Wednesday, November 29, 2006

All I Want for Christmas: Less Stress, More Joy

By Marlene Depler

My "want list" has always been quite simple. For just one day, all I want is no financial stress, no time pressure, no physical exhaustion or illness, no
loneliness, and no sadness.

For just one day, all I want is to give the perfect gift to each of my family and friends—beautifully wrapped, of course.

For just one day, all I want is for my house to be decorated like the photographs in House Beautiful and a fabulous dinner straight off the pages of Bon Appetit.

For just one day, all I want is for everyone to just get along—no tempers, no pouting, no whining, no controlling, no insensitivity, and no arguing.

For just this one day, all I want is smiling faces near a glowing fire
with snow falling gently outside the window—my own Hallmark moment.

I guess you could say that all I want for Christmas is
perfection. Is that too much to expect? After all, it's Christmas!

For years I was caught up in what a friend calls "irrational holiday hype." I believed that if I worked hard enough and fast enough, I could capture the perfect holiday. My fictitious presumptions and absurd expectations always left me frustrated, disappointed, and exhausted. By December 26, my spirit was worn and threadbare. I felt guilty because I hadn't enjoyed the holidays more. I expected far too much from one day out of the year. Little by little, I am discarding my unreasonable pursuit of Christmas perfection.

Why is it that we outgrow our belief in Santa Claus, yet often cling to the myth of a magical, perfect Christmas? Christmas perfection exists only in our imaginations, in movies, or on the pages of glossy magazines with their skilled marketing departments. Nevertheless, many of us have adopted the faulty perception of this romanticized, glamorized, commercialized Christmas. Here are seven ways to reduce holiday stress and increase our Christmas joy:

RELEASE unrealistic expectations and rediscover what you really love about Christmas.
How many different kinds of cookies and candies must we make? Does every room have to be decorated? Must we attend every holiday function? Is it really necessary to send out Christmas cards or write holiday letters every year? Is there a better way to stay in touch? If we choose to cling to our unrealistic expectations we can expect to feel frustrated and disappointed over and over again. Wouldn’t it be better to do less and enjoy what we choose to do more? Let’s rediscover what we love about Christmas and release the rest.

EVALUATE current resources (time, money, and energy) and establish your limits.
Everyone has a limited supply of time, money, and energy, which often varies from year to year, based on current circumstances. Honoring our limits isn't about deprivation. It's about liberation! Our schedules must be realistic and sane. Is it wise to go in debt for Christmas? What do we want to model for our children? Often we persist in attempting to buy happiness and relationships with gifts we shouldn't buy or can't afford. Crazed spending and an irrational flurry of unending activities only leave us empty, exhausted, disappointed, and perhaps even depressed.

ENJOY the simple things—the small, often overlooked ordinary moments.
Some of the most wonderful holiday blessings aren’t written on our calendars or wrapped under the tree. Many joys are found in the unexpected, unplanned moments that happen along the way—that is if we aren't too stressed to notice. A phone call to a family member that we haven't seen in a long time. Popping corn and playing games on the floor with the kids. A cup of coffee with a friend. Watching birds feast at the feeder. Taking a walk in the crunching snow. If we are alert, many ordinary moments and small blessings can fill our hearts with joy.

OBSERVE and honor your own personal need for rest and renewal.
In the midst of an impossible to-do list, we often ignore our own need for rest and renewal. Frayed nerves and short fuses are sure signs that we aren't honoring our own needs. When holidays leave us exhausted, something is wrong. It's important to replenish ourselves along the way. Seek out small doses of healthy self-care to renew your body and soul..

INITIATE change with care.
Change can be positive when we carefully consider our options in advance. It’s important to include other immediate family members as we sift and sort family traditions and expectations. A little wisdom will help us to avoid knee-jerk reactions.

CONSIDER options for handling difficult people and situations.
We long for relationships that are loving and peaceful. Yet Christmas has a way of bringing up any unresolved issues with family members. What we have ignored all year long suddenly resurfaces. Whatever our relationship problems, they won't magically disappear just because the calendar says December 25. It is important to take a long-term view of our relationships rather than hoping for a quick fix for the holidays. Past behaviors are a good indicator of future behaviors. With that in mind, we can prepare ahead of time our response toward hurtful, immature, or difficult people in our families. We may need to address an issue with someone BEFORE holidays. We may need to set a boundary around a particular situation. Remember we cannot change others, but we can change ourselves and the way in which we handle situations. Act instead of reacting.

EMBRACE meaningful traditions; eliminate burdensome or meaningless traditions.
Family traditions have the potential to give rhythm, continuity, and stability to our lives if they are indeed meaningful. However, traditions that are no longer important to us need to be eliminated. For many, changing holiday traditions can be painful and guilt inducing. Yet if we persist in making wise choices for our families and ourselves, our choices have the potential to bring healing and freedom. It's OK to allow traditions to evolve over time.

Christmas won’t be perfect at my house this year. And I’m guessing it won't be perfect at your house either. Nevertheless, Christmas remains a wonderful season to spend time with those we cherish and to reflect on God's gift of his Son. Let's exchange our crazy-making, mindless madness for something less stressful this year. As we release our misconception of a perfect holiday, we just might experience more joy.

Do less, expect less, and enjoy it more.

Copyright Marlene Depler (reprint in any form only with permission)

1 comment:

smilnsigh said...

Wonderful thoughts! I too am trying to [at long last] make a stress free Christmas Season. Not that I ever tried for total perfection. Oh no! But certain Holiday things, always have stressed me.

Some, I've fully eliminated, over time. Some, I'm still working on. But if we don't dream and plan - we'll never do.

I'm so happy to find that you are on the same wave length, so to speak. Best of luck with bringing much of your stress-free-ness to fruition.