Is this really “the most wonderful time of the year?” Studies show that 60-70% of people experience some sort of stress during the holidays. With all the changes over the past few years, odds are you know what we are talking about.

Don’t let these stressors take away from the spirit of the season and your love and joy of friends and family. Here are some ideas we, at Iron Butterflies Project, think you may want to consider to handle holiday stress.

  1. Visualize the Holiday you Want. If you could design your “perfect” holiday, what would it be? Write about what you think about these questions? Who is coming and how long are they staying? What food is being prepared? What is the plan for gift-giving/receiving? and Who’s cleaning up? Who’s difficult and how are you going to handle awkward questions? ACTION ITEM: Write a plan for your vision, with details. Stick to it the best you can.
  1. Set Priorities and Limits. It’s easy to have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) especially after being so cautious about seeing friends and family over the past few years. And, it would be easy to overcommit to attending parties, hosting people, taking charge of something/someone and overdoing and overbuying for others. ACTION ITEM: Prioritize what is most important and how many of those important items are realistic to accomplish. Avoid comparisons. Stay off Pinterest if it makes you feel guilty or inadequate. Your priorities are based on your values, which are valid and important.
  1. Are you Traveling? Air and automobile travel are more expensive than in the past but it’s probably been a while since you’ve seen everyone you’d like to see in person. ACTION ITEM: Think of travel time and expenses and how often you will have to stop for food and to refuel your tank. Think about children and pets and how you are going to accommodate their schedules and if it’s worth it.
  1. Keep Your Regular Routines For Self-Care. We tend to make excuses about everything during the holidays. I’ve heard people say things like, “I only get Aunt Dottie’s pie once a year, so it’s OK for me to splurge.” Or, “I can push through the 10-hour driving trip to see my grandmother because it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen her.” ACTION ITEM: Don’t make exceptions to jeopardize the good habits you are working on all year. If you work out or walk, keep it up. If you meditate/pray every day, keep it up. If you call or visit a friend regularly, keep calling or visiting. Give this gift to yourself.
  1. Watch What You Eat and Drink: It’s easy to “treat” yourself because you think it only comes once a year. If you are able to moderate your consumption, maybe it won’t hurt to step off your path a few times. But, if you are an abstainer, keep your choices unambiguous. ACTION ITEM: If you are not sure if you are a moderator or abstainer, check out the important work of @GretchenRubin.
  1. Get Your Sleep. Another self-care item is to remember to rest and take time off from the busy-ness of this time of year. ACTION ITEM: Reread our story on the Healing Power of Sleep and follow our suggestions.
  1. Keep To Your Budget. Nobody has unlimited time or energy and few of us have unlimited financial resources. If you go into debt over a holiday, in the long run, it’s not worth it. ACTION ITEM: Look at the difference between facts, thoughts and feelings. For example, a fact might be you are going to buy a gift for your daughter. A thought might be you want to buy her whatever she wants which may make you feel proud, but may also make you feel guilty if you over spend. Try to reconcile your facts, thoughts and feelings, with regard to how you spend your time and energy as well.
  1. Talk With Partner/Spouse/Friend/Family About Plans. Holidays are better when celebrated together because, as my grandmother said, “people are more important than things.” ACTION ITEM: Share your thoughts about holiday plans with those in your inner circle. Make sure everyone has the same goals and plans. Even if they are implemented differently, if the goal is the same, you have a much better chance of achieving it.
  1. Clarify Expectations. Sometimes we have images of what we expect to happen (review Item #1) that are realistic and sometimes they are not. Maybe you THINK you can handle 15 people for a big meal, but find yourself in knots worrying about who has children who need to eat at a certain time before they nap? Who is vegan? Who’s gluten-free? And, who can’t be seated near someone because they will argue, and who’s likely to bring up awkward conversations? ACTION ITEM: Write down what you expect to happen. Review with others (see Item #8) Get feedback on whether or not your expectations are realistic
  1. Plan Activities. Hosting a gathering, even in the best of circumstances, in the easiest-going families, still can be stressful. ACTION ITEM: Plan something fun to do. Involve children and elders, too. Sometimes they make great partners. Play games. Share family stories. Do whatever works in your situation.
  1. Volunteer or Give to Others. One way to not dwell on things that cause stress is to do something for others. ACTION ITEM: Choose an organization in your community that needs your help and give a few hours. Deliver gifts to people who need them. Feed people through organizations or food banks. Visit people who cannot leave their home or nursing facility. Babysit someone’s children so they can shop or have an evening out. Doing something for others is a gift to yourself, as well.                                                                                                                                                   
  2. Take a Deep Breath and Be Flexible. It’s great to have a plan but if the plan causes you stress, you can amend the plan. Perfection doesn’t exist and you don’t want to take away the joy because something doesn’t meet your unrealistic expectations. ACTION ITEM: Remain in a constant awareness that you have a plan and the plan is, basically, an outline, about what you want to do (See Item 1 again). You can’t control if someone is late, gets sick, or doesn’t like something or someone. You CAN control how you react to it.
  1. Remember to Remember People and Traditions. Holidays can be sad for someone who has lost a family member or friend. ACTION ITEM: Be empathic and reach out to people you know may have experienced a sadness this year. Tell and retell family stories (as in Item 10). Share family traditions and start new ones.Children and seniors especially love stories and traditions. It makes them feel valued as an important part of the family.

When the holidays are over, what are you going to remember? And, what are you going to share with the next generation?

Sometimes the mistakes or things that seem monumental at the time make the funniest memories later. Remember the time we stole all the oysters from the oyster stew in Christmas Eve? Remember the times Uncle Rudy played Santa Claus? Remember dad reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas to us every year and we captured it on video for our children and grandchildren? Remember the time when…

Please share your stories and traditions with us. We want to all fly forward together and treasure every holiday with you.





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