Aunt Edna plunges through the front door loaded down with gifts. On her heels, Uncle Henry grumbles about the cost of fuel. Popping gum with cell phone glued to her ear, niece Marcie stomps in, plops on the couch, and props her snowy feet on your antique coffee table.
Kinda reminds you of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, doesn’t it?
With all our best efforts to prepare for and enjoy the holiday season, we sometimes lament with the Griswold’s wife when she tells her daughter, “Look, it’s Christmas; we’re all miserable!”
Take heart. The holiday season doesn’t have to weigh us down with stress if we follow a few helpful guidelines.
Stop. Take a deep breath.
That’s right. In the midst of shopping, food prep, company, programs, and parties, stop and breathe deeply through your nose. Hold it to the count of eight, then let it out slowly to the count of eight. It’s almost impossible to be stressed when you breathe deeply. The exercise slows you down, forces you to regain equilibrium, and sends nourishing oxygen to all of your organs.
Adjust your expectations.
If your expectations for a happy holiday do not match reality, then your stress level will go up. You may be the type who wants it all—the china, linen, silver polished to a sheen, and the turkey roasted to golden perfection. Gifts wrapped and glittering under a fresh Frazier. Fire lit and house sparkling. Christmas caroling and hot cocoa and cookies waiting at home. You may want to host a neighborhood open house, serve at the Rescue Mission, or take charge of the office party or church drama.
Choose one or two activities that best represent your desire for the holidays. Then let the rest go. You will be doing yourself and everyone around you a big favor. And you’ll likely experience godly contentment, which no amount of gifts or glitter can replace.
Remember, relationships are more important than things.
If you are so frazzled that you can’t sit down and carry on a meaningful conversation with your spouse, family members, or friends, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate. God loves people. That’s His focus. The Babe in the manger came to restore us to the Father. He’s all about relationships. We should be, too. Take time to play games, read the Christmas story, listen to each other, pray together, and laugh around the table. These are the memories you will carry into the future, not how many activities you completed on your list.
Set aside some one-on-one time.
It’s okay to leave Uncle Fred snoozing on the sofa while you slip out with your honey for a well-deserved walk. Work off that heavy meal with a little touch football in the front yard with your teenager. These activities will not only build connection but also provide exercise during a time of year when diets typically fly out the window.
Share the load.
Consider using paper plates instead of china. Delegate various menu items to members of the family. In our household my husband’s motto is Ladies cook, men clean up! I love it!
Take a nap.
With late night parties, church drama practice, or meal and gift prep, it’s likely you’ve been staying up later than usual. Sneak in an afternoon nap to refresh yourself. Even some quiet time alone in your room can help you regroup so that you can jump back into family life and better enjoy those around you.
Count your blessings.
Remember to stop and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to the One who has richly blessed your life. An attitude of gratitude can go a long way in building strength and fortitude when busyness threatens to swoop in and rob your joy.
Eileen Rife, author of Laughing with Lily, conducts marriage seminars with her husband, Chuck. Together, they host the website, www.guardyourmarriage.com, where they discuss dealing with holiday stress via a video clip.