‘Tis the Season to be…Stressed

A Parent’s Guide to Surviving Holiday Stress

By Dr. Meghan Prato

Holiday stress is real. As the weather becomes colder, every parent is painfully aware of the stressors related to the holiday season.  From financial constraints, to remembering to move the elf, to tense family interactions. This can be a very stressful time of year no matter what holiday (if any) you celebrate.  No parent is alone in resenting at least some aspect of the holiday season.  As there is still time to make the holidays special this year, let’s review some common holiday stressors and how to navigate them.

So Many Traditions, So Little Time

The Elf on a Shelf, baked goods, holiday home-decorating, thank-you gifts for teachers, holiday parties, toy purging and donating…the list goes on and on and on.  Many parents feel understandably compelled to make the holidays special for their children.  With all the family traditions you cherish coupled with fun new trends of today, it can be really easy to get bogged down in bringing just a titch too much cheer into your home than you can realistically handle.

Get Plenty of Vitamin “N”!

It is okay to say “No” to some of your traditions. Go through your list of things that are really important to you and your family this season and select the top one or two that you can’t imagine your holiday without.  If you love seeing the joy on your kids’ faces when they find Sparkle the Elf in a new place in the morning, and the idea of decorating sugar all over the kitchen gives you a panic attack, make your choices accordingly.

Try not to pressure yourself into doing too much. Your joy and your stress are contagious, so saying no is good for everyone.  Focus on a few meaningful activities for you and your family in order to reduce stress and inspire some holiday cheer for everyone.

Santa bought your friend an Xbox, but you a pair of mittens

All families have different values about the role of gifts and the role of material possessions. Financial constraints and differences can be amongst the most difficult of holiday stressors, whether Santa comes to your home or not.

The bottom line is, your child will be observing the gifts received by his/her friends and comparing their stashes. It can be really upsetting for a child to understand why others receive “better” gifts than they do. It can be painful for parents to see this happen, and they might not be sure how to talk to their children about it.

How to Talk to Your Kids

Some parents choose this time to talk to their kids about all the different religions all over the world. In every single home across the globe, each family has its own way of celebrating, sometimes including gifts, sometimes candles, sometimes special songs. If Santa is a part of your tradition, you can explain that he understands families are different and he brings the things that are right for us.

Regardless of how you choose to explain this to your children, the overarching theme should include the fact that the gifts received by others do not reflect a negative comparison to their own behavior.  In other words, your children did not receive less than their peers because they were “bad” or because Santa likes them less.

This opportunity to raise awareness of cultural and financial differences will help keep self-esteem high as well as ensuring them they are still the beautiful and well-loved children that you know they are.

Obligatory Family Time

Perhaps the idea of spending time with your in-laws makes your skin crawl.  Maybe you struggle to ensure that all family members have an equal number of minutes with you and your children so that they don’t feel as if you like your sister Sally more than them.  Even still, maybe you can’t stand the idea of sitting in your brother’s living room as your family endlessly debates the state of the political system in the US.

There’s no doubt about it, as much as the holidays are meant to spread love and gratitude for the loving people that we have in our lives, spending too much time with others can cause a lot of stress and angst.  One of the best ways to combat this is to ensure that you have a structured plan for the holidays.  As you assemble time to travel and be with friends and family, make sure that you are giving sufficient time for your loved ones while also including time to be with your own family as well.  Carve out some downtime, even if it’s only an hour, that you and your children have a chance to spend some personal time together without others.

And most importantly, communicate your plans with your loved ones.  Although many people may not like that you will be spending less time with them over the holiday than you have in the past, most will appreciate that you not only made time for them in your busy holiday schedule, and that you communicated with them that they were important enough to include.

 With Gratitude Comes Happiness

As we draw closer to the end of the year, take some time to appreciate those things that you are given and that you have the opportunity to give your children.  With gratitude comes happiness, and although your children may not understand this at their very young age, the examples you set for them will help to shape the adults that they become.

They will remember the magic you created over the holidays and appreciate how hard you worked to do so as they grow and eventually become adults and (maybe) parents themselves.

Happy Holidays to you all!

Holiday stress is not uncommon. This 7 Minute Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise is a great way to help yourself recharge your batteries.