It seems like just when you get the Halloween decorations put away, the radio stations start playing Christmas carols and the malls hoist their mammoth Christmas trees. There is little time to rest for families between the festivities.
Sure, December is touted as being a time of celebration, joy, holidays and merriment — but if you speak candidly to parents, they will tell you it's the most stressful time of the year.
WATCH: Holiday burnout is real. Story continues below video.
Mothers in many households feel the extra burden of the holidays in particular because in many families, moms are still largely responsible for much of the labour involved in planning, shopping, hosting, cooking, and coordinating of the holidays. Yes, dads have taken on more of the division of labour in modern families, but moms still take the brunt of it.
With more and more mothers in the workplace, our energy and time is more in demand and we can find ourselves stretched beyond the limit. Going back to work in January can become a welcome reprieve from home life over the holidays.
Here are some tips to help squelch some of the holiday stressors to make room for our own pleasure and enjoyment this holiday season.
1. Start early
Every day leading up to the holidays gets busier and busier. It's harder to find a parking spot at shopping malls, the lines to pay are longer, the inventory starts to dwindle and you can't find what you need. If you start early, you will have less of this congestion and disappointment to manage.
Make a list of ANYTHING non-perishable and get as much done as you can sooner than later.
2. Shop online
If you shop early and buy multiple items at the same time, shipping fees are very reasonable. Skip the parking lot altogether! Many places offer gift wrapping as an option, too.
Online shopping also means you are less likely to run into something adorable, compelling you to make impulse purchases that are outside of your budget. Over-spending now will only lead to more stress in January when the bills are due.
3. Ask for help
Just because this work has traditionally fallen on your shoulders, there is no reason why you can't simply ask for help and shake up routines. Our partners and children don't always know all the things we are juggling, and the items on the to-do list because we keep them in our head and don't ASK.
Eventually the stress gets to the point where we boil over about how no one is helping or appreciating us. Their reply? I didn't know — let us help! Be proactive and share with your family all that has to be accomplished and assign some deadlines.
4. Learn to say "no"
Part of the reason we get overwhelmed at the holidays is because we don't want to let anyone down. We feel obliged to be helpful and say "yes" to all requests of our time. There is no point in saying "yes" to watching a friend's child if it's going to lead to you seething with resentment.
Instead, learn the power of saying "no" and experiment with it. Rehearse your line in advance: "So sorry, I wish I could help out, but I already have plans I can't change." Or: "I wish I could help, but I have already committed all my time this month."
Once you realize you can say "no" and the heavens don't collapse, and your friends and family don't hate you — you will be so less stressed being in control of what is on your plate without someone else dumping stuff on yours!
5. Have back-up gifts
It has happened to all of us at one time or another ... the unexpected gift for which you have nothing in return. After all, who knew your daughter's boyfriend would arrive with a gift from his parents. They've only been dating since the fall. SURPRISE!
Why not pre-purchase some items that you have wrapped and on-the-ready. Be sure to make them generic items for anyone, and things that your family could use if they go un-gifted.
6. Prepare for annoying people
Whether it's the rude person who pushed in front of you in line, or a family member who decides that Christmas dinner is the time to bring up their political views that you are adamantly opposed to, there will be times when you will want to blow your stack.
Neuroscientists refer to this experience as a limbic hijacking. When anger and rage bubble forth it's due to the old limbic system part of our brain sometimes known as the "lizard brain," which, as the name suggests, is about as mature as a lizard. We are in full-on "fight or flight" mode, ready to attack!
Instead of blurting out words that you will regret later when your more rational, mature brain is back, simply notice the feelings that show up in your body and the thoughts that arise like clouds in your brain. Pretend that you are watching a play or a movie of the annoying situation while sitting in a movie theatre and eating popcorn. This helps create some distance from your emotions.
Now, see if you can cast someone like Will Ferrell in the role of "Your Annoying Christmas." Perhaps the lady in the grocery story is played by Amy Schumer. If you can step back, stop the knee-jerk reaction and reframe the situation with some humour and lightness, you are way more likely to reduce your stress and anger.
7. Schedule time for nothing
Unless you schedule "do nothing" or "sleep in and read in bed all day," every minute of your holiday will be filled with activities other people shovel onto you. Claim your time! Announce it and protect it.
8. Set routines that keep kids balanced
Of course the holidays disrupt our routines, and that is part of what makes them fun and memorable. But young children can only get thrown so far off their routine before you start to notice bad behaviours. Lack of sleep, being hungry, and new situations can all get in the way of having a good time.
Aim to schedule family fun in the morning when kids are fresh. Don't skip too many afternoon naps in a row. Have easy food at the ready, especially if adults are eating late and your children are accustomed to eating dinner at 5 p.m.