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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Saving Your Sanity at Christmas

So, it is December 23.  Christmas Eve Eve.  If you celebrate Christmas, you have all of the prep work done, and you are settling down to a little recreational internet surfing before joining calmly in some festivities, right?

No?  Of course not.  Me either.

If you celebrate Christmas, the period of time between Thanksgiving and January 2 can rapidly turn from being a time for joyful celebration into a part-time job you didn't really ask for.  And, judging by some of the posts I've seen on Facebook from some of my friends, the season is bringing with it its standard array of frayed nerves and mood swings.  That's why I want to talk about a kind of sustainability we rarely talk about here -- saving your own sanity.

Christmas is some high-stakes stuff.  Religiously, you have the story of a miracle more precious and perfect than any that has ever occurred.  On the secular front, you have Currier & Ives, Norman Rockwell, and the entire cartoon and stop-motion animation industries conjuring up pictures of the perfect family holiday.  Even if you don't celebrate Christmas at all, you can't avoid the pressure -- it is there in the aisles of your grocery store (who doesn't need some extra tinsel?) and on your car radios and in your newspaper advertising supplements.  It is enough to make anyone bonkers.

Add to that the fact that annual holidays really can bring on the melancholy.  If we look back, we see Christmases spent with relatives now departed or with innocence and hope that we may no longer have.  If we look forward, we might fear what we could lose in the year to come, or what storms we might have to weather before we put up that tree again.  (This is a big one for me.)  It takes a better yogi than I am to stay perfectly balanced in the present.

So, as my gift to you, let me offer a few tips for how to get through the holiday with a minimum of mental angst and a maximum of joy.  Remember, your sanity is a limited resource you must use in a sustainable way too!

Limit the Christmas Music/Specials:  Now, if you're one of those people who only gets happier the more carols that play on your iPod, you'll want to ignore me on this one, but I suggest you limit the number of Christmas TV specials you watch and Christmas songs you hear.  The reason?  I don't want to be a Scrooge, but these reminders of the season, by their very nature, bring back memories and tug at the heart strings with holiday reminders.  If you find yourself thinking of your departed aunt every time you listen to her favorite Christmas song or tearing up whenever you watch the special your kids loved when they were small, do yourself a favor and turn it off.  Save your exposure for things that really make you happy.

Stay Off Social Media:  While we're limiting our media, this may be a good time to place a rationing system around your use of Facebook and the like.  I know it is tempting to spend part of your time off work continually hitting "refresh" on your phone, but you need to limit the number of times you see examples of Christmas perfection posted by your friends.  It brings a tear to anyone's eye to see the picture of four generations of women, all gathered in the kitchen with well-starched aprons, happily making cookies.  Try to remind yourself that your friend posted that photo not because it is an everyday occurrence in their happy lives, but because they thought, "Dang, I've never seen that kind of thing happen in my life -- better snap a picture and post it to Facebook and prove it actually happened!"

Take Some Shortcuts:  We've all read the holiday stories of cooks who make a pie for every holiday guest so everyone will have their favorite, or of those who have time to paint little decorated packages on their fingernails, complete with bows and nametags.  (Bonus Tip:  Stay off Pinterest!)  You don't have to do this.  If you hate making pie and you feel you must make one, make ONE.  Everyone's just going to have to make do with the flavor you chose.  Don't allow yourself to feel pressured into doing everything you think everyone  expects just to make a perfect holiday.  Which leads me to my next tip...

Remember that Santa Had Elves:  Even the mythical Big Guy didn't try to throw a celebration without help.  Now is your time to ask people to help you with the tasks you think are essential.  Go ahead, ask your mother-in-law to bring dessert; if you ask her to bring that specialty her son or daughter always loved growing up, I'll bet she says "yes."  If you feel you must be the sole host or hostess of an event, for heaven's sake wait until the summer barbeque, when you don't have do a million other things besides.

Allow Yourself to Remember:  Even if you have the logistics mastered, Christmas can bring some strong emotions, particularly if your family is missing a loved one.  Give yourself time to remember, and allow those feelings to be bittersweet.  Honor that person in a way that is meaningful to you; hang an ornament that reminds you of them, or make their favorite recipe, and invite this person back into the celebration.

Save Something for You:  "Christmas is for children."  "Christmas is for other people."  Yes, the spirit of these sayings is very true and well-taken.  But if you get wrapped up in making a holiday for others, you will miss it yourself.  Pick something that you look forward to; one thing for me is Christmas Eve dinner with just my husband.  Then, tell everyone that this part of the celebration is important to you, and you really want to see it happen.  After all, it is important to give, but it is important to nourish your own soul so you can keep giving in the New Year.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and the Best of the Season to All!
Jennifer
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