Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season, and for many it's followed with a month of stress.
Trying to please everyone with as little drama or conflict as possible can be mentally and physically exhausting. Throw in crowded stores, scarce empty parking spaces, stockings to fill, parties to attend, perfect presents to buy and trees and cookies to decorate, and we sometimes forget this is supposed to be a joyful time.
We reached out to Charlotte Lankard, a licensed marriage and family therapist, for tips on how to maneuver through the next month, embrace the holiday spirit and simply breathe.
Things to consider
Try giving up everyone's expectations, canceling a few parties, getting extra sleep, buying fewer gifts and skipping some long-standing family traditions.
Quit acting surprised by large crowds everywhere - at checkout counters, airports and highways. Shop early in the morning if possible. Try to get the first flight of the day.
Quit acting surprised by harried personnel, unexpected delays and wintry weather. Expect them and decide ahead of time how you want to manage yourself in the midst of them.
A few weeks early, give your grandchildren some dollars with instructions to spend it on children who will not find packages under the tree on Christmas morning. Ask them to shop, wrap and deliver to the children they choose. Then they are to tell you all about it. That will be their Christmas gift to you.
Spend only the money you can afford. When that is limited, write notes of appreciation or give gifts of time.
Do what pleases you when decorating your home or yard. Don't do anything simply because someone else is doing it.
Gain some perspective. Consider less of everything that doesn't matter and more of everything that does.
Difficult people at family gatherings
When you pack your bags, take along a sense of humor and a healthy dose of kindness, and forget the ridiculous idea that it will be different this year. Expect the difficult folks to act like they always do.
Plan ahead of time how to cope with them. Refuse to engage in arguments, don't spend a lot of time around the ones who push your buttons and exit quickly when you are about to lose it.
Frame every disaster - and there will be at least one - by asking yourself, "In five years, will this matter?"
Get in spirit of season
Lankard said she and a female friend were dining alone at a fancy restaurant a few years ago. When it came time to pay the bill, the waitress told them it already had been paid, noting that a frequent diner often would choose a table and pay for the dinner of strangers with the stipulation it would be given as an anonymous gift.
Author Clyde Reid once saw a young woman pause beside an elderly lady in the back of a famous London church. She was dozing. The young woman noticed the woman's fingers sticking out through the holes in her ragged gloves. Without waking her, the young woman quietly laid her own gloves in the aged lap and moved on.
Consider gifts that do not cost money:
- Gift of listening. Phones turned off, no interrupting, no daydreaming, no planning a response. Just listening to hear, really hear.
- Gift of affection. Being generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, pats on the back and holding hands.
- Gift of laughter. Sharing cartoons, articles, funny stories and your own embarrassing moments.
- Gift of honest compliments. A simple, sincere "You look great in red!" "That was a delicious meal." "I appreciate the way you do your work." Take someone's face in your hands and say, "You matter more than any gadget or winning lottery ticket" and if they are far away, write it in a card and mail it.
- Gift of a favor. Rake leaves, shovel a driveway, run errands or prepare frozen casseroles for working moms and their families.
- Gift of solitude. Being sensitive to those times when someone wants to be left alone.
- Gift of a cheerful disposition. It's the easiest way to bring good feelings to another.