The holiday season can feel crazy if you do too much. Here’s how to choose Christmas activities to avoid stress and overwhelm.
It’s that time of year again—time for the stomachaches, headaches, and muscle knots.
Yep, it’s the holiday season!
Don’t get me wrong. My family and I love the Christmas and holiday season!
Well, we do now. A few years ago, probably not as much. I admit that was because of me – I wanted to do all the stuff.
I mean All. The. Stuff!
And, that made everyone in my family miserable!
So we made several changes – and now we know how to choose Christmas activities to avoid stress. Those ‘said changes’ are what I’m going to include in this post.
I’m sharing a lot of details – in fact, it may be a lot to take in if you’re new to these things.
So, to help you remember everything, I’ve also created a FREE Christmas Planner – specific to what I share in this post (it’s not your usual planner!) – and you can download it!
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8 Tips to Avoid Holiday Stress
- Set your goals
- Remember everyone’s personality traits
- Set a budget
- Make an inventory list
- Make a preference list
- Build your plan
- Say no
- Post-holiday evaluation
Stress is a choice. Yes, that may be hard to hear, but our stress results from our choices and decisions.
Here are some tips to help you make better choices and decisions.
1 Set Your Experience Goals – A Pivotal Way to Choose Christmas Activities to Avoid Stress!
To begin, decide what kind of holiday season you’d like to experience. This is your experience goal. And, if you’re a person of faith, prayerfully decide what your goal will be for the Advent and Christmas season.
Meaning, you and your family spend time in prayer to determine how you’d like your holiday experience to go. How do you want to feel?
Then, verbalize and write down each family member’s goal (very young children excluded, of course), understanding that there’s no right or wrong goal.
It’s important to figure this out upfront if you want to reduce your stress.
You see, there are big differences between the holiday experiences of peace, connection, and service.
In fact, not specifying each family member’s goal was one of our biggest mistakes. We didn’t connect it all at the time, but your desired experience should drive your activities.
Your goals tell you whether you are going to spend the time alone or with other people (Covid safe).
Your goals also determine whether you will be quiet or talking a lot. And, your goals determine if you will be sitting still or moving around.
|Quiet & alone||Talking & with people||Talking, moving & with people|
- A peace-driven goal may look like watching movies or reading Scripture around a warm fireplace. Or to others, it may look more like baking cookies.
- In contrast, a connection-driven goal may be going to social events. It could be with family, friends, co-workers, or all of them-at multiple functions.
- A service-driven goal might look like serving food at a homeless shelter, picking up trash along the roadside, cooking a meal for a group of people you don’t know very well (a youth group or people receiving services from a non-profit organization), or distributing meals or clothing through an organization.
The above descriptions are just random examples to help you understand the differences between experiences. I hope you see there can be big differences between desired holiday experiences.
Everyone May Want a Different Holiday Experience
Therefore, you need to understand that a child, spouse, or family member who can’t sit still is going to have a different goal than a family member who normally never gets to sit down.
A family member who loves lots of stimulation and noise is going to have (or need) a different goal than a family member who can’t take a lot of stimulation and noise.
Once you consider everyone’s goals, you’ll have more confidence about who can participate in various activities and events.
In other words, don’t expect your family to have a “Hallmark Christmas experience” if you drag your entire family to an event that clashes with their desires.
Instead, match the activity or event to the desired experience, and bring/send just the family members who want to do it (when possible).
I do a couple of activities with a friend and no longer force my family members to go. After I got over the initial disappointment, I find it is a win-win for all.
My family doesn’t have to endure the stress, and I don’t have to spend any emotional energy worrying about them. I also don’t have to listen to them complain or deal with others’ emotional stress and negative emotions.
People Who Serve Others
Oh, and one last thing I wanted to mention. People like you and me, people who serve and take care of others, are known for putting our own needs last.
Don’t do that this season.
Spend time in prayer to let the Lord reveal your goal to you. You might be surprised to see peace, calm or faithfulness is your goal – even if you have already written out a long to-do list.
2 Remember Everyone’s Personality Traits
Personality traits really matter.
Depending on the event, some family members are going to exert more emotional energy than the others.
Consequently, some family members are going to use up their emotional energy faster than others.
For example, an introverted person is not going to be comfortable for very long at a large social gathering.
In particular to this post, as a person with a more extroverted personality, I enjoy doing social activities and events that my family members with introverted personality traits truly hate!
I had no idea! Honestly, I thought they were just being difficult ‘that day’. Turns out, they were frustrated with me and thinking I was being difficult!
When you take these matters to the Lord through prayer, however, you see these traits are how God created them. Prayerful consideration of the traits of others can help you see them as God does – without judgment.
So as family members start sharing goals and coming up with ideas for activities and events, be sure to accommodate everyone’s personality traits.
- Now, we bring ear protectors for my daughter when we go to holiday concerts or events with loud sounds.
- I don’t ask my husband to go to large social gatherings full of strangers.
- But, he accommodates me and attends social gatherings with friends (even though he is more comfortable with just another couple, small groups, or alone).
In my family, we have found it is possible to go to events that clash with various personality traits – as long as there is a short time commitment.
Consequently, we are usually first to arrive and first to leave Christmas and holiday events, but this is the solution that avoids stress for everybody in the family.
After we figured out how to help each family member avoid emotional exhaustion, we were able to be at peace about being selective with our Christmas activity and event choices.
3 Set a Budget to Choose Activities to Avoid Stress
This one is pretty straight-forward, but I mention it because it’s one of the most ignored.
Over-spending is one of the biggest causes of holiday stress. Set a budget for the Christmas & holiday season’s events and activities – and then stick to it.
Set up a budget for separate categories based on your goal above.
