Saving Your Sanity When Christmas Gets Crazy

 In Mind, MOM

We all know the holidays can “Holiday Cheer” the sanity right out your ears.

So forget the twelve days of Christmas, I’ve got twelve tips for saving your sanity. There should be more, since there are so many demands, so many worries that can take a real toll on your sanity. But for the sake of holiday themes, twelve it is.

So here we go. Twelve stressors and twelve tips for saving your sanity when Christmas gets completely crazy.

External Sanity Wreckers

1. Parties. Every weekend is a party, with a long drive to see people you haven’t seen since last Christmas. You can’t think of anything to say and your kids are too old, now, to  be that convenient excuse: occupying/nursing/diaper changing/spit up cleaning. Nope, now you have to face them, talk to them or stand there awkwardly while everyone else talks and the fact that you still have mom brain and can no longer string nouns together with verbs is so apparent.

Consider whether you can cut back on parties that aren’t completely necessary. You don’t have to do it all! For those that are necessary, be prepared in advance. Lay out clothes, make an easy breakfast, have everything wrapped and tagged and spare clothes set aside the night before–give yourself a cushion of time, maybe hours, where you don’t have to do anything before you head out the door. Keep the pressure as low as possible before you leave the house and you’ll feel a little better while you’re “partying.” If you’re really desperate, set a few alarms on your phone that sound deceptively phone-call sounding and excuse yourself to check your Twitter feed. (by the way, are you following Walking on Mom there?)

2. Shopping. So. Much. Pressure. You have to remember everyone and their dog. Get the “perfect” gift. Find time to get it all done.

Start by making a reusable list on your phone, maybe a google docs spreadsheet, with everyone’s name (and birthday year for the legion of kid cousins who need age-appropriate gifts — no iTunes gift card for the 3-year-old…yet). Check it off as you go and then use it next year as an idea grabber. In March, when you think “I’ll totally remember that for Uncle Jimmy Joe Bob” … no you won’t. Put it on your spreadsheet and pat yourself on the back for being so “with it” come next Christmas.

Oh, and stressing about that perfect gift? Let it go. Seriously, A gift is a token of your affection, it is not meant to fulfill a perfect ideal. Get gift receipts, too. (Tape it to the bottom of the gift when you get home so you don’t have to go hunting for “that perfect spot you put all the receipts so you wouldn’t forget”)

3. Cards. Getting the perfect picture for Christmas cards, formatting the cards, getting them printed and shipped or picked up and worrying if they’ll come out all dark or if you somehow went temporarily, or not-so-temporarily, crazy and misspelled your last name.

If all else around you becomes too heavy, forget the cards, or go e-mail. For the anti-tech folks on your list (yes, those people are out there, I call mine “Dad”) or those closest to you, a quick call should cover it, or a hug when you visit.

4. The Elf. You’ve got to find some inner excitement to make your elf’s next move, to create the next scene. Then you’ve got to get the picture just right for each of your social media feeds.

Just get rid of her. Seriously. That is my approach this year and I’m breathing relief already. So is my kid.

5. Tantrum anticipation. Are the kids going to fight over presents we get them? You know your kids. You’re thinking you’re probably going to see some epic tantrums, then feel like they ruined Christmas, then feel like a horrible mother, then get the evil eye from Grandma Stuffy Pants, then wonder if there’s any chance she could get run over by a reindeer. Ah, to dream. 😉

First of all, repeat after me. Forget what other people think. Say it again. And again. If you know your kids are stressed, the tension is high for everyone with so much excitement in the air, consider dripping gifts out over the days, do a handful at a time. Play Santa and pass out only one gift at a time so that the slow pace allows you to react calmly to big emotions.

6. School activities. Thanks to the schools who so kindly trap include your kids in lots of fun holiday activities.

There’s no way around it. So schedule yourself a treat. And no, a shower with the door closed is not a treat, no matter what the world of helpful parenting advice tells you. Go to the coffee shop with a book and get yourself one of those awful, massive, chocolate caramel peppermint sprinkle double cream drinks and read a book, remember those? Also, turn off your ringer.

