by Anna Marie Trotman

It took many years to downsize my holiday “to-do” lists. My days were always hectic, to say the least. I would get up, go to work, bake cookies, shop, clean the house, put up decorations, shop some more and feel exhausted by the time the end of December rolled around. I wanted everything to be perfect, and if things were out of sorts I ended up stressed and feeling like I wasn’t good enough. While I pretended to be happy and put on a good face, I really wasn’t very joyful on the inside.

Then one year I saw a flyer for a workshop titled, “Introduce Mindful Pauses in Your Holiday Schedule” and signed up. The facilitator was hilarious and helped us to see the insanity of trying to turn December into a Hallmark Holiday Season. That was over 20 years ago and I’ve been able to manage my expectations and create a better experience not only for myself but for the people I love.

Over the years, I’ve added my own strategies and worked on my expectations. Here are five tips to help you create a holiday season with a lot less stress and angst.

1. Take care of yourself first: The holidays can mean excessive amounts of food and chaos, my mother did most, if not all the cooking, cleaning, washing, scrubbing, and entertaining. She never complained but there was some banging of pots and pans. So no wonder I thought that’s the way it should be. Both of us took care of everyone else and over the years it took a toll, that is until we got sane. We supported each other in getting plenty of rest and eating a well-balanced diet. We did some fun activities and carved out time for self-care. Mom was clear across the country yet we were able to support each other and share our successes. If mom’s not up to it, find a close friend and buddy up.

2. Plan ahead: This may sound obvious, but you know there is a little procrastinator sitting on your shoulder whispering, “You can do it tomorrow!” Make a list and select 2 or 3 things that can be done each day. This will give you some peace of mind. Make a list, even if you’re not a list type of person, then break tasks down and when they are complete cross each item off. There is some satisfaction seeing the list shorten and the “to-dos” checked off.

3. Delegate tasks: When pulled in so many directions, life becomes overwhelming. Get others to help. Can someone else do the grocery shopping? Do the dishes? Clean the house? Minimize what you’re doing by assigning tasks to other family members.

4. Focus on experiences: Does it change the course of our lives if the mashed potatoes don’t turn out perfectly? Your family and friends will remember the experiences and how they felt more than the lumpy mashed potatoes! Do something that does not require shopping or eating. Take the kids ice skating or to the Children’s Theater. Here in Wilmington “Shrek the Musical” is playing, tickets are reasonable and the kids will love it. Go for a drive and look at holiday decorations or get bundled up, take a walk, and howl at the moon. Building memories is about the people we are with and the joy of the season.

5. Breathe: When you’re stressed, you don’t breathe deeply enough which can amplify anxiety. So remember to breathe and let go of your thoughts. You don’t need to sit cross-legged on top of a mountain or stop your thoughts altogether. In fact, you cannot stop your thoughts, but you can bring awareness to them. Start in small increments with a guided meditation that you can do in 5 minutes. You can get a little crazy trying to find something that will work for you especially on YouTube. This link will take you to an excellent exercise in mindful breathing. Grab your earbuds, get comfortable and take five! After about a week, you’ll notice a shift in how you respond rather than react to the world around you.

Here is a bonus tip.

Movie Laughter: Now more than ever we could all use a good laugh. I’m sure there are some seasonal movies that tickle your funny bone. Here are some of my favorites; Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, Scrooged, and a few others. How about Trading Places or Bridget Jones’s Diary? Try an oldie like The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. Being light-hearted can boost your moods, ease tension, and even improve memory.

Have a peaceful Holiday and remember to breathe!