10 Ways to Reduce Stress During the Christmas Season

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year Shouldn't be Stressful!

The Christmas season is the coziest and most magical time of the year.  Lights are twinkling, merry melodies are playing, cookies are baking, and our homes smell like cinnamon, peppermint, and pine.  Hearts are lighter, generosity abounds, and we set aside extra time to spend with the ones we love.  If you live in a colder climate, you might even wake up to a white Christmas--the best kind!

For some, Christmas can be a time of undue stress.  Since many prefer holding back the holiday cheer until after Thanksgiving, pulling everything together in a month's time can be challenging.  Organization is the key to accomplishing your goals while still maintaining your peace of heart and mind and finding time to bask in all the warmth, beauty, and majesty the season has to offer.

10 Ways to Reduce Stress During the Christmas Season
You can be a jolly Santa this season even without the help of elves!

Here are several simple ways you can reduce your holiday stress and still have time left to stop and smell the sugar cookies:

1.  Budget All Year for Christmas Gifts

Christmas can place a huge strain on your family's budget, especially if you're already living paycheck-to-paycheck.  To avoid the financial wallop that keeps stinging into the new year, set a monetary limit for each person on your wish list and save all year.

The Ghost of Christmas Past would remind you that Christmas Clubs through your local bank were once the vogue way to save money for presents.  Christmas Clubs are no longer popular, even though some banks still offer them; however, the concept of socking away money for gifts is a smart idea.  If you allow it to accumulate in your regular checking or savings account, you might look at the overall balance and be tempted to spend it.  Not everyone is self-disciplined.  The best way is to maintain a line-item budget showing precisely how each dollar is to be allocated.

To make it simple, decide how much you can comfortably afford to spend on each person.  The closer the person is to you, the more you will likely spend on them.  There are 26 pay periods in a year, if you're like most and are paid bi-weekly.  If you determine you will need $2,000 to cover all your holiday shopping expenses, you will need to set aside approximately $77 each pay day.  It sounds steep, but you will be much further ahead than paying high credit card interest rates if you run short and charge your purchases.

Santa holding money
Be a smart Santa who saves all year so you can shop for Christmas and remain debt-free!

2.  Shop for Christmas Gifts Year-Round

It's festive to shop when the stores are decorated and piping in Christmas tunes, Santa is positioned in the mall for photos, and there's a cold nip in the air.  Shelves are better stocked during the holiday season than any other time.  

There is no rule, however, that you have to wait for Black Friday deals to get your shopping underway.  Many retailers, desperate to stay open, are offering deals throughout the year now to earn your business.  

You won't be able to buy everything in advance because you don't know what new, alluring merchandise will be hitting the shelves and catching the eye of your loved ones; however, if you shop all year, you have the luxury of spying an item and then waiting for a great sale so you can snag a bargain and stretch your dollar a little further.

If you do a lot of your shopping online, join Rakuten to save even more money!     

TIP:  When you buy ahead, it's easy to forget what you've already purchased and how much you've spent.  Be sure to design a master gift list to keep you on track.

3.  Make a List and Check It Twice!

We all have hard-to-buy-for people on our gift lists.  It can be stressful trying to think of the perfect present for someone who seems to have everything.

Listening and observing play pivotal roles.  If you're buying someone a present, chances are you encounter this individual throughout the year.  Keep your ears open to hear them mention things, in passing, they love and make mental notes.  For example, if you visit your aunt in the summer and notice she loves spending time outside tending her garden, she might appreciate a sturdy pair of gardening gloves, a butterfly box to encourage pollination, or a decorative steppingstone for her flower bed.  Is your grandma a bookworm?  She might enjoy a new book bag to take to the library, a hardcover edition of her favorite book, or maybe a Kindle Paperwhite.

Surprising someone with the perfect gift
You can play detective all year to discover clues that will lead to the perfect present for everyone on your list.

You might have the opposite issue with your kids--they are known to ask Santa for too much!  The last thing you want to do is waste money on items they will quickly tire of and never use.  How do they spend the majority of their time?  The answer will lead you to the most important items on their wish lists.  Our daughter wants to be a graphic designer.  Since she spends hours drawing, we surprised her one Christmas with a graphics drawing tablet that plugs into her computer so she can create professional looking designs.  She has used it nearly every day since, so it's been worth the investment.

Throughout the year, use your master shopping list to not only track what you've already purchased for each person, but to jot down ideas you get after spending time with them.

4.  Scale Back Your Christmas Card List

Fewer people each year are sending Christmas cards, and it's a little sad!  Many rely on social media to send quick, meaningless greetings that are soon forgotten.

