We have officially entered the six-week stretch that is often the most stressful time of year for people. Personally, I’m a sucker for the holidays—I love the Christmas music, the food, the parties, the events … but as a tightly-wound, highly sensitive person who burns out easily, I need to take extra care of myself this season so that I don’t blow a fuse. Here are some of my favorite strategies for maintaining sanity during a time of year that makes me equal parts festive and flustered.
Make Your Me-Time Count
- When you’re out holiday shopping or just getting groceries, put in your headphones. Who cares if people think you’re an anti-social A-hole? Make yourself a playlist that either calms you down or revs you up; either way, it should give you a lift while you’re out battling crowds and being bombarded by stimuli. My shopping playlist includes some of my favorite feel-good songs: “This Girl is On Fire” by Alicia Keys, “Mountain Sound” by Of Monsters and Men, a bunch of songs by Fun, “Tongue Tied” by Grouplove, and “Titanium” by Sia and David Guetta. This way running errands feels like more of a treat to myself. Want to make it even better? Grab a gingerbread latte while you shop. This is your time. (Goonies quote, anyone?)
- When you’re lucky enough to have a break from your kids, whether they are in school, napping, or you have a sitter, make some time to do something completely unproductive. Yes, you need to run to the bank and fold the laundry, but every once in a while, break out a novel and sit in bed to read. Watch your favorite guilty pleasure 1990s TV show (Ahem, Ally McBeal on Hulu! The complete Gilmore Girls on Netflix, anyone? Wasn’t that the best thing that ever happened to TV?) in your pajamas. Let yourself just rest.
- Connect with girlfriends however you can. Sneak out after bedtime to have a glass of wine. Let your kids watch a movie while you chat in the kitchen. Have her whole family over for Crappy Hour and let the kids entertain each other. My friends are my touchstone; when I feel myself burning out, it’s like a built-in alarm that I need to carve out some girlfriend time. It’s the cheapest therapy around.
Give Yourself a Little Treat
- I know many of us are conscious about not completely pigging out during the holiday season. We have holiday parties marked in our calendars nearly every week for a month, and we want to save our calories for special occasions. (Well, maybe some of you do. Me? Not so much. I’m doomed from Halloween candy through the New Year’s Eve toast.) But sometimes a little something yummy is just the ticket to make ourselves feel cared for. Put a little chopped bacon in the Annie’s Mac and Cheese you made for lunch. Make your grilled cheese with Brie instead; add a little maple syrup, dijon mustard, and horseradish mix. Yum. Treat yourself to your favorite comfort food. Here are a few of my favorite mommy treats this time of year:
Frozen Pumpkin Spice Whipped Cream Coffee Melts: I know, it sounds crazy. Here’s what you need:
2 cups whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp each: pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger
(Are you on the “pumpkin spice is lame” bandwagon? Skip the pumpkin pie spice. Adapt using your favorite spices!)
FYI: This makes a LOT. You can easily make half this recipe, or make the whole batch on a Saturday morning and add fresh whipped cream to your pancakes … then freeze the rest in spoonfuls!
~Chill a large mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer first.
~Mix whipping cream and sugar until semi-stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the remaining ingredients, and then beat for 15-30 seconds to blend.
~Spoon dollops (sorry, I sort of hate that word but nothing else really works) of whipped cream onto a foil-lined cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, you can store them in a freezer bag or tupperware container. Pull one out and pop it in your coffee or hot chocolate whenever you like!
Mommy’s Apple Pie a la Mode
Cinnamon egg nog (or put cinnamon in your own egg nog if you need to. We get ours from the local dairy)
Rum, if that’s how you roll
Mix equal parts cinnamon egg nog and apple cider in a glass. (Adapt proportions to suit your consistency preference; like it more juicy? Use more cider. Prefer a thicker, creamy drink? I think you get the picture.)
Top off with a shot of rum if you like. YUM.
