The Stress-Free Holiday

Ideas for slowing down and enjoying more.

Posted Dec 23, 2019

One of the main reasons that the holidays are stressful for people is because we overlay them with such tremendous, overwhelming, and unattainable expectations. These social and cultural forces exert a lot of heavy pressure and impact people’s choices and behaviors. We find ourselves and others turning into something resembling a whirling dervish. Yet, there is a huge disjuncture between how we are moving about in the world and the sort of peaceful calm we hope and expect will wash over us for the holidays. It's this chasm we need to bridge. 

Hombre/ Unsplash
Source: Hombre/ Unsplash

When, inevitably, we can’t meet all the ideals of what holidays should look like, feel like and be like—because they are more out of a magazine or catalog than real life—we perceive a sense of failure, of not being good enough, and we beat ourselves up for not being able to complete a list of typically self-imposed demands that are relentless and exhausting and rarely bring the joy and peace we actually yearned for. This results in putting ourselves through lots of should haves, could haves and would haves as well as promises for the next year for how we will handle it differently. 

It’s helpful to tame our self-expectations, try to give ourselves some slack, and treat ourselves with some gentle respect. 

For example, if a friend stops at a great bakery and brings us a decadent treat for a party we are throwing, would we be critical of that person for not baking four different types of homemade cookies and cakes? Of course not! We would welcome him or her and likely devour the treats, commenting on how divine they are, and just relishing in the evening. 

Complicated family dynamics often amplify the stress of the holidays. It’s good to keep plans extra simple, to not overload plans, and to take a minimalist approach. And it’s important to maintain boundaries. This is especially true if hosting houseguests—even family—or staying at others’ homes. We need some solitude and quiet to replenish ourselves. 

It’s important to make time to pause and reflect, to align our priorities and hopes with our actions. The self-care we might strive for during the year is equally, if not more, vital and sustaining during the holidays—things like healthy nutrition, more water, vigorous exercise, gentle yoga and meditation, connections that buoy rather than gut us, and restful sleep all help bolster and support our physical and emotional reserves. In fact, the more we do this, the more seamless things will be when we embark on a new, fresh year ahead. 

The spiritual teacher and clinical psychologist, Ram Dass, who just died yesterday but whose teachings are eternal, is known for saying, “Be here now.” This seemingly simple advice is amazingly challenging in the era we live in and yet it’s vital to our well-being and to any depth we might find and enjoy, alone and in our relationships. This clear-sighted wisdom is a welcome tonic and a reminder that any moment can be a holiday worth celebrating.