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Published on December 11, 2013

Minimize Your Holiday Headaches

Dean’s Dr. Moms share their strategies for minimizing holiday stress

When it comes to the holidays there is one thing we all end up with in spades: extra stress. Trying to create happy memories while meeting the demands of work and life can make the season seem more stressful than it should be.

According to a holiday stress survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner on behalf of the American Psychological Association, the top five sources of holiday stress are:

  1. Work obligations might creep into holiday celebrations
  2. Not enough time off to enjoy the holidays
  3. Not enough money to afford the holidays
  4. Too much pressure to participate in holiday parties and celebrations
  5. Unable to meet year-end expectations at work

While some of these factors are out of our control, there are things you can do to better manage your time and energy.

Here are a few tips to keep your holiday productivity high and your stress low – including some of Dr. Mom’s favorite ways to make the season more about enjoying family time and less about stress.

Make a plan and stick to it. The time it takes to make a workable to-do list is time well spent. Think about your goals, and schedule bigger tasks during your most productive time of day. Be realistic about what you can actually get done in a day.

“I am a big believer in making a (to-do) list and checking it twice,” says Dr. Joanna Bisgrove.

Dr. Jeanine Kies takes it a step further and makes sure her to-do list is manageable.

“I try to remove anything from my list that just does not have to get done,” says Dr. Kies. “I write my list down in groups of ten and when I finish a list I have a Lindor chocolate as a little treat.”

Just say "no." Not every holiday party or decoration needs to be added to your list. When it comes to enjoying the holiday, do your best at what you know you can do and just say no to the rest.

Dr. Christine Pagel tries to use this advice – especially now that Facebook and Pinterest add a new element of pressure: public perfection.

“Do a few things but do them well.  I am not a good cook or baker or crafter. I peruse Pinterest but have yet to actually attempt a project,” says Dr. Pagel. “But the things we do at our house we do well and get the whole family involved in – cutting down and decorating our tree, listening to a variety of Christmas music, putting up fun holiday lights and decorations.  And I’m ok with letting others bake the Christmas cookies, hand-make the gifts, cook the holiday feast.  I’ll bring the wine.”

Don't hesitate to delegate. Many times, there are things on your to-do list that can be delegated.

Dr. Kies does this at her house and it’s a great way to get your family involved in holiday traditions.

“I have my teens help with my laundry list of holiday chores.  I try to remember that I love doing the things on that list and that some of those chores are my best childhood memories and I hope that my kids will say the same,” says Dr. Kies. “I am working on asking for help.  I think that it takes a community to raise kids and I am always open to help, suggestions, and support from other families in my support circle.  I try to go to bed at night thinking about the good that I did today and something wonderful about my kids rather than thinking about the list for the next day.”

Make a special tradition for your family. It can be as simple as choosing and chopping down your Christmas tree together each year.

Dr. Danielle Gindlesberger and her husband started their own special holiday several years ago and it helps them remember to take time for each other by doing less during the holiday season.

“We tend to get so entrenched in trying to make everyone happy during the holidays - our family, his family, friends - that we only make ourselves miserable,” says Dr. Gindlesberger. “My husband years ago decided that Christmas was only going to be us, just the two of us and our kids.  This was our best decision.  We simply told others that invited us that OUR tradition was to be at home on Christmas Eve and Day.  We are happy to see others during the Holiday Season, but for Christmas Eve and Day, we were not traveling and were spending time as a family.  It is such a tradition that no one thinks twice about it and many of our friends and family members have started the same tradition.  It has taken off a lot of the stress that I hear from my patients as they are trying to figure out how to make all family activities in such a short time frame.”

Try not to focus exclusively on expensive gifts. Making your dollar stretch can be a big source of stress year-round. Starting new traditions that focus more on the intent of giving to others instead of pricey items can relieve some of the pressure and be just as special.

“I really try to make each activity that takes my time and effort something that has meaning,” says Dr. Kies. “I am trying to give to others of my time and remember that the holiday is not about the stuff.”

“We try to minimize gifting.  When I was in medical school, my husband and I did not have much.  We lived pay check to pay check - his pay check - as many do.  We told our families that we would not be buying gifts for the holidays as we simply did not have the resources,” says Dr. Gindlesberger. “In that moment, we started a new tradition of giving to a charity.  My mother decided that if we could not afford gifts that our focus as a family should turn to those in more need and as adults we no longer exchange gifts.  We each donate what we can, for some that is $5, and put it in a “pot” to be donated.  We rotate yearly who gets to pick the charity and we learn about why that charity was chosen.  Now, with young children, we have added back in a small gift for the kids, but ask that it be hand-made.  We continue to donate to charity and it helps us teach our children the importance of giving to others.  The kids love telling each other how they helped make the gift.”

How  do you combat holiday-related stress? Share your tried and true methods in the comments section!

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