Already feeling overwhelmed by the holidays?

Here’s how to lighten the load.

It’s that time of the year again where many faiths celebrate their time together as families and people are feeling especially busy. You may even feel like you are suffering from stressful expectations rather than enjoying great expectancy of the season.

Here’s some good news for the holidays — your suffering is completely optional. And the even better news is that you have the power of choosing how to go through this holiday time: with joy or with misery.

There are two ways to go through this holiday season: with joy or with misery. Your choice.

I’m not trying to be insensitive or trite. I sincerely hope you consider a new way of viewing your circumstances, and that is many of your feelings of stress, anger and being overwhelmed aren’t reactions to the holiday events themselves. The stress is coming from the stories and meanings you attach to specific holiday events. The stress also comes from the expectations that you’ve created for yourself, for others, and for your busy calendar.

You have more power than you realize to create the holiday you’ve always wanted. To create more happiness for your upcoming season, you don’t need to add anything, I actually suggest that you remove a few things. As a former therapist and now leadership speaker, one of the most common questions I get is:

“How can I work through holiday stress and juggle all of the events and demands? There’s so much to manage with holiday parties, hosting people and buying and dropping off gifts. My list seems to go on and on because I feel the need to place increased importance on the demands of this season. How can I get it all done without getting burnt out?”

Why does this happen so easily to us? Our minds are so great at coming up with a super long list of these “have-tos” or “shoulds.” Many times, it’s because we tend to let other people rent space in our heads and our list can become long with the things other people need us to do in order for them to be happy. Here’s a tip: you can’t make other people happy. While you can add some joy and appreciation into their life, be careful of attaching someone else’s happiness as your reason to master a long list of “shoulds.”

Start with getting intentional

Here’s a new approach you can take to clean up your list so you can remove the burden of expectations. This year, before you jump into making and checking the items off of your list, I want you to take a moment to reflect and get intentional. Put your list aside for a moment (even if it’s been taking up space in your head for a while).

  1. First, a great question to ask yourself is, “Are any items on this list something someone says I “should” do to make them happy? Am I burdening myself because I’ve told myself a story that that it will fill my need to be loved, to prove I am a competent spouse, parent, child, etc., to be appreciated, or fill any other needs?”
  2. Second, embrace a vision for yourself and ask, “What feelings and experiences do you want to create for you and for those that you love this year? At the end of this holiday season, or at the end of the day, how do you want to feel?” Visualize your holiday season. For example, the experiences I want to create are joy, togetherness, peace, quiet times together, free from stress[CW1] . I want to feel connected, I want to make sure the people in my life know that I love them deeply and I hope to feel restored and loved myself. Now, once I visualize what I want to create, I can go back through my original list and prioritize the items to fulfill my intentions.
  3. Finally, after you visualize what you want to create, go back through your list and prioritize. Prioritize not by what’s important to others, or what you’ve always done, but apply your new filter: What on that list goes the furthest to create your intentions? If something on that list is not spirit-building, or worse, it’s spirit depleting, I want you to dump it, downsize it, delegate it or do it after the holidays — and really question whether it needs to be done at all. When I get clear about my intentions about creating a space for joy and connection this season, it becomes easier to reason with my sudden and self-imposed stressful thought that I need to head to Hobby Lobby one more time for another sprig of red flair to create that perfect table centerpiece. This filter for intentional priorities allows me to quickly become aware that I can better use my time heading to my storage room to bring out our favorite board games for family time. My purposeful intentions help me skip the expensive and exhausting trip to Hobby Lobby in favor of digging up the board games.

Getting intentional about what I want to create makes my list so easy to edit because it focuses more on the environment I want to create versus the things I feel I need to do. It helps me set priorities based on how I want to feel at the end of the day or season and the shared experiences we can enjoy.

Can’t get out of something? Get wholehearted.

After the list, here is what you are likely left with:

  1. Things on your list you are glad to take on.
  2. A few things you aren’t too excited about completing.

For the items we all experience that don’t top our “favorite things to do list, “here’s an energy management technique: If you can’t get out of something, get into it. Get wholehearted about what remains. You might be surprised to learn that fatigue or even burnout isn’t always correlated to the amount of work that we have to do. Fatigue and burnout is often a result of using a negative energy source like gutting it out your completing the task as a martyr. So, if you can’t get out of something, get wholehearted, get into it. It opens you up to a better energy source because when you’re just gutting it out or doing it as a martyr, you’re not fully present, you’re not plugging into positive energy that presence creates through connection.

If you can’t get out of something, get wholehearted.

As a final reminder: Give yourself some mercy — you will always have things undone every single night whether it’s the holidays or not. We all go to bed with things undone. The trick is to be intentional and make sure that it’s the right things undone not the unimportant things. If you’re editing your list according to intentionality, you’ll have the right things done. Then, for those things you really can’t get out of, really get into them.

Whatever you celebrate, I hope these tips are helpful to you. The holidays can bring challenges we don’t get to work on every day. And if you don’t master the process this year, give yourself some credit for positive steps you did take. You’ll have a whole year to work on this growth and then when you approach the holidays next year you’ll be even that much more peaceful in your heart and in your home. Keep ditching the drama and enjoy yourself and all of those folks around you.

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