Q. How can I have a more peaceful and enjoyable holiday season when things are stressful or chaotic?
A. By Tami Phelps, CMHC
Wouldn’t it be nice if stress and chaos would take a hike for the holidays?
Instead, it seems that life brings on more stressors or challenges when we feel we have the least amount of energy to manage them. Tires that you hoped could be replaced in February start showing wires right about the time you wonder if your Christmas budget is going to be enough this year. Or the stress of divorce peaks just when you thought you figured out a way to navigate peaceably. Perhaps this is your first year with a new foster child who lost a parent. Maybe you lost your parent(s) or a spouse this year and are wondering how you can manage to put on a happy face and feel connected this holiday season.
Unfortunately, the list of life stressors can be longer than your Christmas shopping list (how is that possible with multiple kids!!?) and can sap your energy. But there are strategies you can use to lighten your load. I offer these tips for the holidays to reduce your stress or feelings of chaos.
1. Practice Self-Care! It’s Not Optional
As a mom or dad you might scoff at this or wonder if self-care is an emotional unicorn that doesn’t exist.
Well, I tell you, MAKE it exist.
Realize your mood, responses and thoughts are directly related to how well you are taking care of your basic needs: safety (physically and emotionally), rest, proper nutrition, feelings of belonging and connecting in meaningful ways.
Only YOU can give yourself a break, realistic expectations and value. After wrapping all of those packages, or better yet before, have a cup of cocoa, sit by the tree and soak in the joy of the Christmas season.
2. Revisit (and Simplify) Your Expectations
Think back to last year or a really fond holiday memory; what were the things that mattered to you that year?
Was it the food, the smells, the gifts, time with family or the excitement of seeing your children’s innocent delight while opening presents?
Did you enjoy shopping, sending Christmas cards, or cooking for hours while the family enjoyed Christmas movies? If not, what can you change this year?
I once felt I had to buy my kids each a set of new pajamas, a new board game, a video, a book, an ornament, and then something THEY wanted. Multiply that for 5 kids and I was out a lot of money BEFORE I even bought them something they wanted. Besides all of the shopping, I expected myself to:
- send out Christmas cards (with a new family picture, of course)
- bake goodies for neighbors and church friends
- read Christmas stories nightly
- attend every Christmas concert
- participate in about 5 white elephant gift exchanges
That is a lot of pressure! I’ve since changed my ways and guess what? I am much happier. For example, one year I simply gave my children money, another year I took them on a cruise and then a few years ago, I told them to shorten their list to 3 items. I back out of white elephant exchanges at work when I want to, I no longer do Christmas cards and I only bake for my neighbors when I feel like cooking.
Remember and honor the self-care advice and expectations we place on others, too. They may not want to attend multiple functions, know how to express appreciation, or they might be trying to make their Christmas budget stretch and could be having a rough month (year) too!
3. Consider What You Value
What do you value at Christmas time? Again, think back to a year that you enjoyed Christmas. What made you particularly enjoy that year? My favorite Christmas as a child was the year we were totally broke. My mom made ornaments with us, my dad made us gifts and the local church “adopted” us and gave me a whole set of Barbie dolls (used, but I didn’t know or care as a young child).
My fondest memories include baking cinnamon roll wreaths with Mom and giving poinsettias to our widowed neighbors. I imagine my mother was under a lot of stress (she got divorced that year), and I was probably a little disappointed that I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas, but I don’t remember that. Neither will your kids. They will remember when you gave them a part of YOU: by sitting with them, baking or slowing down for a night of hot cocoa.
4. Be Kind to Yourself
Lastly, be kind to yourself. Maybe this year IS particularly tough. Maybe your heart is broken due to grief, divorce, loss of employment, or painful abuse that your foster child is reeling from and adjusting to.
Realize that you have a right to hurt, even at Christmas.
Give yourself a moment to hurt, and then turn and look at the things you value and give you the most meaning in life–the simple things.
I remember the first Christmas after my husband died. The fact was, it hurt. I hurt. My kids hurt. Our whole network of family and friends hurt. But, there were many nights when looking at the Christmas lights, reflecting on the nativity, listening to music and gazing upon my beautiful children allowed me to recall sweet memories…and still find peace in the pain.
Christmas is a time of wonder, full of beautiful smells, sights, sounds and experiences. Allow yourself to experience the wonder and make it what you want it to be this year. I’m not certain the stressors will ever go away. You can choose, however, to respond to them as best as you can and still see wonder and feel peace at Christmas.
Tami Denton Phelps is the mother of 10 children, resulting from a “blending” of children in her second marriage after the death of her first husband. She is happily married to Leland Phelps and resides in Tremonton, Utah. Tami spent many of her child-raising years as a teacher in east Texas. While an elementary school teacher, Tami was called “the child whisperer.” She decided to get her master’s degree in counseling because she wanted to help kids through trauma on a deeper level.
The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for many. If you’re ready to feel better through therapy, please call us for a free consultation: 801-855-7999. We can discuss treatment options and help you decide if we’re a good fit for you. We’re located in Clinton, UT, near Ogden.