How you can reduce holiday stress

Local experts suggest ways to be honest about expectations

We all have our own idea of a perfect Christmas in our heads, and more often than not our vision doesn’t exactly match our family’s, or even society’s, vision.

So we try to make the holidays into what we think everyone else wants. Or we continue doing things the way we’ve always done them in the name of tradition, which can lead to a lot of stress.

And really, where’s the Christmas spirit in that?

“It’s so tempting to say yes to everything at the beginning of the season because we’re excited, but there are only 24 hours in a day, and that’s all we’re going to get,” said Kay Frances, stress management expert, author and speaker, www.kayfrances.com, in Wilmington. “Determine your level of involvement on anything and be realistic on what you can do, especially when it comes to pleasing other people.”

Frances advises learning how to say no.

“Remember that your choices for each holiday activity are essentially this: do-it-yourself, delegate or let it go,” Frances said. “The world will keep spinning if you skip something.”

Lori Firsdon, owner of Forte Organizers in Dayton, speaker and Dayton Daily News columnist, advises picturing your perfect holiday before stress or the season takes over.

“You definitely want to write down what you want to do for the holidays. Get everyone’s input, kids, spouse, and ask, ‘What is your ideal Christmas like?’ ” Firsdon said. “Schedule it on the calendar, and, if you can’t make it, you can reschedule it. People get caught up in more things and then there’s not enough time to enjoy the things that they’ve worked so hard to get.”

Decorate a little less, only using the things you love the most.

Frances said, “This year, I’m decorating in stages, and I’m only pulling out things that I love and that have sentimental value to it. What’s left over, I’m giving to Goodwill. So, when I look at my decorations, I can say, ‘I love this,’ or ‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ The ones that I put back in the box will be things I love for next year.”

Send cards only if it brings you joy.

Firsdon said, “When I did do them, I got the photo done early, either in summer vacation, at Halloween or by the latest, Thanksgiving. I always did cards because my mom did it, and I felt obligated, but when my mom got sick and I became her caregiver, all the extras went out the window, and I didn’t do cards, and I survived.

“If you love doing Christmas cards, do it. If you don’t, replace it with something else that gives more meaning to you at Christmas,” Firsdon said.

Shop outside the box if going into a store makes you sweat.

“Think about clutter-free gifts instead of store-bought items,” said Firsdon, who likes to eliminate an item on a person’s present list. “Grandparents can bake with their grandchildren; offer to take someone out to lunch or dinner or to pet sit.”

Firsdon said that she reduces her shopping stress by asking exactly what a person needs or wants, shopping early and during football games to avoid crowds and stocking up on gift bags, which are reusable and faster than wrapping.

“Be honest with ourselves and our families about what we hate, like shopping, then ask, ‘Are gift cards OK?’ ” Frances said. “Making them do something that they hate is what causes stress.”

Host a dinner with less pressure by planning ahead.

“If you are making a Christmas dinner, buy staples and anything else you can ahead of time. I bake ahead of time and freeze things for Christmas dinner. Have people bring something. We don’t break out the games until cleanup is done, so everyone wants to clean up fast,” Firsdon said.

Accept and extend that invitation only if you really want to celebrate.

Firsdon said, “Why do you feel so obligated to go if you really don’t want to go? If it’s not bringing you joy, it’s doing something else to you. As an organizer, I see people doing parties out of obligation and you have to ask, ‘Why?’ And if you don’t want to go, replace it with something meaningful to you.”

Simplifying lists, obligations and expectations can give you what most people want during this time of year — time.

“Every second counts when you’re trying to spend time with your family during the holidays,” Firsdon said.

“We should not expect our family to meet all of our holiday needs. If they don’t want to do a Christmas cookie exchange, I’ll go somewhere else,” Frances said.

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