Also, put in your planner that (Insert Horrible Commitment Here) will be half-assed. You know, to make up for the effort.

7. The Tree. The kids pull off ornaments or decide it’s the perfect setting for The Epic Battle of the War of the My Little Ponies.

If your kids tussle around the tree, consider cloth or plastic ornaments, at least for the bottom portion. If you’ve got precious favorite fragile ornaments that have been packed away since your peanut could crab walk, pick up a couple of decorative ornament hangers from a craft store to display them high up on a shelf somewhere. Maybe where the Elf used to keep watch.

8. Chocolate. If you’re like me, and a sugar addict, this time of the year can really add some jolly old guilt. You want to keep up the good habits you’ve built, cutting back on sugar. A voice in your head reminds you that your energy, skin, sleep, it’s all better. Now, everyone is giving everyone chocolate and cookies and you want to eat it ALL. It’s calling your name from the closet where you’ve stashed it behind the cream of mushroom soup.

Screw guilt. That’s what New Year’s resolutions are for. Just eat the brown, gooey goodness with abandon. If you don’t want to go no-rules, get a little supply of your favorite treat, the one you can take just a bite of from time to time and not dive face first into, coming up for air once the container is empty and package licked clean. Give the rest to someone else. One benefit of eating a bunch of crap after you’ve been eating healthy for a while–it just might, in all its über sweetness, make you feel like absolute crap anyway and you’ll realize you don’t really want it anymore.

Internal Sanity Wreckers

9. Am I making “good memories” for my kids? We put so much pressure on this “magical” time. We remember our childhood Christmases, a haze of innocent ideas and ecstatic feelings, anticipating the Big Day. We try to fill our calendars with Santa sightings, holiday parties, crafting, baking, gift choosing, story telling, movie marathoning, caroling, elfing, decorating.

The trouble is, your kids’ memories will come in the most random places, when things happen that you couldn’t imagine. The memories will come, whether they have the tallest tree on the lot or the smallest present under the tree. The memories will come. Trust it. Let your mind be in the moment you’re in.

10. Being far away from family. Back in the day, everyone was together for the holidays. These days, we move around a lot. Whether your distance is measured by streets or time zones, being away from family can create an undercurrent of sadness.

When there is nothing you can do about your situation, acceptance will get you a good distance on this stressor. The real steps come when you make plans to do whatever you can. Set up a Skype or phone call for a few minutes during the family party. Send video or photo slide show of your kids opening family members’ gifts. Order some photos to be delivered to a drug store near grandpa and then surprise him with a big stack of prints. Being far apart doesn’t mean  out of each others’ lives.

11. After the death of a loved one. It just hurts. It may not be so apparent to everyone else, but celebrating holidays without a loved one can be crushing. You keep yourself busy, maybe avoid certain decorations or meals or shops or anything you worry might trigger a snot-pouring cry.

Pushing away memories in hopes of avoiding pain rarely does anyone any good. Give yourself permission to feel how you feel. Do you have to face a party where the person’s absence will be felt strongly? Write in a journal everything you’re feeling or afraid of, cry it out with a friend or partner. Be honest with yourself about any fears of what emotions may surface. At a party, steal away to the bathroom for a few minutes and have a good cry. The holidays may hurt, but the degree to which it hurts can be lessened by confronting the hurt head on. And remember, would you expect someone who is suffering to feel perfect and happy all the time? No, of course not. And no one expects that from you.

Consider creating a special act of remembrance that fills you with happy memories. Did they love having pumpkin pie by the fire? Pick up a slice and eat it by candle light. Toast them. Buy some of their favorite tea and have a sip on Christmas Eve. Flip through a photo montage with your kids and swap memories. Let their presence be felt.

