Fall has always been my favorite time of year. I love the crispy change in the weather and wearing cozy sweaters, watching the leaves fall and the smells of yummy holiday foods, cinnamon rolls, and pumpkin lattes. Halloween is fun with kids dressed up in costumes and excited over trick or treating. Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday, with its simple focus on family and gratitude paired with amazing culinary aromas. Then, of course, there is Christmas which for me is an incredibly special time of reflection on God’s love for all of us.
As wonderful as they are, the holidays can also be somewhat stressful during the best of times. However, this holiday season promises to be even more challenging due to the pandemic. For one thing, it is stressful to spend the holidays isolated from family. Someone described it well when they said, “It takes a bite out of life to be separated from people we love.” It is admittedly also stressful to be living in constant close quarters with others – even people that you love. Add to that circumstance the stress of working in your living place and living in your working place. Lastly, a special nod goes to all parents everywhere as well as caregivers. For most parents, it is really challenging to have their kids attending school from home during this time. Other parents have lost access to childcare or cannot help but be concerned about whether their kids are able to stay safe and healthy in their present school or daycare environment. Facing the holidays can be particularly hard as a caregiver. Exhaustion and sadness over the upcoming holidays and concern for the health of your loved one adds to the complexity of the season.
So, how can we be our best version of ourselves during the stressful holidays ahead and fully enjoy this season? Here are some ideas that I plan to try and hope you find them helpful also:
1. Make your own rules. This is the year to forget about the “ought’s.” My husband wanted us to make enchiladas for Thanksgiving this year. Why not? Why not take advantage of it and only do the things that you want to do this Christmas? If you want to put up a tree, put up a tree but if it feels like a drag, skip the tree trimming and spend the extra time doing something fun. Which leads me to the next point which is…
2. Simplify. Overscheduling does take a toll on a person’s energy. Most of us are less efficient than we think at multitasking right now because of both our conscious and unconscious adaptations that are happening during the pandemic. Without conscious thought, it is far too easy to spend time taking care of the urgent while neglecting the important (but not urgent) things in our life which often provide meaning, joy, balance and feed the soul. So, consider what you have in your schedule and whether it brings joy and meaning to your life. This year say “No” to anything that doesn’t “float your boat” – a great term my family uses.
3. If you are a caregiver, delegate or resource the necessary but mundane daily tasks that other people can do as easily as you can, such as cleaning, meal prep, errands, and 24 hour caretaking of your loved one. Eat healthy foods, take time for physical exercise, and get as much rest as you can. Make time for prayer, meditation, and quiet solitude.
4. Be patient with others. There is no better time to recognize how most everyone is feeling stretched out and on edge this year. Give yourself some grace as well. If you are in especially challenging circumstances, it is really important to take time at the end of each and every day to recollect something good you have done, or something positive that you have accomplished that day, no matter how small it might be.
5. Stay current with the news, but don't spend too much time reading the news. Or checking social media. It might help to designate certain times of each day for reading the news, checking social media, and reading texts and emails. Compulsively checking these sources will be a hard habit to break, but you will be surprised at the rewards in the long run in terms of peace of mind and reduction in stress.
6. Be compassionate. Especially consider those who have lost a loved one this past year and are facing the holidays for the first time without them. Be intentional and really listen to others. A phone call or text is always appreciated but a hand-written card can be especially meaningful.
7. Be generous. There is no better medicine for the heart than giving to others. Find a person, a cause or a ministry that gives you a sense of higher purpose during this season.
8. Creatively connect with your loved ones. Look for ways to celebrate your treasured family traditions in unconventional ways. Play games together as a family via zoom. Share meals together by delegating traditional family dishes and then designating a time to zoom in and start eating your collective meals at the same time. Ask for ideas and be amazed at your family’s ingenuity!
9. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. This is a season of grieving what you thought it was going to be and instead discovering what you already have that you are grateful for that is in your life. I recent read this quote and loved it, “I thought 2020 was the year I was finally going to achieve everything I wanted. Instead 2020 was the year I became grateful for everything I already had.”
I needed to make this list for me this year! I plan to spend more time reflecting on what I already have, being intentional with my time, keeping my attitude in check and creatively using my time and energy in meaningful, positive ways. Friend, may you find joy and hope this holiday season knowing that God loves you. May the sights, sounds, smells and memories of holidays past nurture your spirit and bring you comfort and His peace. May you find ways to connect meaningfully with your loved ones and may you discover an abundance of things in your life that you are grateful for.