Surviving and Thriving During the Holidays

What can you make with stressed out parents, well-meaning in-laws, overcommitted kids and immense pressure from the media? A sure-fire recipe for holiday madness.

By KD Reep

Surviving the Holidays

Turn off that noise and make the holidays ones you’ll enjoy. Care for your family and yourself, and forget what the magazine covers and daytime talk shows tell you are the best ways to have a perfect holiday. Instead of surviving the holidays, follow these tips for thriving during the holidays.

First, and most importantly, say no. This means not pursuing traditions you just don’t have time for—long-held, family-based or otherwise—or taking on any new ones (Elf on the Shelf, anyone?).

“You may feel pressure from your parents or in-laws to continue the traditions they have set, but you are not committed to that,” said Dr. Brittney Schrick, assistant professor and family life specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. “Saying no to things you aren’t excited about will allow you to enjoy the things you are excited about. If you are running from one thing to the next for six weeks, you won’t remember or enjoy anything you do. Give yourself permission to opt out of some things. Maybe it means you go to one side of the family for Thanksgiving and one side for Christmas. Maybe you have Christmas morning at your own house and then travel in the afternoon. Maybe you send your regrets to a party host or two rather than accepting every invitation.”

Next, accept that you don’t have to do everything perfectly. “Pinterest has increased a pressure for perfection that already existed,” Dr. Schrick said. “The decorations, parties and presents you see in the media or even at other’s homes are not necessary. If you don’t have the time, funds or energy to make your front door look like the cover of Country Living, DIY all of your kids’ teacher gifts, or make an elaborate meal, then find a level of engagement in the holiday season that works for you and your family. What kids want most is time. Time with mom; time with family; time with each other. Sharing yourself is really what the holidays are about.”

This may seem counterintuitive, but be selfish. This means doing something just for yourself when everyone is grabbing for your time. “Put yourself on your calendar,” Dr. Schrick said. “Give yourself time to refresh and recharge. Schedule a massage or pedicure. Curl up in your PJ’s and watch Netflix. Read a book. Take a nap. Whatever you need to do to be fully yourself is not only okay, it’s necessary. It’s sometimes viewed as selfish when parents take time out for their own interests or self-care, but what is the alternative? A stressed- out, stretched-thin parent who is desperately reaching for the finish line rather than present in the moment.”

Determine what is most important to you and your kids. Be mindful that this may change from year to year. “Don’t be surprised if kids become less engaged in the holidays as they get older,” Dr. Schrick said. “Little ones are excited about everything. They want to help, even when you don’t want them to. Everything is magical. Older kids are harder to impress, and they may just look at the holidays as a break from school where they get presents. Getting older kids involved in the actual preparation can get them engaged in new ways. It’s also a great way to teach skills like cooking, budgeting and organizing. Let them cook part of the holiday meal, clean and organize the house, read to or entertain younger kids. You get to spend time with them, and they gain a sense of accomplishment (even if they don’t show it).”

Don’t forget to keep moving. “You can find whatever kind of rich food you are looking for during the holidays,” Dr. Schrick said. “All the candy, cookies, nuts and other treats can wreak havoc on your system. Definitely enjoy the spiced cider and eggnog, but be good to yourself by exercising and balancing your meals. Eat larger portions of vegetables and fruit, smaller portions of desserts and treats, keep working out, and you’ll feel better overall.”

Finally, if you are struggling, reach out. “The holidays are not the most wonderful time of the year for everyone,” Dr. Schrick said. “In fact, many people feel isolated, empty and depressed. Sometimes, these feelings can become overwhelming. If you feel hopeless, trapped or like a burden to others, please know there are people who care and want to talk to you. Call 1-888-CRISIS2 (274-7472) for help any time of the day, every day of the year.”