For example, if your goal is financial giving, then you may want to spend more on charity donations and less on events or activities.
It’s surprising to see how much money goes into Christmas & holiday spending. If you want to get more detailed on your budget, Christmas and holiday season categories may include:
- Food for cooking meals & baking
- Eating at restaurants
- Home decorations
- Tree decorations
- Cards & postage
- Charity giving
- Tips for service people
One of the best ways to control spending is to set a budget, and then thinking about and writing down expected expenditures.
For example, if you have a budget of $$ for the gift category, write down the names of everyone you want to give a gift.
Then, assign each person into a sub-category. For example, immediate family, extended family, distant family. A friend who is like family, close friend, distant friend.
Consider assigning a percentage of the budget to each category. And then again inside each category to see detailed spending suggestions.
It gets tricky when you add inappropriate emotion to gift-giving.
Try to refrain from ‘showing’ how much you love someone through the size or cost of your gift.
Remember, your gift is not going to change someone’s life. Only God’s gift of grace can do that.
Much in the same train of thought, consider making a time budget. In other words, how many hours do you want to spend on Christmas and holiday events and activities this season? Do you want to fill up every Saturday or just a couple of evenings a month?
Having a discussion and planning – in writing – how you will budget your time for these recreational endeavors will go a long way to avoiding holiday stress.
The point, though, is to remember that no matter how in-depth you go with your budget, it’s useful to reduce your Christmas and holiday stress only if you stick to it.
4 Make an Inventory List
Burnout is common during the holiday season. Over-committing is a common cause. So choose obligations wisely.
If you feel like it’s time to scale things back a bit, make a list of the things you’ve done in the past during the holiday season and note those that you’ve felt obligated to do.
These might be events & activities for church, workplace, clubs, neighbors, school, etc.
Write down all of them – whether connected to you, your spouse, or your children.
Place an asterisk on those that are mandatory. (There should be few. Most of the time, events and activities are implied to be mandatory but really aren’t. Many times it’s social pressure or guilt, not your calling, that drives your commitments).
Be brutally honest.
Then, number each item with a 1, 2, or 3.
- 1 means you really want to do the activity
- 2 means you’re indifferent
- 3 means you didn’t enjoy the event or activity
Finally, looking at the ‘1’s,’ prioritize each item assigning a number, allowing no ties.
It may feel awkward to stop doing some of the activities you’ve always done, but if you’re seeking less stress you’ll want to cut some out.
5 Make a New Preference List
Now comes the fun part.
Ask each person in your family, including yourself, to name (preferably write) 3 of their favorite Christmas events or activities from the past (section 4 can be helpful here).
Then, ask them if they have any NEW ideas they’d like to try.
Make a preference list by writing down all of the suggestions from each family member. Ask each member to pick their top choice of the three and mark it with an asterisk.
When we first started using this method to determine how to choose our Christmas activities to avoid stress and overwhelm, I was trying to survive. I was experiencing burnout and needed to make a change!
But, we made some interesting discoveries. Many of my family member’s top 3 choices were very simple compared to the energy level I was trying to achieve.
And, with my youngest’s responses, we learned we needed to explore new ideas.
When I asked her for her favorite past activities, she stated, “Singing Christmas carols to the neighbors!” But, we had never gone Christmas caroling.
That turned out to be her favorite pick – and a new family activity was born (which we still continue to do!).
Finally, go back to your inventory list and ask each family member to identify their least favorite (not mandatory) activities – whatever the reason.
As possible, drop the optional ventures that are not meaningful to anyone in the family.
If your experience is anything like mine, you will learn some interesting things. And probably, that you’re trying to do a lot of things which nobody really cares about.
While knowing that can be humbling – and maybe even cause a little anger or resentment, letting go will be the best thing you ever do!
One activity that I suggest you add to your list is finding rest in the Lord during the Advent season. It will look different for all of us, but schedule a few extra minutes to spend with the Lord in prayer, mediation, worship, or reading Scripture. The peace and calm from the Lord are beyond understanding. (see Philippians 4:6-7).
6 Build Your Plan
Now it’s time to build your plan. Using a calendar, write in the mandatory activities and events.
Using your new preference list, write in the favorite activity for each family member (and decide who will attend and what individual accommodations are needed).
If more than one person has a top choice, see if there are 2nd choice duplicates.
Limit the events & activities to the amount you identified in your financial and time budget.
7 Say No – How to Choose Christmas Activities to Avoid Stress
Saying no isn’t easy, but it is definitely possible. A good friend of mine likes to say, “Say no to the good, so you can say yes to the great!”. That’s a wonderful way to look at it.
Of course, it’s easier to say no to things we don’t want to do – or things we don’t like to do.
It’s much harder to say no to the good things – especially because there are LOTS of good things that come our way during the Christmas and holiday season.
So, remember what are the things that are ‘great’. Look back at your plan when things come up.
Is it just ‘good’? Is it on your plan?
If not, save your yes for the great thing(s) already on your plan! (And, by the way, your self-care should be on the ‘great’ list.)
8 Post Season Evaluation
At the end of the season, have a discussion with your family.
Did everyone enjoy the Christmas and holiday season choices? What suggestions for changes do they have?
What worked well? Did you find rest in the Lord?
And what do they want to change?
In closing, I know this is a lot of information. Although there are many steps and things to do, identifying an experience goal is the starting place. Once you identify your goal, the rest of the steps will fall into place.
I hope that even in your first holiday season using this process, you’ll have a good idea of what activities will bring meaning to you and your family. Then, you’ll know where to put your attention on the best experience for all!
Now You Know How to Choose Christmas Activities to Avoid Stress!
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas season and avoid as much holiday stress as possible.
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