This week, those of us living in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving, kicking the holiday season into full force. Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for the abundance we've experienced throughout the year, to rekindle the relationships that have fallen by the wayside, and, of course, to eat a lot of really delicious food.
But it is also the harbinger of several weeks full of pressure and stress. The holidays are supposed to be about celebration and togetherness, but in the pursuit of those things we often find ourselves feeling edgy, exhausted, and out-of-sorts. Last year, I started sobbing in the middle of a Michael's Craft Store a week before Christmas because I was unable to locate the color of felt that I needed for a craft I had planned, completely melting down while a gaggle of bemused shoppers and retail workers pretended unsuccessfully not to notice me. It took a large peppermint mocha and 45 minutes of browsing at Barnes & Noble to calm me down.
What I'm saying is that maintaining a sense of perspective is extremely important if you plan to enjoy this time of year at all. The truth is that my craft looked perfectly fine with the alternative felt I ended up purchasing, and no one was any the wiser. But in the moment, it seemed like a huge deal, probably due to the excessive traffic outside, the extra strain on my bank account, the pressure to impress my new boyfriend's family, and the time crunch of balancing my work schedule and my holiday to-do list. If I had taken a step back to ask myself whether this felt issue would really matter in six months' time, I might have avoided a very embarrassing moment.
If you get frazzled like I do, make a conscious decision to think positively this year. Instead of focusing on everything that isn't going your way, consider the good things about the holiday season. Don't grumble about clearing your car when you wake up to freshly fallen snow - look at the winter wonderland around you while you scrape at the windows. If you find yourself sweating over the stove the night before your sixteenth holiday party this month, spend that time looking forward to the great conversations you'll have, the people you'll meet, and the compliments that dish is going to get you. And if your bank balance is making your heart skip a beat, think of all the happiness that money is bringing to you and the people you love.
And do something nice for someone else. Spend an afternoon volunteering at the animal shelter, write a check to that charity you've been meaning to donate to, help your neighbor carry that huge pile of gifts inside, or grab some coffee for your cubicle-mate before work. As backwards as it sounds, giving of yourself re-energizes you in a way that nothing else really can, and it'll help you reclaim that holiday spirit. So make some time for others, no matter how busy your season gets.
But after all that effort, you may still be struggling to maintain a positive outlook during a stressful time. So cut out the things that are stealing your joy. Agonizing over what present to get your extremely particular younger brother? Go with an Amazon gift card. No, it isn't as personal, but he'll get something he actually wants and you won't have to hand him a gift receipt so he can return the present you spent weeks picking out. Hate socializing with your co-workers and bosses at the company holiday party? Skip it. Tell everyone you have a prior engagement and wish them a good time, while you spend the evening with a cup of cocoa and the new bath bombs you picked up a few days ago.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with treating yourself well and reducing your stress level during this time of the year. Maybe everyone else is running around like a Christmas goose, but that's really no way to enjoy what is supposed to be a pleasant time. Focus on the big and small things you enjoy, and take note of them, whether it's meeting your favorite cousin for a drink, avoiding the crowds and doing all of your shopping online instead, or just listening to your favorite carol when it plays on the radio.
When there is so much to do, and the stakes feel so high, things are bound to go wrong. But when they do, address the things that are within your control, and let everything else go. When you put your energy toward the positive aspects of the holiday season, you'll start to realize that it isn't so bad. You may even start to enjoy it for the first time since you were a child. So stay flexible, go easy on yourself, and remember that you can always order Chinese take-out if you need to. Happy holidays!