
What I DO want to do is be more present with my family, sitting with them at the end of the day and tapping into the calm and joy that the season really can bring. It feels like the sweetest relief to realize that, for me at this moment, enjoying peaceful holiday energy has absolutely nothing to do with outside activities. I can just allow it to be.
For you, it may be different. Your heart may actually be screaming with joy for zoo lights, ice skating, decorating your house until no surface is left untouched. Or you may wish to tune it all out and acknowledge the pain you feel at this time of year. I don’t know what it is for you, but you do.
The trick, as always, is to be honest with ourselves about where we are. And then see whether we’re able to use this wisdom to make even the smallest change that will allow us to grow closer to peace. Which for me, is the whole point of the holidays after all.
So that’s it.
I’d love to hear what works for you and doesn’t.
Wishing you a holiday that brings greater self-knowledge and peace, with permission to be human. We’ve got this.
To sign up for a free phone consultation and receive personal advice on how to survive the holiday season, visit www.gailcowan.com/schedule.