Choose to enjoy the holidays–stress-free

‘The holidays are so stressful! Shopping is such a chore. Christmas starts up so early these days. It ruins all the fun!’

Many people, especially those with large families, feel pressure and anxiety at this time of year. Does it have to be that way?

Well, there is an alternative, but get ready—it may be shocking. Although the holiday season is already in full swing, there’s still time to consider a different attitude than the ones expressed above. The new attitude is: Choice.

You have the power to choose how much stress and anxiety you wish to endure this holiday season. Specifically, you can choose to NOT engage in—or at least limit—the exchange of gifts. Giving and receiving presents during the holidays is not like breathing or eating. We can’t survive without breathing or eating. We are, however, free to tell our significant others, friends and family that we want to control or curtail the often stressful practice of searching for, selecting, buying, and giving (what we hope will be) the ‘perfect gift.’ Of course, giving and receiving goodies can be lots of fun. But, if the process ends up bringing you more stress than happiness, you CAN choose an alternative.

One choice is to decide how you give and receive gifts. You don’t have to blindly default to the way it’s always been. If everyone in your family gives gifts to everyone else, that’s fine. Nothing is more festive than lots of brightly wrapped presents under the tree. But you can propose other options, too. For example, suggest that each person draw a name, and the name they draw will be the person for whom they buy. Some larger families have done this for years, and offices do it all the time. Such an approach allows each participant the time and energy to concentrate (and maybe even spend more money) on the person he or she has selected. Others might take a cruise or travel someplace special for the holidays. Their gift to one another is a memorable experience that isn’t destined to collect dust in the attic.

I’m not advocating any one particular way to exchange holiday gifts. What I am saying is that we all have a choice. The biggest problem with the holidays, psychologically speaking, is that too many people approach it as a duty or as drudgery. They feel they must buy gifts, not just for a chosen few, but for everyone. They don’t feel content to buy just one or a few things—it’s all or nothing. If quality often takes a back seat to quantity on Christmas Day, then maybe this is what you resent, not the gifts themselves. Are you motivated to buy lots of expensive gifts for your kids because they will really appreciate every one of them all year long? Or, if you’re really honest with yourself, are you trying to impress everybody else? If it’s the latter, then maybe this is what you’re stressed about, more than the lines at the mall or the last minute rush.

‘Materialism,’ business and advertising get the blame for much of this, but advertising can’t force us to do anything. It might momentarily intensify the desire to buy a certain thing, but we still retain the power to change our attitudes, beliefs and actions. Well-run businesses respond to what the majority appears to want, and rightly so. The problem is that the majority doesn’t seem to question what they want; they just do it, and they do it with a lot of resentment and bottled-up anger.

When you find yourself thinking, ‘I’m sick of the holidays’ or ‘I just can’t do it this year,’ ask yourself, ‘How do I really want to handle gifts? What can I really afford? Am I truly satisfied when it’s all over?’ Think about last year’s holiday season. If you liked the way it was, then remind yourself that all the hassle was worth it. Challenge the words ‘hassle’ or ‘stress.’ Maybe you’re rushing to label something a ‘hassle’ that is, in truth, something you treasure and enjoy.

Several years ago, during a particularly busy pre-holiday time, I agonized over the decision to suggest to family and friends that we suspend gift giving, in favor of ‘experiences’ together: A fun dinner together at a nice restaurant, or a day-trip to a nearby city. After I finally worked up the nerve to suggest the unthinkable (I could just hear it: ‘No gifts!? Horror of horrors, it’s Scrooge!’), I was totally astounded by everyone’s reaction. They loved it! Apparently the stress and pressure of battling traffic and trying to pick out a gift that wouldn’t end up languishing in a dark corner (or furtively returned) was wearing on everybody. It just happened that I was the one with the nerve to bring it up. We still buy gifts for one another during the year—retailers here at the beach always seem to have unique and unusual items—and the season is more fun and less frantic.

My point is this: Don’t approach the holidays as a duty. A duty is something you are forced to do, or something over which you have no choice. If the season honestly feels that way to you, then something is wrong. It might be your thinking, your actions, or both. If any of these aren’t working, then change them. And you might be surprised at how many of your friends and family feel the same way.

And so it has begun. Plan for the holidays, exercise the power of choice over what makes you happy, and then sit back and REALLY enjoy this special time.