Clark W. Griswold “loses it” at the end of the movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Weeks of preparing for the perfect Christmas is foiled by a squirrel in the Christmas tree, difficult family members, and the expectation that he would receive a Christmas bonus that would pay for a family swimming pool. Clark goes on an iconic eggnog-induced tirade where he cusses out about everyone he can think of and takes a chainsaw to a tree in his yard. Clark tried too hard for too long.
Think about your Christmases for a moment. How have you tried too hard? One of the reasons I think National Lampoon’s Christmas is such a popular guilty pleasure is because we see ourselves in it. Visiting umpteen parties, events, and family gatherings takes its toll. You find yourself thinking more of the casseroles you have to take to this party and the gifts that you have yet to buy. Whatever excitement and joy we felt as children during Christmas has been replaced in adulthood with a list of tasks that we tell ourselves must be met.
Your holidays don’t have to be this stressful…
Does it really have to be this way? When did a moment where God came down and was born in a very humble manager placed in a feeding trough become the reason for a junk food feeding frenzy and extravagant gift exchange?
It seems that the prevailing attitude is “Oh no, I’m not ready for Christmas” or “I can’t wait for the holidays to be over.” How sad.
I’m no expert in time management. I’m not a Martha Stewart wannabe. I am a counselor. Many times I find my job is to help people see the need for simplification and priorities.
Other than loss and loneliness, I think the number one reason people struggle with the holidays is the inability to say ‘no’. We can be really quick to get into other people’s heads and think for them, feeling that we will disappoint them if we do not perform to a certain level.
The Holiday Areas of Stress
1.) Staying at someone else’s home or having others stay at your home.
2.) Visiting multiple places in just a matter of one or two days.
3.) Providing food for these different situations when you are not at home to cook or have the time.
4.) Sleeplessness (kids getting up early to see what Santa left, having a limited sleep schedule due to late night party attendance, etc.)
5.) Unhealthy food/beverage consumption.
6.) Having to face the awkwardness, unresolved family issues, anger, etc. that comes with being with family that you try to avoid year-round.
But there is a solution, check these out…
Do you relate to any of these? I think Clark Griswold could relate to most of them. If you do, let’s take a look at some ways to overcome the holiday stress.
1.) Staying at someone else’s home or having others stay at yours…
Some people struggle with boundaries. One of the best things to do when you are visiting others for a period of time is to stay in a hotel. Yes, it may cost more financially, but the peace of mind it can bring is worth it. Pair staying in a hotel with some kind of excursion activity in town can also give a good reason for not being with the host family 24/7.
I know many struggle with telling the host family that they are staying in a hotel. They feel that it may be perceived as a slight. Consider why you are feeling this stress and how it is motivating your behavior. Acting out of guilt is not beneficial to anyone. The host family will enjoy the time that you all spend together; anything else is a guilt trip. Once you allow yourself to get onboard of a guilt trip, it is difficult to stop the ride. Go into Christmas with a plan. (Dealing with a guilt trip, check out this article: How To Navigate A Guilt Trip.)
If you plan on having others stay at your home, ask yourself a few questions: Is this an idea that you want to become tradition? More than likely it could become a yearly expectation. Being a host family can take its toll without boundaries. These boundaries could include being very clear about when you are ready to receive guests, communication that you will not be preparing every meal, that you have other activities planned that do not necessarily involve the guests, etc. Do not misunderstand; I am not encouraging a lack of hospitality. I am, however, encouraging very clear communication to prevent faulty assumptions from taking place.
2.) Visiting multiple places in just a matter of one or two days…
Many struggle with this, but I think families with small children struggle the most. Young children need routine. Honor that. Anyone who does not consider how difficult it is to put children through lack of routine has a problem with themselves, not you. They are projecting that problem onto you.
Providing food for these different situations when you are not at home to cook or have the time is difficult. Yes, I know. You are famous for your pecan pie and if you do not take your pecan pie to the next gathering, you are less of a person. Just kidding. Not really. I think many actually feel this way. They have put more value in what they bring than the actual purpose of the get-together in the first place.
The solution(s): cook something and freeze it a month earlier, take shortcuts by buying pre-made food from your grocer’s deli, or agree to be the one who brings the paper products. Stop over-identifying with “what” you bring and put more focus on the “who” you will be with.
3.) Sleeplessness (kids getting up early to see what Santa left, having a limited sleep schedule due to late night party attendance, etc.)
When do we ever perform well with lack of sleep? How do we expect the holidays to be relaxing and celebratory when we completely disrupt our routine, namely our sleep routine? If you think about it, and you don’t have to think that hard about it, sometimes what we do at holidays borders on the ridiculous. No wonder so many people end up sick, or like Clark, having a breakdown, at the holidays.
Christmas morning comes once a year and I understand that kids should get a free pass on this one for getting up earlier, BUT if they choose to do so, I think building in an extra naptime to compensate is not out of the question. I know, I know. You’re expected to visit this gathering and that gathering. It can wait. Giving your family some needed rest will make everyone less cranky.
If Aunt Bethany has a problem with it, learn to deal with the fact that you cannot please everyone. If you find yourself feeling that you have to please everyone, I highly suggest speaking with a counselor after Christmas so that when the holidays roll around next year, you’ve got a plan and a new way of looking at dealing with people. (Struggling with sleep, check out this article: Five Tips For Sleeping Well.)
4.) Unhealthy food consumption
The holidays are known for excess. Christmas treats seem to circulate whether or not you ask for them. Many people gain weight during the holidays. Some, like Clark, have a little too much to drink and will always have a memory attached: “Remember that time on Christmas 2015 when you…”
This is tricky. I would suggest making healthy choices before the holidays so that it makes it a little easier to make healthy choices DURING the holidays. The week of Christmas is not a good time to start a new approach to eating.
5.) Having to face the awkwardness, unresolved family issues, anger, etc. that comes with being with family that you try to avoid year-round.
This is quite possibly the most difficult situation of those listed. Oftentimes this involves deep-seated history. How you handle these “Christmas situations” sets the tone for future holidays.
A few pointers for going into spending time with family:
♦ Forget about trying to “change” the other person. Remember that you can only change you, and how you react to others.
♦ Ask yourself at any given time “How am I making assumptions?” Assumptions and faulty expectations grow like a snowball in an avalanche.
♦ Think of the fussy toddler rule. More than likely one of the reasons you feel agitated is that you’re hungry, tired, or cannot communicate your needs in a clear way. Learn to communicate. This means using “I feel statements” rather than the ALWAYS defensive “You statements.”
At the end of the movie it is apparent that all of Clark’s best laid plans went up in smoke and it helps the family focus on what is really important at Christmas. That is my challenge to you: simplify Christmas. Jesus had a simple birth, why do we complicate the celebration of it?
But wait, here are a few more solutions:
• Instead of gifting objects, gift time. “Things” clutter life anyway. Those you love will always remember the time you shared with them, but the things you bought them may not be so memorable or important. This could mean the time you spend directly at Christmastime or could be a gift of an activity in the future. (Think educational opportunities, concerts, shows, athletic events, hikes, trips, etc.)
• Spend time volunteering. The time you spend with those who do not have will help develop a grateful heart. It will also put everything else further down the list of priorities, and quite possibly strike some of the things off of your list all together.
• There’s nothing wrong with changing tradition. Christmas does not always have to mean the same rigmarole every year. Let your adventurous spirit change things up. Tell others you are making changes. Explain what Christmas means to you, and how you plan to honor that this year. Invite them to be a part of the simplification of Christmas.
What are ways that you help make your holidays stress free?