Christmas cards are fun to receive in the mail, unless they are the kind that dump a mountain of glitter when you open them.  Friends and family might include notes to update you on their lives, new pictures to hang on your fridge, or sometimes an unexpected gift!  

Many people collect the cards they receive all season to show visitors, re-read, or cut up to use for gift tags the following year.

If you send Christmas cards, hopefully you take the time to write a heartfelt sentiment inside to make it personal.  Cards containing only a signature are cold, unfeeling, and a waste of a stamp (which aren't cheap!).  What's the point of sending a card if you aren't going to say something to the recipient?  Writing a message takes time, however, which can be stressful to do when your season is already jam-packed or you're just not the best communicator.

Writing in Christmas cards
You can make someone's day a little brighter when you take time to pen a personal greeting.

Scaling down your mailing list will make card-sending easier because you won't waste time trying to think of something to say to people whom you haven't seen in years who now feel more like strangers.  How do you decide who makes the cut and who doesn't?  It's like deciding whether or not to keep those jeans and tops in your closet that are three sizes too small--if you haven't connected after several years, it's time to let them go.  

5.  Less Is More--The Pre-Christmas Purge

When was the last time you did a whole-house purge?  Like the pending new year, your attitude should be "out with the old and in with the new!"  

Christmas decorations have a cozy way of making your house feel "stuffed" with cheer.  However, if you can't find a place to put your decorations because you're a packrat, doing a purge will do wonders for your soul!

Clear out the clutter, and you'll feel less stress.  Not only will you make room to hide the presents you're trying to store, you'll have the space to showcase the new things you find under your tree Christmas morning.
Whether you have a garage sale or donate your items to charity, clearing out your house will help you breathe easier and bless someone less fortunate in the process.

Pre-Christmas purge
Even if your kids normally resist parting with old toys, they will love the good feeling they get when helping children who are in need.

TIP:  For large families who can't go overboard on gifts due to a lack of storage space (and budget!), try the four-gift rule:  Buy your kids one thing they want, one thing they need, a book, and an article of clothing.

6.  Decorate for Christmas a Little at a Time

Decorating for Christmas can be daunting.  You have to put away much of your regular décor to make room for the inordinate number of boxes of decorations you have squirrelled away in the basement, shed, or attic.  Where do you even begin?

Rome wasn't built in a day, and Christmas decorating doesn't have to be finished in one.  Decorating should be fun and festive, not a chore or drudgery.  We make it a chore by trying to do too much at one time.  Spread it out!

Ideally, decorating is easier when you start early in November, but many balk at the thought of having Christmas decorations out at Thanksgiving.  If that's you, then consider getting a head start on the upstairs (if you have one) while leaving the downstairs bedecked for Fall where all your Thanksgiving guests will gather.  Otherwise, consider decorating earlier in the month.  

Reserve one entire day to put up your Christmas tree--it takes the most time and is the centerpiece of your decorating. Mentally divide the rest of your home into quarters or thirds and set aside one day for each chunk.  If you work, you might have to wait until the weekend to tackle the job, or maybe you can accomplish a little bit each evening.  The outdoor decorations need a day or two of their own, too, and it's helpful if you can enlist your spouse to speed things along.

TIP:  When Christmas is over, take extra pains when packing away your decorations. As each room is dismantled, its decorations should go into boxes labeled for that room.  In addition, take pictures before tearing into the job.  Next year, it will save you a ton of time trying to figure out where everything goes!  

Organized packing will save you time decorating the following year.

7.  Plan Meals in Advance of the Holiday Season

Reducing stress during the holidays requires thinking ahead, which is hard to do if you're the type of person who always wings it.  

No matter how busy you are Christmas shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping, and volunteering, your brood at home still expects you to feed them.  Many women feel like they spend the majority of their time in the kitchen as it is.  With a little advance planning, you can keep meals on the table without as much stress.

Leading up to your heavy Christmas decorating days, try to cook meals that generate a lot of leftovers that freeze well, such as pasta dishes, soups, meatloaf, etc.  Since many meals freeze for up to three months, this is something you can do over a period of time far ahead of schedule.  Then, when you are in the throes of decorating, simply break out your freezer meals so you don't have to drop everything you're doing to spend hours in the kitchen cooking and washing dishes.  Apply this same strategy on the days you are undecorating, and it will help you finish the job much more efficiently.

I plan all of our family's meals at least a month in advance and type them onto a calendar, which I pin to our fridge.  My hubby loves to take a peek in the mornings to see what will be served when he gets home from work--it either gives him something to look forward to or tips him off that he won't want to pack leftovers the next day!  Instead of wasting time laboring over what to cook every day, only to realize I'm missing ingredients and need to rush to the store, I can easily whip up a grocery list and get everything I need on one shopping day which will feed the family for a week.  Once my monthly menu is complete, I don't have to think about what to prepare for a few weeks, which frees up so much time.

