Feeling Overwhelmed? Managing Holiday Stress by Simplifying Your Traditions [2021]

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The holiday season is a time for visiting loved ones, shopping for gifts, attending parties, preparing delicious food, and savoring the overall feeling of joy in the air. Although there is plenty to celebrate, the hustle and bustle of the holidays can also leave us feeling frazzled, stressed out, and ultimately depleted. There may be a lot of travel involved, family members don’t always get along well, and the crowds at the stores don’t always demonstrate goodwill toward fellow shoppers.

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, so how can we make it feel that way?

The best way to reduce stress during the holidays is by simplifying.

How can you simplify your life during the holidays and still enjoy yourself? Trust me; it is possible to streamline things to help keep your sanity this year. All you need are a few tips for managing holiday stress to get you started.

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1. Scale back your expectations.

You’re probably your own worst critic when it comes to preparing for the holidays. I get it — you want everything to be perfect for your loved ones. But do you really need to do ALL THE THINGS? Or can your holiday be just as lovely without all the fuss?

One helpful method for managing holiday stress is to cut yourself some slack. I find it helps to focus on what the holiday season is really all about — appreciating your blessings and spending time with those you care about. And the chances are that others in your life are also feeling overwhelmed and would welcome a simpler holiday with open arms.

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2. Use only the decorations you love the most.

As beautiful as it is, decorating can increase your stress during the holidays. Over the years, you can amass quite a collection of holiday decorations. I was in the habit of putting up every Christmas decoration I owned (which still wasn’t much since I’ve always lived in a small home), but it still ended up feeling cluttered. Then, of course, it all has to be taken down come January (or February if you’re a fellow procrastinator).

Do you have to leave your home bare this year to alleviate Christmas stress? No way!

I decided to pick out my favorite decorations and use only those this year. It adds a touch of holiday cheer without all the work! You can even use the Marie Kondo method and select only those decorations that spark joy. If you’re not familiar with Marie Kondo, I highly suggest checking out her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. That woman has forever changed the way I fold clothes…

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3. Try a simpler approach to tree trimming.

Is tree trimming triggering your Christmas stress? There are many different styles and trends for tree trimming, and honestly, I find them all a bit overwhelming. I could never figure out how to tie a proper bow or perfectly cascade ribbon down the tree, my tree topper was always crooked, and I just couldn’t get my ornaments to hang nicely.

I used a simple string of white lights and a rustic star topper this year. Thankfully, my brother helped because I can’t even string lights properly either — I just did not inherit my mother’s craftiness. Then, I realized I didn’t have a tree skirt (I had to toss my old one thanks to a very stubborn cat vomit stain), so I found a lovely rustic reindeer tree skirt on Amazon.

Two days later, the tree skirt arrived, and I still hadn’t put up any ornaments. I arranged the tree skirt around the tree stand, and I must say that I felt perfectly content with my tree as it was — white lights, rustic star topper, and burlap reindeer tree skirt. So I decided to leave it at that. Simple and sweet. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the holidays, don’t feel pressure to go crazy with your tree. You may even find that you enjoy a simpler look.

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4. Lighten up your holiday menu.

If you’re anything like my family, you always make WAY TOO MUCH food. Leftovers are great and all, but I always feel bad when we get to dessert, and nobody has room. It’s a travesty to let pie go uneaten — you should always leave room for dessert!

So, I implore you to take some pressure off yourself this year and experiment with simplifying your holiday menu. Instead of spending hours on end cooking up a massive buffet, why not choose two main dishes, a handful of side dishes, and perhaps two different desserts? Will your family banish you from holiday dinners if you scale it down to a few favorite recipes? Unlikely. Just make sure to include your traditional dishes that everyone raves about.

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5. Rethink gift giving.

Managing holiday stress can also involve changing the way you shop for gifts. While it can be fun to give and receive presents, shopping for gifts can also be a source of stress for some people. Whether you worry about finding the perfect gift for each person on your list or you are concerned about shopping on a tight budget, gift shopping can suck some of the joy out of the holidays.

Some families have started to adjust their gift-giving traditions by doing a Secret Santa where they only buy for one other person. Others have begun to limit their gift giving to just the young children in the family. This helps simplify gift shopping during the holidays, which can save you a lot of time and money so you can relax and enjoy the season a bit more.

I don’t have children myself, but I realize that some people feel the need to shower their children with a mountain of gifts. Are you putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to create the perfect Christmas by providing every last item on your child’s crazy long wish list? Why not cut down on your stress and your credit card bill by trying something new this year? I absolutely loved an idea I recently heard from Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. He and his wife give each of their children three Christmas gifts: one thing they want, one thing they need, and one experience to share with the family. Genius!

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6. Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your daily life.

This is where meditation really comes in handy! You don’t have to be a yogi or retreat to a Buddhist temple to start a meditation practice. Anyone can do it, and you can pretty much do it anywhere. Meditation can be as simple as focusing on your breath. One breathing meditation I really like is called the Four-Fold Breath, which is a quick and simple way to find some calm amidst the craziness:

Four-Fold Breath

  • Inhale to a count of four.
  • Hold the breath for a count of four.
  • Exhale to a count of four.
  • Pause for a count of four.
  • Repeat several times.
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Simplify Your Way to a Happier, More Relaxed Holiday Season

Once you strip away all of the trivial things that do not add to your enjoyment of the season, you may realize you don’t need as much as you thought you did to get into the spirit and show the people in your life you care about them. I hope you can use one or more of these tips for managing holiday stress to bring more light and joy to the season. Cheers and happy holidays!

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