Simplifying the Holidays

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

The month of December carries its own brand of stress. It begins with Halloween decorations and gains momentum as we roll into Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Christmas tree, Christmas gifts, holidays, celebrations, decoratingWe are officially on the warp-speed trajectory towards the Big Holidays and the end of another year. While this season reflects tidings of comfort and joy it is also the harbinger of holiday stress.

Too much of a good thing triggers anxiety and tension. Too many demands and too little time overwhelms us. But the great thing about the holidays is that they are predictable.  We know they are coming; we can reduce our stress before it begins by looking ahead and simplifying our plans.

Avoiding Holiday Stress

Each year I commit to a simpler version of the holidays, and each year I improve upon my promise. I avoid the Hollywood production of decorating because I live in Florida and it feels out of place. Since our move, the idea of simplifying things is easier to live into. The season is more of a social one, spent in the company of good friends over meals and conversation.

Avoiding holiday stress is a hot topic across the media spectrum. Unlike regular stress, holidays have a beginning and an end, and we can actively plan to manage and reduce the stress that comes with them.

Simple Celebrations

Reducing the negative impact of the holidays means keeping things simple to avoid adding emotional weight to an already heavy time of year.

All Is Calm All Is Bright, Christmas carol, It Came Up a Midnight :ClearPeople’s reluctance to travel continues and many still feel the financial effects of job loss and debt. Smaller gatherings remain the norm, even during celebratory occasions.

A byproduct of the season is the shift into shorter day as we transition from fall to winter. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a source of stress and depression for many people. The continuing threat of a virus invites us to reimagine our celebrations in ways that keep us safe and allow the traditions and joys of the season to fill our days.

If you belong to a church community immerse yourself in the songs, readings and spiritual messages of your faith. It strips away the distractions and the noise to provide a centering and peaceful respite from the material side of the season.

Set Your Priorities for the Holidays

Doing all the things is not the sensible way to approach the holidays. But I like to do all the things because they bring me joy. The lesson here is doing them in moderation.  And – truth telling time – this is a hard lesson when you are wired like me. Relocating definitely jump-starts the process but scaling back offers a manageable alternative.

If you can’t wrap your brain around not sending cards or buying gifts in stores, the best way to manage these activities is building them into your schedule. We know men shop on December 24th after 5:00 p.m. but the rest of us can mindfully plan what we want to accomplish. Breaking it up into manageable chunks of effort reduces the likelihood of an unhappy experience.

Doing things on a smaller scale does not diminish the holiday spirit. Switching to gift cards, especially for grown children, lessens the hassle of mall shopping. Online options and local businesses are life savers when time is limited.

Write down what you want to accomplish. Seeing the words on paper creates realistic goals. Give yourself permission to cross a few things off if it feels overwhelming.

The most important aspect of setting priorities is to scale your expectations. Being aware of your limitations allows you to decline invitations, purchase store-bought cookies and use gift bags instead of Martha-Stewarting every present and open surface in your home.

Set limits on your time and you’ll discover more time for yourself.

Turn off the Noise

Dial back the politics, the differences of opinion and the constant barrage of news. If you enjoy holiday music fill your personal space with soothing sounds and remembrances of past holidays.

Do You Hear What I Hear, Christmas carol, holiday, celebrationsI’m a candle lover, and each December my house has scents of balsam, pine and cedar. It’s holiday aromatherapy, channeling memories of fresh Christmas trees and New England Winters.

Entertain some nostalgia in the form of favorite movies, old family photos and beloved family traditions.  I put on a holiday apron and bake our favorite Christmas cookies.  This focused task reminds me of the special people who shared their recipes and I feel their presence in my kitchen.

Food is a central part of any holiday celebration. I include dishes from both sides of the family and use festive place settings. Eating well is one of the ways we celebrate during the holidays.

The Empty Chair

Holidays also carry a reminder of those no longer with us. The empty chair represents family members and friends who are physically gone but live on in our hearts. The pain of losing those we have loved is often at its worst during this season.

Over time our grief lessens, but it never truly goes away. A beautiful way to honor our memories is by incorporating personal reflections into our celebrations. A funny story, favorite recipe or cherished photo balance the sadness with all the love we continue to feel. I fill my mom’s candy dish and have a cardinal night light to symbolize the love that lives on in those we have lost.

Breathe Through the Holidays

Practice Self Care, stress, holidays, planningBreathe in serenity and breathe out stress. Carve out time for yourself by creating a quiet space to restore your balance. The holidays are the best of times and the worst of times and when the lines blur it robs us of our ability to be in the moment.

Focusing time and energy on others often finds us at the bottom of the list when it comes to our own well-being. We don’t have enough left to care for ourselves.

Balance the ideal with the real and put yourself first. Remain flexible and remember that the best present is your presence.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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