Even if you normally can't imagine planning meals that far in advance, at least try doing it for December, maybe even November, since these are the busiest months.  You can print a monthly calendar from a quick Google search, or like me, you can create your own using Publisher.  

Finally, if you're inviting friends and family to your home throughout the season, don't be a martyr who feels like you have to cook everything yourself.  Ask your guests to bring a dish--many hands make light work!  You don't have to make every single thing from scratch.  Your local grocery undoubtedly has some wonderful party platters that will delight your guests.

8.  Pace Yourself & Don't Overload Your Calendar at Christmas

Christmas can feel so frenzied.  There are work parties and school programs to attend, family to visit, festive community events to catch, church services to go to--in addition to the plethora of tasks you must complete in time for the big day.

If you are the one doing the majority of the decorating, cooking, shopping, wrapping, and planning, it seems like everyone else gets to enjoy the season while you are overwhelmed with extra work.  When do you get to stop and taste the eggnog?

One way to feel less harried is to keep your calendar as clear as possible.  Don't wait until November and December to schedule you and your children's wellness visits to the doctor's office and optometrist, check-ups at the dentist, annual health screenings, your entire family's haircut appointments, your oil change, or any other engagement that can wait until after Christmas.  

Don't say "yes" to every invitation. 

Overbooked calendar

Just because your mother used to bake 12 types of cookies in one day in addition to snack mixes, fudge, and candy doesn't mean you have to carry on the tradition.  It's fun to give your friends and neighbors plates full of pretty treats, but everyone receives an abundance of goodies during the holiday season.  Instead, just make one treat each week, if you feel like it, to spread out the baking AND the calories!

Gift wrapping doesn't have to be accomplished in one fell swoop either.  As you find time to wrap, focus on getting one person done at a time and saving the rest for another day.

9.  Don't Feel Obligated to Visit Each Family Member on Christmas

Why do we wait until Christmas to connect with extended family?  

Some people advise avoiding the jerks in your family who have a penchant for upsetting people and ruining the day.  That's not what Christmas is really about though, is it? No matter how much you might dislike a member of your family tree, Christmas is the time to focus on peace, forgiveness, mercy, and kindness.  Most families have at least one obnoxious member they would prefer to dodge on Christmas.  Unfortunately, the idiot rarely changes, which means you have to be the one to alter how you respond to them.

One way to reduce stress at Christmas is to set aside December 25 as the day to engage only with immediate family members.  To make the rest of your family and friends feel loved and appreciated, however, make plans to catch up with them before or after the holidays.

Some families create their own holiday, like Octobergiving.  October is the perfect time to celebrate the "ber" months with family and friends before the frantic season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's commences.  

You might even start an annual "Christmas in July" celebration where you host an outdoor BBQ party and invite everyone you won't have time to see in December.  They will have their own special day to be the focus of your attention, and it will free up time for you later in the year when you need it most.

Christmas in July
Celebrate Christmas in July with the people you don't really have time to see on December 25.

FaceTiming or scheduling a Zoom call during the holidays is also a great way to see people somewhat face-to-face and interact without having to set aside time for traveling to see them or cleaning and cooking so you can host them.

Relationships are important and need nurtured.  The last thing you want to do is "write off" the people in your life.   It's just worth noting that you have options--pare down your holiday stress by setting aside other times throughout the year to see the people you care about.

10.  Reflect on the True Meaning of Christmas

It's so easy to get caught up in the secular celebration of Christmas that we lose the true meaning of the season.  Are you observing Christmas for the right reason?  Christmas has been watered down by the masses who view the season only as a time to show kindness and goodwill to their fellow man while taking time from their busy lives to enjoy family and friends.  

No matter how non-religious people try to spin it, the true meaning of Christmas is Jesus.  Because of our sin, our relationship with God was broken, condemning us to an eternity apart from Him in hell.  God loved us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world as a baby who would grow up and die on a cross for our sins and be raised again.  This free gift of salvation is available to everyone who invites Jesus into their lives and repents--forgiveness of sins can be found through Him alone.

Christmas should be a time of celebrating God's redemption plan for humanity above all else.  When you know the Prince of Peace and keep Christmas centered on Him, chaos melts away and you experience a peace that passes all understanding.  Jesus is the best gift of all!

Make This Christmas Your Best One Yet!

When you keep your heart centered on Jesus this Christmas and incorporate some of these time-saving tips, you will be far less frazzled. You may even find time to relax with a hot chocolate and a good book under a cozy blanket by a crackling fire! 

Joy to the world!  The Lord is come!



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