Making a List and Checking it Twice: Hope for Handling Holiday Stress

Is there HOPE for handling holiday stress? It’s a legitimate question. And no one is immune from the busyness unless, of course, you decide to board a plane and fly far, far away and return home on January 2.

Where is the Peace on Earth that was declared over two thousand years ago? This, too, is a legitimate question. If you’re like me, it sometimes appears as distant as the angelic host in the night sky.

Sometimes you have too much on your (Santa) plate, and these are actually BOUNDARY issues that affect your BELIEFS and BEHAVIORS.

There are numerous issues that play into the questions outlined above. Without being exhaustive in interpretation, here is a broad foundation from which I will start.
As you will see, they are tangled up tighter than the tinsel on the Christmas tree. Here they are:

1. Stress Environments (home, work, personal, community)
2. Stress Events (major or minor life stressors)
3. How we THINK about #1 and #2
4. Boundaries (what we say “yes” to and “no” to)
5. Stress Relievers (hobbies, exercise, prayer)

Generally speaking, how well do you handle the normal stressors of daily living? Do you manage it well or not so well? This is important to ask because it already gives a foundational answer to your personality type BEFORE adding the holiday stressors. And, depending on what is currently going on in your life (e.g. death of a loved one, divorce [major stressors]; parenting, daily stressors, changes in our environment [minor stressors]), it all rolls up into the proverbial Christmas ball.

Although I am prone to exhaustive explanations many times (ask my family), I will refrain from doing so on the above points and simply give some practical tips to incorporate for the holidays.

🌲 How do you handle normal stressors, holidays withstanding?

This should be a clue for you to know what you can and cannot handle.

🌲 Stop the comparison game.

It doesn’t matter what other people, friends, family, or neighbors are doing. Does it matter if the neighbor has more decorations in the yard? Really???

🌲 Are you a people pleaser?

If you say “yes” so others will gain your approval, then this, too, is a boundary issue. And perhaps a self esteem issue as well. Others’ approval is a changing barometer for which there will never be an anchor. Give it up. Especially during the holidays.

🌲 Evaluate your list and check it twice.

Decide what you really WANT to do and what can be deleted. Do you really need to participate in the neighborhood cookie bake sale? Cook for every gathering? This is a boundary issue in identifying what you say “yes” to and what you say “no” to. Let’s face it. Most people are too stressed because they say “yes” to too many things at this time of year. And the reason is because……? It’s okay to ask yourself this question. Are the things you say “yes” to for you or for others? Are these realistic or unrealistic expectations? Or is it because you’re comparing yourself to others?

For example, what are your non-negotiables? These are the things that you, after reflection, decide to keep as part of your holiday traditions.

Once my parents died in 2001, I decided which traditions I would continue to carry into my present family that would help me remember my parents at this time of the year (I will blog more on this when addressing the issue of grief).

🌲 Can family members assist you? If so, great! Enlist their help. If not, decide if the item on the list needs to remain. If it creates too much stress and it only matters to you based on your idealistic expectations, then LET IT GO, as the popular song says.

🌲 Combine errands.

🌲 Watch how you interpret and think about your responsibilities.

For instance, do you use “should”, “must”, and “have to” when making your daily list?
Should you really ___________? Must you really ____________? Do you really have to ____________?

Maybe not.

Does this activity ENERGIZE or DEPLETE you?

Does a particular project, meal, or party have to be “perfect”? Well, how do you define “perfect”? This is also crucial in getting to the (Christmas tree) root of what drives your behaviors. What does perfection look like? And who cares? Really? Just you? You may be putting too much on yourself and you’re the only one who puts the pressure on yourself.

🌲 Self care is crucial.

This is important in everyday life, especially in our stress-filled society. What does this look like and how is this incorporated into daily living, especially during the holidays?

God created us as holistic beings (there are 4 separate Scripture references that speak to this. Trust me. It’s important). We are created body, mind, spirit, and relational beings. So, during the holidays, MAKE TIME to do the following each day:

Body – How will you care for your body each day? This involves boundary issues for how you CHOOSE to eat, exercise, and relax. If you need specifics on how to do this, email me (

Here are a couple of tips:

1. Drink LOTS of water. It reduces cortisol, the hormone that the body produces when its stressed.

2. Exercise – It reduces stress. Yes, you have the choice. You make time. It releases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that combats depression.

3. Eat well – Nutrition not only affects the body, it also affects the mind (there is a mind/body connection, so don’t think whatever you eat doesn’t affect your mind as well). Stay away from processed foods, sugar, and bad carbs (boundary issues again).

Mind – How will you interpret or think about your stressors (i.e. your lists)? “I enjoy this activity” or “I wish I didn’t have to do _____________.”

Spirit – Are we focusing on the reason for the season? And although we SAY this, do we really take time to focus on Scripture that is soothing to our weary soul or pray to be more attuned to our Father who cares more for us than the sparrows?

This may sound harsh, but we all worship SOMETHING whether we realize it or not. Is your focus more on worshiping the gods of this age (commercialism and busyness), Satan’s tactics for slipping in the back door of our lives, or on the ONE for whom the season is about anyway? Hopefully, you can reach a nice healthy balance that is good for you and your family after you’ve rearranged your boundaries, if needed.

Relational – Take time to nurture relationships during the holidays. And what about those stressful holiday gatherings? That’s complicated. That will come in another blog…. stay tuned.

🌲 At holiday parties, watch your thinking (“I’m at a party so I HAVE to eat what’s here.”). NO, you don’t. Zero in on the healthy foods (nuts, fruits, veggies). If you HAVE to splurge, use the “2 bite” rule – take 2 small bites. Science shows that two bites are all that’s needed for that craving.

🌲 Forget the guilt.

The items on your Christmas list are usually not matters of guilt. True guilt is when you have TRULY done something wrong for which forgiveness is needed.

🌲 Make time to enjoy hobbies.

These are the HEALTHY behaviors that energize you. Why are these important? Because they are ways of coping and allow a stress release. Mine are the following: listening to music, reading, exercising, long tub baths, blogging, cooking, relaxed conversations with friends.

Employ these hobbies throughout your life. Other options are painting, gardening, hiking, etc. The list is limitless…..

My prayer is that these tips will give you HOPE. You don’t have to continue on a stress-filled holiday path. Evaluate and explore what you do so you can concentrate on what’s truly important this holiday and those to come.

HOPE looks to the future. What you do today will give you HOPE for what is to come.

Yes, there is HOPE for the HOLIDAYS.


1 thought on “Making a List and Checking it Twice: Hope for Handling Holiday Stress

  1. My wife not only give others this advice. She lives by it during the holidays. It has greatly reduced the stress level in our home when we stopped doing what we thought we should do and started doing what we wanted to do during the holidays.

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