De-stressing the holidays: Redefining 'perfection,' embracing simplicity are important keys

December 12, 2005

The holidays evoke picture-perfect images of beautifully decorated homes, homemade gifts and elegant, effortless entertaining. Everyone gets along fabulously and you get to relax around the fireplace and enjoy it all. The reality for many women, however, is that the frantic rushing around to get things done takes all the magic out of the season. Thankfully, there are simple things everyone can do to make the holidays less stressful.

Don't be a slave to tradition

Re-evaluating traditions and setting realistic expectations are vital to achieving balance during the holidays "In the interest of simplicity, give yourself a break and try to keep in mind at all times that the whole goal is to have fun with family and friends," said Janet Nusbaum, professional organizer and owner of Carmel Concierge LLC. "Do not aim for the perfect meal, the perfect tree, the perfect everything because then you come away with a frantic need to please and you lose sight of the real meaning of the holidays." Dr. Deidra T. Rausch, a licensed marriage and family therapist and executive director of The Cabin, a ministry of Zionsville Presbyterian Church, agrees that holidays are often more stressful than relaxing. "Women need to give themselves permission to discover new holiday traditions that may not be as elaborate or time-consuming as was possible when women didn't have jobs," she said. "The one piece of advice that I was given years ago by a very wise woman is: 'You are one person and you are 100 percent.' So if you add the holidays to everything else, how are you going to reallocate that 100 percent?"

Just say no!

"One critical element is don't over-schedule," said Julie Mahan, Indianapolis-based professional organizer and owner of Simply Organizing Inc. "Keep some open time for yourself. Look at the different events that are coming up and prioritize them. 'Which ones are fun? Which ones do I get the most out of?' Say 'yes' to those and say 'no' to the others, because you just can't do it all." Planning in advance to say "no" to specific invitations or people makes it easier to actually do when the time comes. "If it is an option with your employer, give yourself permission to take time off during the holidays," Rausch said, adding that women who don't have children often feel guilty about doing this. "If a woman is married, it [feeling guilty] minimizes her family of two, and if she's not mar- ried, it totally minimizes how important the holidays are to her as a person. Take time off to celebrate."

Practice self-care

Rausch says increasing self-care during the holidays helps women achieve a better balance of responsibilities during the holidays. Even taking 15 to 20 minutes a day to enjoy a cup of coffee or practice yoga helps-especially if done with intention.

"Women have this wiring, more often than not, that everyone else has to come first and then they will take care of themselves later," she said. "But what I find is, if you work from an empty tank of energy and care, you don't often have a lot to give at the end of the day. There are always going to be costs when you decide to practice self-care, but if you don't practice self-care the costs are going to far outweigh those temporary costs when you decide to take care of yourself."

One way to get more time for self-care is to share tasks with the family.

"Involve the family and divide the work so the mom is not the one that is feeling the stress of the holiday," Nusbaum said. "Spread the work so the mom isn't the only one with a huge to-do list."

Plan ahead

Mahan finds setting a budget and planning what you are going to buy for each person before shopping is a helpful strategy.

"That makes my life simple," she said. "I just keep that list with me and, when I find things, I scratch them off the list. It keeps shopping from becoming overwhelming."

While it may be too late for this year, there's always next year.

"People do basically the same tasks every year," Nusbaum said, "but they seem to start from scratch every year. If they can pull out a holiday planner that has all the traditions and the tasks that need to be done for the holidays already planned out, they could eliminate a lot of stress."
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