a woman holding a baby raises her glass with the man next to her in front of a Christmas tree stress-free Christmas

With the proper tools, you can have a stress-free Christmas this year and instead celebrate the birth of our Savior.

The reality of the holidays

Ah the Christmas season! Ideally, it’s a time of year for enjoying holiday parties, delicious food, the exchanging of gifts, holiday movies, and family togetherness.

But in reality?

The holidays can bring some less-than-magical feelings. A time of the year reserved for celebrating the birth of our Savior is oftentimes ravaged with stress instead. This scenario has been depicted in many a Christmas movie: crowded stores, long lines, overcooked turkeys, family chaos.

It can be hard to keep it all together under the mounting pressure of decorating, cooking, entertaining, and endless shopping lists! However, with the proper tools, you too can make it through the holiday season with your sanity intact.

Read on for a few tips on how to survive this year’s holidays!

1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure 

I have always been a planner. Making lists and prioritizing tasks keeps me on track and working towards my goals, while allowing me to avoid distractions along the way. Having an idea of what we are up against helps us to avoid undesired situations, and prepares us to face the inevitable.

This year, try to take some time to write out a game plan for yourself. Think meal preparation, a chore list with tasks delegated for family members, an ideal daily schedule to follow, etc.

If you have a plan to deal with the inevitable stressors, you stand a fighting chance of making it to the New Year without throwing any turkeys out the window.

2. Know your stressors

branches on a holly tree

We all have things that set us off or trigger our stress response. Identifying and anticipating those particular things that accelerate your stress can help you make the most of your holiday celebrations. 

Consider how some of those holiday stressors might be avoided. For instance, I find that when I communicate my pet peeves to my family, they make an effort to respect my boundaries – which comes in handy at major family gatherings. Maybe there are certain circumstances that tend to trigger your anxiety. Being aware of what those are, and then making a plan outlining specific actions you can take to help decrease your anxiety will be beneficial. 

Know that other stressors are unavoidable. Magically changing situations outside of our control or controling the obnoxious things a well-intentioned relative says to us (as much as we may like to!) is impossible. However, anticipating those potential triggers and having a plan for how to handle them can make them much easier to deal with. 

3. Exercise

This is not about working off that extra serving of pumpkin pie but rather about giving your body more of what helps it feel good.

I may be dating myself here, but if you’ve ever seen the movie Legally Blonde, there’s a scene in which the main character, Elle Woods, is defending her client (a fitness instructor) on trial for murder.

During this scene she quips “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t!”

Turns out, Elle was right. Exercise boosts the level of feel-good chemicals in your brain (endorphins). Plus, concentrating on your body’s movement is also a great way to free your mind from the shackles of your holiday check list. Getting your body in motion is also an excellent way to relieve it of some of the tension racked up over the course of the holidays.

4. Take some space (and some grace!)

In a busy house it can be hard to find a prayerful place, but it’s incredibly important to be able to step away from the football games, activity planning, shopping, and clearing of dishes in order to take care of yourself and your prayer life. 

In a culture that forgets the “Reason for the Christmas Season,” make your relationship with Jesus a priority.

Carve out time to be still with God, to pray with the psalms, say a rosary or engage in some other form of prayer. Pray for your family and the grace to be present with them.

A final thought

tall candles burning in a church

Many years ago, when I was still single, my parents and I decided to attend a 6:00AM morning Mass. We figured it would be worth it to trade sleeping in for avoiding the stress of the church parking lot any later on Christmas morning.

The sun was barely rising as we walked into a nearly empty church, and Mass proceeded almost like any weekday. There was no choir, no bells and whistles – just a baby in a manger on a quiet morning. The simplicity of it all was truly a great reminder of the humble entrance of our Lord into this world.

This memory of Christmas will always stick with me. As a child, I hadn’t been aware of the stress and frustration that so often comes around the holidays. As an adult though, I had fallen victim to the pressures of shopping, cooking, and large, chaotic family gatherings. That Christmas morning, however, I was taken back to the nativity – a quiet, simple, prayerful nativity – where my heart should have been the entire time.

My prayer now for this year is that we can all interiorly remain there, by the cradle, maintaining a sense of quiet and awe at the Beauty this season brings. 

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