Close your eyes and picture the perfect Christmas. The smell of fresh baking filling the house. The tree glistening with sparkling lights, fire crackling as everyone gathers to sing carols. The warmth of the season is within you. Ah, the joy of Christmas.
December starts with these high expectations, but all-too-often the quest for this perfect time leaves you frazzled and stressed. With all the cooking, decorating, visiting and gift giving, this time of year can seem more like trying to meet a high pressure deadline than a vacation. Trying to find just the right gift for that special person? After a while, anything will do. The budget is busted. Tension and irritability are at an all-time high. Bah humbug!
What’s The Good News?
I found it’s possible to score some calm over the season. No chef, no personal shopper or holiday miracles required. And you can do this, too. Consider it your gift to yourself. Here are a few tips to help you along your way:
- Make being outdoors a priority. Snow has fallen, bringing wonderful wintertime pleasures. Skiing, sledding, ice skating, snowboarding, cross country skiing, hiking in the snow. The activities are endless. When I crunch along in the morning, the endless panorama of stars is breath taking. I also walk with a friend a couple of times a week. As we laugh at the daily trials of the season, those huge problems don’t loom so large. The pressure is off.
- Do a good deed daily. Aim to perform a simple act of kindness every day. Researchers have long known that altruism (volunteering in a hospital, giving a neighbor a ride, visiting a shut-in) raises levels of the “feel good” brain chemical. And no selfless act is too small.
- Check off completed tasks. A to-do list organizes life so nothing falls through the cracks. That same list can also feel overwhelming because it reminds you of all that is yet to do. Balance things by starting a “did it” list, noting completed projects and tasks. Taking note of what you’ve done can turn feelings of anxiety into feelings of accomplishment. You can also adjust expectations by reflecting on how much you really did get done. And when, exactly, have you done enough for one day?
- Bake a batch from scratch. An energetic, 93-year-old friend told me she was baking Christmas cookies with her granddaughter over the weekend. She reminisced how she and her mother had also done this precious family tradition. There is something special about getting in the flow, measuring and mixing ingredients in a series of steps while chatting and visiting. Not to mention continuing that wonderful tradition.
- Take a breather. Pencil yourself in for a “quiet time” break throughout the day. Close your eyes, relax the muscles in your face and shoulders and take a few deep breaths. Your body and your mind will both thank you. Another tip: an hour or so before bed, turn off the TV, the computer and any unnecessary lighting. Doing this will prime your body for restful sleep. Take a step further, let those evening chores go and spend a few minutes in front of the fire or gaze at the Christmas tree lights. A “do nothing” break allows you to clear your head and be ready for a calm and productive tomorrow.
Yes, this time of the year can be the busiest, the most hectic . . . but the most precious if you make it that way. Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!