Less Stress For More Joy

by Patti Fralix // October - November - December 2016

Summer has come and gone, and football season is going strong. We have just entered the busiest time of the year – from October through December, holidays abound. With Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November, and Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa in December, these add more activities to already filled schedules. While this can be a wonderful time of the year, the stress that can result from a full calendar can rob the joy and add a level of stress that can be overwhelming. As this last quarter of the year begins, commit now to manage the stress so that the joy of the holidays can create wonderful memories. Ok, you say, but how?

It is first of all most important to set realistic expectations. Do you really enjoy sewing and have the time to create unique Halloween costumes? If yes, then it may be worth it to you to make the time to do so. But don’t think that it is necessary for you to if your answer to these questions is “No.” There are perfectly fine ready-made costumes that will suffice. The same is true for Halloween parties. If Halloween is your favorite holiday, then a party to celebrate the season may be worth your time and money. If not, go to the parties that others host and save your energy for other activities.

Thanksgiving is my family’s busiest holiday. Last year, we had an all-time record of 60 people seated for dinner at our table, complete with turkey plates, linens, and silver. Yes, 60! While it is a wonderful event, it takes a lot of planning, preparation, and execution – and not just on my part. We are a family of cooks and enjoy preparing meals together. And there is more than the Thanksgiving meal to prepare, for family starts arriving the weekend before turkey day, and the last ones leave the Sunday after. In the 30 years we have hosted this holiday, I have learned what to let go and what to keep. I gave up on trying to match the silver and glass ware at each table (although I do prefer that the plates at each table match). And regardless of how much easier it would be to use paper and plastic, having china and linen and cloth napkins is a rule that I insist can’t be broken. And place cards are totally unnecessary, as I learned the year that I used them and almost had a family revolt! Regardless of how soon I start the preparations, I never get finished before people start arriving, so I have become much more comfortable with asking for help, and not worrying about what isn’t done. Whether your crowd is 60 or six, the principles are the same – plan, prepare, and execute … and with lots of help from others!

Christmas may be your busiest holiday of those mentioned. If you have small children, there are likely various school parties and events that require your time and effort. Shopping for gifts can be done all year if one is organized, so that the last minute mad rush to the mall can be avoided. You may have a cookie baking party as one of your traditions, but if not, you may want to consider not baking, and buying your sweets instead. There are many good bakeries that probably have items at least as good as yours, so purchasing what you need should be an option. Yes, you will be trading money for time in doing so, and you have to decide if it is worth it, or in some cases, even possible. You may choose to skip some parties to have more time with your family.

And how much Christmas decorating does one house really need? Remember, what goes up must come down! Do you really want to undecorate more than one tree? Years ago I decorated three trees, and now usually only one. I also gave up on decorating the staircase and mantel years ago. These changes eased my stress and allowed more time for enjoying the season. 

In considering what traditions are important for your family, aim for less stress and more joy. You can calculate the stress/joy dynamic for your holidays. Think of the one holiday that you find most stressful, evaluate the specifics of the stress, and consider if there is also enough joy to make it worth the stress. Be brave enough to be honest with yourself, and do not hold onto traditions for the sake of memories, or even habit. Change things up and see if you can live with the changes, and if they result in positive outcomes, such as less stress.

I am considering if I can be okay with not putting up a Christmas tree this year. We will be at our daughter’s in Georgia for the holiday, so there will be no need for presents under the tree in Raleigh. But I shiver at the thought of not having one. I have marveled at others who have done this same thing, never thinking I would get to that point. I am stressed just thinking about it, so I may not be able to do it this year ... but I can imagine that I will at some point.

May this last quarter of 2016 be joyful for you and yours.

Patti Fralix

Speaks, consults, and coaches, inspiring positive change in work, life, and family. She is founder and president of The Fralix Group, Inc., a leadership excellence firm based in Raleigh.