Eight Ways to Manage Holiday Stress

Now that the gifts are all opened, the holiday feasts are digesting and the baby is sleeping, I’ve decided to write a bonus post today. Merry Christmas!

This was our second Christmas with my daughter and after squeezing three different family gatherings into a three day weekend out of state with a newborn last year, I learned my lesson about taking on too much at the holidays. Sort of.

Here are my top 8 ways to manage stress during the holidays.

8 ways to make the holidays less stressful with small children

Plan Ahead

It wasn’t long into Thanksgiving weekend last year when I realized we needed to change our annual family traditions. My parents are divorced and remarried, so when you throw in the in-laws we have three sets of parents to visit during the holidays. We live out of state, nearly three hours’ drive from our families. The long haul with a baby, the disruption to her routine and the challenges of changing diapers at rest areas and nursing in the car were just too much. I immediately started thinking about better ways to split up the visits and minimize my stress during the holidays. And I told my family as much last year so there would be no surprises and they’d understand why we couldn’t do the same old thing moving forward.

Make Family Come to You

This year, we decided not to drive at all for Thanksgiving. We hosted my in-laws at our place. They brought some side dishes and we prepared the bird. My Peanut was in bed at her usual bedtime and I didn’t have to worry about squeezing enough diapers for an entire weekend into the diaper bag. Christmas was a little different because my uncle was visiting from half-way across the country and we only get to see him once or twice a year. In this case, we can consider his flight as family coming to us. We made the drive to our parents and did two Christmas celebrations in four days instead of three celebrations in three days. It was a lot more manageable than last year.

Manage Your Expectations

We didn’t get to do three Christmases because we planned to celebrate with the other set of parents in advance of the holidays, closer to my sister’s birthday. With illnesses going around at daycare and coming home to nest with us, we just weren’t able to swing it. And that’s okay. My folks didn’t want to get sick anyway, so we’ll reschedule. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and frankly, that happens a lot more often when small children are involved. Get used it. Get over it. C’est la vie!

Simplify

I had been hoping to buy a real Christmas tree for our place and decorate it for my daughter this year. It didn’t happen. Simple is better, as I have now learned. I busted out the other decorations as soon as I had the chance, and they created more novelties for her to get into. I had a Christmas lantern that needed to be moved to a higher shelf, and we kept hawk eyes on the twinkle lights around the windows to ensure she didn’t unplug them or pull them down. With a toddler who is now able to run and has an unending curiosity about her surroundings, I can only imagine what she would have done to a real tree with water at the bottom! Maybe next year we’ll put it up and use her play pen around it to keep curious little hands away.

Focus on What’s Most Important

So I didn’t get to have my very own real tree at home. My mom got one at her house for my daughter and me to enjoy. So we had to drive home for Christmas. We got to see family from further away, and our holiday was less rushed than last year. At the end of the day, Christmas is about spending time with loved ones and good will toward your fellow man. Keep it positive! Focus on the good stuff and this will help you to minimize stress. I’m just glad my daughter is having a great time and getting to know her family despite living so far away.

Communicate

Another way to reduce holiday stress is to remember to keep the lines of communication open. Being on the same page with your partner about logistics and spending money will help things go smoothly. For instance, last year we had a holiday savings account, but we never got around to reopening one this year. Before Thanksgiving, my husband and I talked about how to handle Christmas shopping and agreed to use some money from our year end bonuses. No surprise credit card bills and no competing priorities to argue about! Additionally, my husband is a big time planner. He likes to have a plan and stick to it, and it really stresses him out when we deviate from the plan. Stress is contagious, so I prefer to nip that in the bud whenever possible. I called my mom a week before heading to her place to ensure we were on the same page in terms of when we’d arrive and when we’d have dinner.

Make Time for Yourself

There’s so much we need to do for everyone else at the holidays it can be easy to get burned out. This is especially true for working moms with little ones. Between 40 hours at the office, caring for a baby and trying to get all the holiday shopping done, there is very little time left to take care of ourselves. Don’t forget who you are. Before you were a mom, you were a person. You’re still that person and you can give your best self to your family when you make time for you. In my case, I took some time to visit my chiropractor. After a very fast delivery last year and not a whole lot of time for the gym since my little one was born, I hadn’t been taking care of myself like I used to. My body has been through a lot. That one adjustment eased some pain in my neck and I’m feeling much better. Let your partner stay home with the baby while you run out for your favorite seasonal drink at Starbucks and a massage so you can decompress. Or if you’re more of a social butterfly, arrange a ladies night out to reinvigorate your spirit. And don’t feel guilty about it!

Forgive

This one is so important. Forgive yourself first. As long as you are doing the best you can, there is no reason to carry guilt with you. What good does it do? Be proud of your accomplishments and remember that moms are human too. Forgive your spouse or partner. Understand that they are dealing with their own stress and have their own perspective on the challenges of family life. Do what you can to support and understand. Forgive your kids. They are going to stress you out and drive you nuts. Remember that they are doing their best too. Keep your expectations of them developmentally appropriate and when you realize that they are growing, learning and struggling with their own challenges, you’ll have more patience than you thought possible.

What are your strategies for coping with holiday stress? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

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