12. Memories rushing back from childhood. Whether good or bad, you may find your mind is cluttered with childhood memories from holidays past. The sights and sounds we see once a year can make a great anchor for memories. It can be surprising or even unwanted. And when those sights and sounds resurface annually, those memories come rushing back in surprising ways.

When it happens, again, pushing it all down is not going to help. OK, maybe it does in the short term. But if you get nailed with a surprising memory, jot it down. Put it out of your mind for a bit. Then, when you aren’t under such holiday stress, go back to it and do some personal maintenance looking into why those memories surfaced and see what it might be telling you about what’s still unresolved in your heart. If it’s causing serious stress and you find you don’t even want to face it, this may be a sign to consider therapy. No joke.

The ultimate sanity savior

Here’s what I believe is the ultimate sanity savior: our thoughts. Since psychologists believe our thoughts control our feelings, we have the power to settle our moods by being aware of our thoughts.

If we let our worry, our stresses, our sadness, bury us, we turn what we hope will be a time of love and connection, into the absolute worst time of year. There are endless expectations waiting to weigh us down.

We raise the stakes, set the bar so high we can never reach it, whether making good memories, avoiding the bad, or facing a bunch of stuff we’d rather not face. We take it all on, consciously or not, just like we do in our parenting, and we hold ourselves up to a dozen different measuring sticks (our parents, our social media feeds, the pinterest-designed standard we set for ourselves).

Before long, we’re just holding our breath until January.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself.Think: mini-meditations, quick walks in the brisk air to let go of some stress, ten minutes of stretching in the morning and getting at least a healthy meal to start your day. (You can read my tips for all of these here)

When you do that, your mood will be more stable, you’ll be able to trust your judgement when you need to set some limits. You’ll deal with the inevitable bumps and busted ornaments with less yelling and more patience.

What I really hope, is that if none of my suggestions make any sense to you, at least this will. Listen to yourself. Listen to the limits you feel you need to set and trust that your needs matter. Make the choices that support those limits. And be okay with all of it when the time comes for you to say no.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. How do you keep your sanity in check when the holidays get crazy?

 

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Showing 8 comments
  • Clare O'Dea
    Reply

    Super list, Tara. The hardest thing of all around Christmas is to make room for quiet and reflection. That’s why those walks in the wintry countryside admiring amazing frost formations are so important. Also a good time of year to say no to things, as you point out.

  • Rachael Soster-Smith
    Reply

    Lovely thoughts thank you Tara. And yes – I agree a shower with the door closed is NOT proper ‘me time’!

    It is incredible how stress slowly builds at this time of year – and even though I’m doing my best to keep stressors at a minimum – there are so many tiny things adding up that it’s difficult to avoid entirely for sure.

    Merry stressless Xmas to you and your family 🙂

  • Marisa
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts! I often wonder how to escape all the frenzy during this time of year, which is actually supposed to be a time of quiet, reflection and anticipation. Instead, it is just too easy to get carried away with all those mundane tasks of shopping and cooking and decoration and… And I think a lot of it has to do with wanting to fulfill others’ expectations and not wanting to disappoint anyone. So, listening to yourself is certainly a good start, and it has to be followed by a good portion of willpower and endurance to act upon it.

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      yep, I think you’re right. being ok with slowing down and letting go. I feel like the holiday insanity is really a magnifying glass for the rest of the year because these ideas are true Jan.-Nov. as well!

  • Tamara
    Reply

    Will it surprise you when I say I liked the coffeehouse bit the best?
    Kidding aside, I love your list, especially the attitude part. I felt like I was on top of things until mid-December, then for some reason I got stressed out. Finally getting back into a mellow, merry mindset.
    Hope your holidays will go well! Glad I met you this year! ?????

    • Tara McLaughlin Giroud
      Reply

      Yes! Me too! 😉 And it really is the little bits that start piling up and you don’t realize it until it’s a big ball of stress and you wonder why! 😉 Have a wonderful holiday!

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