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How To Skip The Stress And Finally Enjoy The Holidays For Once

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Family, Love

Forget your dysfunctional relatives and the long "to do" list. This year, do less and feel better!

The last two months of the year usually finds us in a frantic state of shopping, decorating, cooking and travelling; so, is it any wonder we are more stressed than cheerful? Having so many "to do" lists, we are wound up and too exhausted to enjoy that which normally brings us happiness—cherished traditions and intimate family gatherings.

There is an underlying expectation at this time of the year; you must be cheerful and happily participate in the over-stimulating activity of the season to some extent. The external pressure of being merry creates an unrealistic goal for many of us.

Who do we have to thank for the pressure to have an over-the-top holiday season, besides ourselves?

Well, there is Madison Avenue flashing the perfect holiday scenes into our living rooms as early as Halloween. And the nudge to start preparing (a.k.a. shopping) starts earlier and early every year. The message sold is—start sooner, do more, consume more and then you, too, can live life the advertising images of perfection. Your family will have it's very own Currier and Ives experience.

What possesses us to imagine that our lives will suddenly become a cocoon of love, warmth, acceptance, and safety during the holidays?

It will be this way, only to the extent that our lives are like this throughout the year. We yearn for warmth and intimacy, and somehow believe that if we go the extra mile, prepare delicious meals, go without sleep, shop for the perfect gift in throngs of people, we'll suddenly have the love and connection we crave simply because it's the holidays.

When in reality, by the time the holidays are over, we are left tired, irritable and fairly empty.

We feel inadequate that we did not pull off the perfect holiday season we desired. Our culture promotes the belief that if we try harder, we can have that snapshot of beauty frozen in time; that somehow we will evolve into a finer representation of ourselves, magically for the season, and all of the usual family dysfunctions will just fall away.

And while we are at it, let's look at how dysfunction tends to play out.

Dysfunctional family members stay that way during the holidays! In fact, under the pressure of the season, most of them become even more of who they really are. Family issues stuffed down the rest of the year quickly rise to the surface and make for turbulent and weird holiday gatherings.

Aunt Sue will drink more to medicate her empty feelings, becoming sloppy and obnoxiously loud. The control freak relative becomes a micro-managing intrusion into everybody's business. This behavior is more prevalent because he cannot control the holiday hustle and bustle, thus he becomes more and more anxious and takes it out on everyone else. The rageful one sends family members tip-toeing around in order to avoid volatility.

So, what part do you play in this drama?

Are you pushing harder expecting different results? Do realize that more of the same will not work. The keyword here is expectation of self and others, that somehow we can hold on to the warmth and togetherness we create, if only for the season.

I am not talking here about families who are closely compatible, and who ebb and flow all year with love, support, flexibility, and warmth. In such families everybody shares in the doing and the adjusting to changes, or simplifying as is necessary. The season's activities here are not about shoulds or I have to, it is a want to.

Also, you have the freedom to say "No, I prefer not to this year."

The key here is that it's easier. Oh yes, there are problems, but don't give into the illusions. There are always problems, but those problems do not take over. They seem to be on a parallel track along with joy, support and sharing. "We-ness" seems to predominate, as does a feeling that we are all on the same side, folks. Commitment outweighs the dysfunction as people are able to be more authentic.

Even in less messy families, there may be a tendency to over do it, even as they discuss simplifying the way to celebrate the holidays. It is important to grasp that simplifying does not mean getting more organized, although we are bombarded with "how to" articles at this time of the year. Getting more organized means trying to do the same things in less time, to become a combination of Martha Stewart and whomever might be her male counterpart (say, Bob Vila).

Stop torturing yourself.

Let go of such ideas, while giving yourself permission to eliminate rituals and activities that are no longer meaningful, so you can focus on what you love. It may take you a few years to get there, as most likely there will be family resistance to change, so take baby steps.

We cling to the old and the familiar because we fear being propelled out of our comfort zone.

To simplify does not require the abandoning of gift giving, or replacing holiday feasts with Spartan fare. It does, however, require us to rethink the ways we celebrate overall. It means becoming more conscious of the waste inherent in our usual ways and taking a stand to curtail excesses. It is a time to focus more on the decorating of our "inner tree," with true generosity, love and compassion.

It is a time to reach out and encourage our children to give in ways that only children can.

When we teach by example and include them, our children are willing to become actively involved in worthy causes, and in turn they teach us. Children in our culture are often left to be passive recipients of the holiday giving. We owe them an opportunity to participate in the kind of joyful giving, where no gift wrap is required.

Since most of the responsibilities of making the holidays come together rests on the shoulders of the women in the family, I suggest that you remember that the Currier and Ives picture was not a reality; even back then, it was a picture. Forget the forced frivolity, the shoulds, and all of its attendant madness. Dare to shake up how you want to handle the season.

At this time, your desires may be quite different from what they were the last five or ten seasons. In today's climate of economic uncertainty, a simpler, less hectic holiday may make much more sense.

In order to clarify what you really want, it is a good idea to take a little time and make out the holiday job list. After doing so, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I like doing it?
  • Would the Holiday season be the same without it?
  • Who is responsible for seeing that it gets done?
  • Is it a one person job, or can it be shared?
  • Do you do it out of habit, tradition, freedom, choice or obligation?
  • Is this something you want to do differently? (Doing more of the same will bring the same results.)

Subsequently, it is a good idea to sit down with your household members. Have a discussion about the way the family celebrates. Ask: what do you dislike? What would you like to eliminate? What would you like to add? What do you love? Eliminate what you can, adding only what would be more meaningful, while sticking to simplicity and sharing as you select a few favorites. If there are several, agree to rotate them.

Finding more modest ways to celebrate leaves us less vulnerable to stress, overeating and overdrinking to relieve tension, and rampant spending. It allows for time to express important values, deeper relationships, and providing a sense of meaning across the generations. Experience Thanksgiving with true heartfelt gratitude; Christmas with the love, wonder and the sacredness inherent in all of the twelve days; Hanukkah as the profound spiritual experience it is. Give yourselves permission to stop, reflect, and take in the true meaning of the holidays.

Laura’s “Overcome Obstacles and Have an Incredible Life“ offers boundless guidance, addresses doubts, fears and uncertainties that  may be keeping you stuck and wondering if you have missed your chance to be happy. You have not!  Read or hear more at

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.


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