Counseling Corner: Eliminating holiday stress

Counseling Corner
Eliminating holiday stress
by Jennifer Pierce, LCPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
Bi-weekly Contributing Writer

Most of us experience at least some stress during the holiday season. What is supposed to be a fun, celebratory time of year tends to be overcome with the stresses of shopping, decorating, cooking, and socializing. I actually like each of those activities normally, but at this time of year the pressure to get it all done can be overwhelming. Add to all this the typical family squabbles and you can end up pulling out your hair! This year, reduce your holiday stress by taking a little time to organize and prioritize your holiday plans.
We have all seen them, those happy people who look relaxed during the holidays. They finished shopping in October, decorated their house nicer than Martha Stuart, and they seem to even enjoy the noise and crowds this time of year! While you may never reach this Stepford-status, you can reduce your stress and avoid becoming a Grinch. The first step is to get started NOW by planning. Procrastinators be warned that you are sure to invite stress to your next gathering if you don't start preparing now. Write down all your events and obligations for the holidays. Then make a list of all the things you need to do before each of these events (buy gifts, wrap them, bake cookies, etc.). Now, get out your calendar (or blackberry) and decide when you have time to do each of these things. Be sure to allow yourself more time than necessary (I suggest allotting twice the amount of time you think it will take). Avoiding the rushing and hurrying around is a huge step toward having a relaxing holiday this year!
If you find that you simply do not have enough hours in the day to get it all done, then you have to start prioritizing or eliminating things on your list. I know it all seems important, but what is really important? Is it more important to put up the extra lights or avoid an argument with your spouse? Do you really need to get the perfect gift or should you settle on a gift-card and keep your sanity? You will enjoy the holidays so much more when you are relaxed.
What we are really talking about is Holiday Perfectionism. We want the holidays to be perfect. "It's only once a year" and "all the family will be there" are some of the excuses we give for our sometimes crazy behavior when trying to make it all perfect. The holidays are fraught with high expectations: the best gifts, the biggest feast, and the brightest lights. Tis the season for keeping up with the Jones'. But at what cost? You may have the best of everything Christmas, but is it worth 2 months of chaos to get it?
I'm not saying to forget it all. I love the holidays. But take a few minutes to plan what's important to you during these holidays. If you pride yourself on giving the perfect gift, then give yourself lots of time to shop and forget about mailing cookies this year. If you love Christmas lights, then go ahead and let your house glow, but let somebody else throw the Christmas party. It will never be perfect. You can never do it all. So, choose what's important to you and let the rest go, or at least scale it back.

Jennifer Pierce, LCPC is the owner and primary therapist of Hagerstown Counseling, LLC. She can be contacted at 240-347-4845 or by visiting her website at: www.HagerstownCounselingLLC.com.