5 Steps That Lead to More Joy and Less Stress During the Holidays

As I countdown to the Holidays, I look forward to the special traditions: time with friends and family, holiday music, yummy food, gift-giving, etc. The holiday season is a magical time of year! Well, it can be until it isn't. I was recently talking with a couple of friends about the upcoming holidays. We had a rather sad discussion about how people tend to overextend themselves on every level this time of year. As a result, many people are super stressed out and actually dread the holidays. They lose sight of the true meaning of it all. I think we would all have to agree that in this magical season there are a lot of mixed emotions. It doesn’t have to be that way!

You can have a more joyful, peace-filled, healthy holiday season by taking these 5 steps:

  1. Plan Ahead:

Planning ahead can help you navigate the holiday season with less stress. Now, I’m going to be honest with you, I often find myself rushing at the last minute to get things done because I actually thrive on a packed schedule. I am not one who needs lots of downtime but the only way I can get everything done is to have a plan.

I find this to be especially true when it comes to preparing food and I think most of us tend to do more cooking during the holidays. This is my approach – each week I figure out when we’re eating at home or if there are any events that I have committed to bring a dish to. I then make a detailed list of what I need from the store with the intent of having to only make one trip and voila, I have everything on hand when I need it. (Click Here to check out this week's blog on meal planning).

Next up is my calendar. Each night I look at my calendar to see what I’ve got scheduled. For each commitment, whether on the phone or in person, I set an alarm to remind me. I find this to be super helpful so that I don’t miss an appointment. It eases my stress because I know I have a reminder coming. In addition to the alarm setting, I also write out a list of all that I need to get done. Looking ahead to the next day helps me to stay organized and to sleep better because I know I’ve got a plan when I wake up.

Now, I’m not saying you need to have a packed schedule, but I am saying you need to have a plan if you want less stress when life gets busy. Let’s face it, the holidays are a busy season, and a solid plan will help you feel prepared and organized each day.

Some other ideas to help in the planning include ordering gifts online to save time and eliminate the crowds, drawing names for gifts in certain groups so the gift-giving doesn’t get out of hand, wrapping gifts as you go so you don’t end up in a wrapping frenzy, and sending a New Year’s card instead of a Christmas card so you can have a less stressed, more thoughtful experience.

  1. Prioritize What Matters Most:

To reduce holiday stress and experience more joy, it's essential to prioritize the things that are most important to you. What are the habits and routines that you know will help you to feel your best? Put them on your calendar before adding anything else. I know that for me, exercise and reading my Bible are two activities that really help me relax, feel grateful, and stay focused, so I make sure that I have time designated each day for these activities. If serving others fills you up, then carve out time to go serve. If it's having coffee with a friend, then pick up the phone and make a plan. By committing to the activities that help you to thrive your holidays will be more joyful.

  1. It's OK to Say No:

One of the most important steps to finding peace and reducing stress during the holidays is learning to say "no" when necessary. You may have a strong desire to please others (something so many of us struggle with), but it's essential to know your limits and set boundaries. Don't feel compelled to say "yes" to every invitation or request. If you're feeling overwhelmed, politely decline and explain that you value the relationship but need to create space in your calendar. Suggest scheduling a get-together after the holiday rush.

  1. Tune Into the Peace That’s Already Inside You:

Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you" (John 14:27). His peace is different from the world's peace, and it’s available to you. The Holy Spirit is living in you and if you listen closely, he will guide you into a life with more joy and less stress. Take time to tune into this peace by spending moments in prayer, meditating on God's promises, and asking Him for help throughout your day and throughout the holiday season. I find it interesting (and sad) that the season of celebrating Jesus' birthday creates stress which steals the very joy that He has gifted us. I encourage you to be intentional about allowing His peace (the peace that is already living in you) to fill your heart and mind.

One thing that I find helpful is to practice a stress-relief phrase. When you feel stress creeping in, I encourage you to have a go-to phrase that can help you regain your composure and connect with God. Combine this phrase with deep, calming breaths to center yourself.

Here are some examples:

  • Breathe in: "God, I trust you.”
  • Breathe out: "I give all my worries to you.”
  • Breathe in: “Jesus."
  • Breathe out: "Fill me with your peace.”
  • Breathe in: “I know you’re with me”
  • Breathe out: “So I can rest”
  1. Set Realistic Expectations:

The holidays are a time when many people find themselves battling unrealistic expectations and the subsequent feelings of failure and disappointment. Things that contribute to this are comparison and perfectionism. I hope you don’t let yourself go there. Remember that it's okay if things don't go exactly as you planned or if your holiday food, attire, décor, etc. don’t look like someone else's. You may have a meal that flops, a gift that isn’t well received, an uncle who gets out of line, or other unexpected hiccups. Embrace imperfections. They can add humor, lead to valuable life lessons, and make memorable stories. A German phrase that I often use is “gut genug” which means “good enough” or “I did my best”. This helps me keep things in perspective and prioritize what truly matters.

Don't let stress steal your joy this season!

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