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A Simple Way to Avoid Overwhelm and Keep Your Holidays Calm and Joyful

Updated: Dec 12, 2022


I pulled my car into the post office’s crowded parking lot and slowly circled, waiting for another vehicle to vacate so I could pull into their space. Victory was short lived, however, when I saw the long line of grumpy-looking people in front of me, arms laden with wrapped and bow-bedecked holiday gifts and packages to be sent to loved ones around the country.


Andy Williams crooned “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” over the speaker. As the weary and impatient line trudged forward one, slow step at a time, it struck me that, in this moment any way, many of these folks might not agree.

The holidays are one of the most anticipated, exciting, heart-felt times of the year. They are also one of the most stressful. According to Forbes, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) showed 63% percent of people report feeling too much pressure during the holiday season. Traditions are powerful stuff, and I am 100% guilty of doing cartwheels and backbends to keep traditions going, despite the stress the effort can cause. Once again, it all boils down to the decisions we make, doesn’t it?


Which holiday traditions are most important to you?

I love spending Christmas with my family up north. And, while I don’t relish packing up all the gifts for two families, the dogs, the dog beds, the dog food, the people food, the wine, the overnight bags, and navigating through hours of holiday traffic - I’m not giving this tradition up. The conversations that go long into the night by the fireplace, the delicious holiday food, the twinkling lights of the trees, and waking up slowly to coffee and comfortable conversation with my loved ones - all of this makes the logistical effort more than worthwhile.


My cousin Sandy loves to cook. And, lucky for us, holiday cookies are her thing. This year she made 17 varieties (and used 20+ pounds of butter!) for all of Her People. She boxes them up and ships them or drops them off to family and friends.


It’s a ton of work.

Is it stressful? No doubt.

But Sandy loves to love Her People and this is one of her special ways of showing us how much she cares. “I enjoy it. It’s tiring, but when I see the faces of everyone enjoying a really good cookie, especially their favorite, it brings me a lot of pleasure.”


So, despite all of the work, this holiday tradition is a keeper for her. If, at some point, it becomes too stressful, she may decide to cut back. As long as she keeps making those raspberry crumb butter bars. Just sayin’.


Either way, we will love her just as much.


BUT - if one of your traditions is landing you solidly into stress territory, is it time to ditch it? Is there something that is causing more stress and bringing less joy?

HINT: If one comes to mind pretty quickly, the answer is “YES.” And, if it’s causing you stress, you can be sure the people around you are feeling it too.


Here’s a tool I learned several years ago that has helped me to keep the holiday frenzy from quickly morphing into freak-out territory. There are two steps to this Holiday Less Stress, More Joy Program. Ready?


Step 1: “No, Thank you.”


Is there something you can say, "No Thank You” to - to free up a little time and maintain a sense of calm and peace during the holidays?


Several years ago, I stopped writing holiday cards. Many people look forward to this tradition every year. I am not one of those people. For me, the thought of writing SO MANY personal notes at once, and then addressing, sealing and stamping and mailing them brought me more angst than joy. It’s just not my thing.


Is there something you'd like to say, “No Thank You” to?

  • Can you say, “No Thank You,” to the hand-made pies or babka, and “Yes, Please” to the holiday delicacies bought from your favorite bakery?

  • Can you say, “No Thank You” to buying, wrapping, and shipping or giving a plethora of gifts and “Yes Please” to sending the beautiful holiday bouquet, or making a contribution to your loved one’s favorite cause?

  • Can you say, “No Thank You” to an overabundance of food and decorating and say, “Yes Please” to a simple, quiet, candle-lit evening with your closest loved ones?

The key here is to say, “No Thank You” to the thing that is causing you stress.

One person’s stress is another’s joy. And vice-versa. It’s different for everyone.

Step 2. Once you’ve said “No Thank you,” let go of the guilt!


The first year or two after I decided to let go of the card-writing ritual, I felt an emotional yin-yang with every card I received. There was the delight of feeling a friend’s love and care from across the miles, quickly followed by a pang of guilt, because I hadn’t reciprocated and sent a card to them.

Guilt = Stress.


“No Thank You” only works if you let the guilt GO. So, I found another way to show I care. Now, I voice-text little holiday jingles. I call. I make plans to get together after the holidays. It’s another way to connect without adding stress.


And guess what? My friends and family still love me anyway!


Jettisoning the traditions or expectations that make you crazy will free up more of the best in you to focus on the traditions and people you truly love. And both you and your loved ones will surely benefit from that.


I wish you a joyous, heart-warming holiday with those you hold most dear- whatever holiday and traditions you celebrate.


And remember, Happiness is a constant decision.

On any day, at any moment, you can Decide.


- Susan


Know someone who could use a lift? Feel free to share.

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