Text by Sari Roth-Roemer, Ph.D.

Presents to buy, meals to prepare, cards to send, gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, trees to decorate… the list goes on and on. Add coronavirus concerns, working off-site and carpooling your kiddos to that list and your stress factor soars.

Above: Adjust your schedule to allow yourself some downtime.

Every year it is more or less the same, we know the holidays are coming and yet many of us are surprised and frustrated by how busy and overwhelmed we are by the time they get here. Those of us who are stressed pretend that life goes on as usual, right up until the time the holidays are smack in front of our faces demanding our time and attention. Those of us who have smiles on our faces and who are minimally stressed have already made room for the holidays in our autumn routine. That’s the secret. “Really?” you groan to yourself; “That’s the secret? To become one of those people who boasts about getting their holiday shopping done in August?” Well, kinda… 

Stress occurs when our normal routine is broken, challenging us to spread our resources thinner than we had anticipated. When I say resources, I’m talking about emotional, cognitive, physical, energetic, time and monetary resources. When we fail to plan for over-expenditure of all of these at once, we are setting ourselves up for overload. Our stress level rises and we become depleted. Sometimes that depletion can become so severe that our immune system breaks down, and we get physically sick, adding further to our holiday load.

On the other hand, when we adjust our expectations and plan ahead, a whole different scenario unfolds. We can anticipate how we want to spend our time, energy and money, saving not just those resources from running out, but protecting our emotional, cognitive and physical reserves, as well. Yes, I am asking you to do the obvious. Expect that the holidays will come into your lives starting at Thanksgiving when holiday music, decorations and merchandise are visible in retail stores, on television and in magazines. Decide how you will adjust your routine to accommodate their annual appearance. Make room for the holidays in all areas of your life.

Above: Rather than worry, focus on the things you are looking forward to.

Instead of anticipating the holidays with dread and worry, allow yourself to envision how you would like them to unfold this year. As an alternative to being annoyed by all you have to do, accept that this is a part of your fall routine, and adjust your schedule accordingly. Then allow yourself to think about the things you are looking forward to.

You see where I’m going with this, right? Yup, I’m asking you to be in control of how you spend your time and energy. Rather than being a victim to the yearly holiday ritual, decide how you want to divvy up your personal resources. More than that, be aware of your holiday attitude. Are you telling yourself how much you dislike this time of year and how it intrudes on your life, or are you allowing yourself to focus on the aspects of the holidays you enjoy? 

Sure the holidays ask more from us, than any other time of year, but if we allow them to, they can also give more to us. We don’t have to just spend our resources, if we’re smart about it, we can actually replenish them. Increased time and connection with friends and people we love (even if it’s virtually), sharing old memories and traditions, making new memories and traditions, spiritual and emotional renewal, taking time off from work and taking care of ourselves…all of these are available to us if we allow it.

Yes, the holidays will be different this year. Take three deep breaths, smile, remain positive and celebrate the season. Happy Holidays!