It’s the middle of December and most of us are in the thick of holiday preparations. It’s a lot of work, a lot of expectations, and sometimes a lot of difficult feelings. It can be overwhelming! My colleague, Sarah Leitschuh, LMFT, is an expert in helping families and mental health professionals find strategies to reduce overwhelm and enjoy their lives more fully. I’m grateful for her willingness to share these six tips to help us reduce holiday overwhelm and stress.
Although this is often described as “the happiest time of the year”, the holiday season can be stressful and overwhelming for many. Schedules get busier. Structure and routines fall by the wayside. Expectations and comparisons can creep in and make us feel a lot of pressure to keep up. Intense emotion can be triggered by time spent with family or the fact that you are away from loved ones during the holiday. Yet, if we approach the holiday season in a new way, we do not have to find ourselves as overwhelmed as we have in the past.
6 Tips to Reduce Holiday Overwhelm
1) Reflect on previous holiday experiences.
Identify what you’ve enjoyed in the past so you can focus on creating similar experiences this year. Get clear about what has overwhelmed you in the past, so you can figure out how to modify or let go of some of the most overwhelming aspects of the holiday season.
2) Be intentional.
The best way to create the type of experience you want this holiday season is to take some time for reflection and discussion with loved ones. Develop a vision of the types of emotions and memories that you’d like to experience during the holidays. Being clear on the type of holiday season you want to create will help you seek out opportunities that are in line with your vision and say no to the ones that are not. A clear vision allows you to evaluate each opportunity that presents its self against that vision. For example, if my holiday vision is a more laid back holiday experience focused on connection with my children, I probably would limit how many holiday events we attend.
3) Set realistic expectations.
Recognize that even when you are clear and intentional about the type of holiday experience you want to have it will not go exactly as planned, especially if you have unrealistic expectations. When looking at your expectations for the holiday season consider factors such as; time, energy, financial resources, relationship dynamics, weather, distance from loved ones, ages/attention span/ interests of those you are spending time with. Allow some flexibility and anticipate that things will not go exactly as planned. Setting realistic expectations for yourself helps you avoid disappointment and the overwhelm of trying to “fix” or “make up” for things that didn’t go smoothly.
4) Don’t be afraid to say no.
Trying to do it all and be it all to everyone during the holiday season is a clear path to increased stress and overwhelm. It is absolutely OK to say no. Being intentional about your approach to the holidays and setting realistic in your expectations of yourself and others as described above can help you establish parameters against which you evaluate opportunities this holiday season. For example, it is acceptable to stop or table holiday traditions that are so stressful that no one enjoys them.
5) Prioritize time to attend to basic needs and self-care.
As things get busy and we are not following our normal routines, it is easy to neglect our basic needs and simple self-care tasks that help us feel less stressed. Make sure that you are allowing yourself the opportunity for adequate nutrition, sleep, and physical movement.
6) Give yourself space to feel your emotions.
It is totally ok if you find yourself experiencing feelings of frustration, sadness or overwhelm this holiday season. Our emotions don’t disappear just because it’s the holidays and for many people, they actually intensify. Trying to deny emotions that we are experiencing does not make them go away and actually ends up causing more distress as we try to force ourselves to experience emotions that are not authentic. This year I encourage you to notice your emotions, experience them and turn to supportive loved ones for support if needed.
So, now it’s time to make your game plan for approaching the holiday season with a mindset focused on less overwhelm this year! What do you want to say “no” or “not anymore” to? What would you like to say “yes” to?
Sarah Leitschuh is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has been providing individual and family therapy for more than a decade in her Eagan, Minnesota practice. Sarah has a special passion for helping parents attend to their own well being while caring for their children and nurturing relationships with their partners. Sarah also provides supervision and coaching for other mental health professionals and enjoys helping them find ways to approach their work in a way that energizes them and doesn’t leave them depleted. Mental health providers are invited to visit Sarah’s website for a complimentary copy of The Overwhelm Assessment for Stressed Out Therapists. And you can connect with Sarah on Facebook, Twitter or her website.