Stress-Free Holidays

‘The holidays are so stressful! Shopping is such a chore!’ I hear this from so many people, especially those with large families. Does it really have to be that way? Well, there is an alternative. It may be shocking, but there’s still time to consider a different attitude. The new attitude is: Choice.

YOU have the power to choose how much anxiety you wish to endure this holiday season. Specifically, you can choose NOT to engage in (or at least limit) the exchange of gifts. We are, in fact, free to tell our significant others, friends and family that we want to control the often stressful practice of searching for (what we hope will be) the ‘perfect’ gift. Of course, giving and receiving goodies can be lots of fun, but if it ends up causing more stress than happiness, you can choose an alternative.

One choice is to decide how you give and receive gifts. If everyone in your family gives 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. For example, suggest that each person draw a name, and that name will be the person for whom they buy. Some larger families and offices do this all the time. Each participant can concentrate (and maybe even spend more money) on the person he or she has selected. Others might take a cruise or a trip for the holidays. Their gift to one another is a memorable experience that isn’t doomed 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 have a choice. Psychologically speaking, the biggest problem with the holidays 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 can’t buy just one or a few things. It’s all or nothing.

Often, quality takes a back seat to quantity on Christmas Day. Are you motivated to buy lots of expensive gifts for your kids because they will appreciate every one of them all year long? Or (be honest, now’), are you trying to impress everybody else? If it’s the latter, then maybe that’s more stressful than the lines 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 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 — with lots of resentment and bottled-up anger.

If 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?  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. Maybe you’re rushing to label something a ‘hassle’ that is, in truth, something you treasure.

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 at a nice restaurant or a day-trip to a nearby city. After I finally worked up the nerve to suggest the unthinkable (‘No gifts!? Horror of horrors, it’s Scrooge!’), I was astounded by everyone’s reaction. They loved it! Apparently the stress of battling traffic for a gift that wouldn’t end up languishing in a dark corner (or furtively returned to the store) 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’s begun. Plan for the holidays, exercise the power of choice over what makes you happy, and then sit back and REALLY enjoy this special season.