I’m also a huge fan of adding a little Kahlua a or Frangelico (Hazelnut liqueur. Yes, please.) to my hot chocolate when I make some for the kids in the late afternoon. Oh, and did I mention I always put a little eggnog in my coffee instead of creamer this time of year? Try it. It may change your life.
Get Your Household Under Control
- I am a control freak, and nothing stresses me out more than the feeling that I am out of control. But I need help getting organized. A few years ago I was so overwhelmed by chaos, clutter, and crappy mornings that my cousin recommended the book Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley (aka the “Fly Lady”). It was tremendously helpful, and I still use a lot of her strategies to keep myself sane. I had to let some of it go because I couldn’t pull it all off, but here’s what I still do today:
~I have a binder full of dry erase lists to keep me organized. I have checklists for before bed and in the morning to make sure I remember to locate my kids’ shoes, coats, and lunchboxes before bed (they can help with this), and to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything important before we rush out the door. Every once in a while, I’ll think I don’t need these lists anymore. Then we have an epic morning disaster and I realize that these lists are like medication I need—I may feel better and think I can get by without it, but as soon as I quit taking it I relapse.
~I also make a list of what meals I’ll be serving for the entire week every weekend; then we do one big grocery run and get everything we need. It saves money and stress. Finding an organizational system that works for you is like a present; nothing calms me down more than feeling I have things under control.
- Get your kids on board: make a concerted effort to reduce the behaviors that make you crazy and ensure maximum cooperation. Right now I’m reading the book Get the Behavior You Want … Without Being the Parent You Hate by Deborah Gilboa, MD. “Dr. G” uses the “Three R’s” Approach: Respect, Responsibility, and Resilience. Getting those first two R’s working smoothly is particularly helpful during a hectic time of year. She shares strategies for successful playdates, tips to ensure that your children use respect and manners around adults and when they are guests, and ideas for increasing your kids’ responsibility and independence. Thanks to the ideas in this book, both of my children have stepped up their efforts around the house, and it makes a big difference. The book is practical, easy to use, and extremely hands-on.
~When your family is exceptionally busy, particularly during the holidays, it helps to have all hands on deck. Knowing that you can count on your children to show respect—to you, to themselves, and to others— and to function as a useful part of the family goes a long way. Give yourself an early holiday gift and buy this book: it’s available on Amazon here.
Say “Yes” to Cutting Corners and “No” to Overcommitment
- Here’s the key to using shortcuts: you have to ditch the guilt when you take them. Go to Costco and buy a bunch of frozen food—then make something easy every night of the week. Eat leftovers. Use your crockpot. If you have company arriving, holiday parties to attend, and shopping to do, make your life easier and take everything that is non-essential off the table. Sure, you have to feed your family, but now is not the time to try impressive new recipes or prepare time-consuming meals.
- You can even cut corners with your holiday shopping. Let’s be honest—how easy is it to go overboard buying gifts our kids don’t really need? Rely on grandparents, aunts, and uncles to pick up the slack. Make a thoughtful, simple gift list and stick to it. Every few years my husband and I decide to give each other stocking stuffers only, and then we set a gift budget for the two of us. The day after Christmas, when things are on sale, we leave the kids with my parents and go shopping for our Christmas presents together. No guessing games, no gift stress, a fun date day, and everyone gets what they want. Throw in a fun lunch, movie, or dinner, and you’ve got a really fantastic gift and quality time all in one.
- And this one is simple: Don’t do all of the things. Just don’t. You don’t have to go to every single holiday party, participate in every gift exchange, or organize every charity event. Pick the things that are the most meaningful to you and your family and stick to them. There should be an energetic reciprocity with how you spend your time this season: If you’re putting a lot into an event, you should get a lot out of it. Go to the parties that feed your soul, where you’re spending time with people you really love. Give your time to events that you are really passionate about. Give yourself permission to scale back this year, and practice the art of saying “no.”
Now I’m all ears: What are your favorite strategies for minimizing stress and taking care of yourself during the holidays?
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