Juggling your to-do list of personal and professional responsibilities is tough any time of year. But around the holidays there’s so much pressure to fit everything in, from parties and shopping to seeing old friends. When you add high expectations, family drama, or social anxiety to the mix, the holidays can turn into a hot mess of overwhelm.
If all the busyness is leaving you with a case of the fa-la-la-la-la-blahs, here are four steps to help you get back to feeling merry and bright.
1. Adjust your expectations
Your mind is probably swirling with everything you “should” be doing (“I should invite my in-laws over” or “I should get to the gym”). This one word can get in your way, causing unnecessary guilt and stress.
Question the voice of your inner critic saying you’re lazy or falling behind. Being realistic about what you can accomplish will help you tackle the season’s ups and downs with greater ease.
It’s also important to set expectations upfront and early with other people. Check in with your partner and family. Try to understand what they actually want out of the holiday. What are their hopes and desires? (And more importantly, what are yours?)
If you find yourself stuck on a problem, try to find a middle ground by using a popular improv technique known as “yes, and…” In a nutshell, rather than staying in the realm of excuses about why something can’t be done, it helps you brainstorm compromises.
For example, instead stonewalling plans by saying, “No, it’s impossible to get everyone together,” expand your options: “Yes, it’s true we won’t all be in one place and we can still mail gifts and then open them via video chat.”
2. Set a schedule and some boundaries
Around the holidays, it’s easy to feel like you have too much to do and too little time. To keep overwhelm at bay, rely on your schedule. Map out a calendar now so you can have some flexibility to accommodate the last-minute hiccups (because they will come up!) and be sure to block off time for the must-do activities like cooking, shopping, and self-care.
Once you know what’s ahead of you, avoid overextending yourself so you won’t end up burning out. Whether it’s another party, dinner, or gift exchange, take stock of all your obligations and assess where you need to say “no.” You can set boundaries with kindness by saying something short and sweet like, “Thanks for thinking of me. I won’t be able to make it. I hope it’s a great time!”
3. Honor your regular routines
Healthy habits are the usually the first thing to go when overwhelm strikes. That’s because stress shuts down our ability to self-monitor and make good decisions. You can pre-empt this by prioritizing the foundations of well-being: daily movement, eating well, logging plenty of sleep full each night.
Not only will this give you more energy, it’ll help you approach challenging situations with calm and patience that’s out of reach when you’re drained. Sticking as close to your regular routine as possible will help you feel more confident and in control.
4. Make room for mindfulness
If your mind feels scattered, practicing bringing your attention back to the present moment. Pick a single object in the room to focus on. Notice its shape, color, and texture. This is a simple way to quiet the chatter in your head.
Also, consider taking a timeout from the holiday hubbub to get back to what really matters. Turn toward your spirituality. Create new traditions that better align with your values. Pay it forward to help others by donating or volunteering. Doing good will help you feel good.
Finally, give yourself the gift of compassion. Some degree of stress is healthy. It’s the sign of a full, vibrant life. If you can acknowledge the good with the bad and consciously choose joy by ditching perfectionism, seeking support, and taking care of yourself, you’ll have yourself a happier holiday.
Melody Wilding is a coach and licensed social worker who helps ambitious high-achievers manage the emotional aspects of having a successful career. She also teaches Human Behavior at Hunter College in NYC. A popular speaker, Melody has delivered talks for TedX and others.