How to combat S.A.D. (Seasonal Angst and Distress)

It usually hits us around mid-December. Call it the Christmas Crazies or Holiday Madness, whatever you like, but at its most basic it’s simply stress, with a capital S-T-R-E-S and S.

And then the day of — yowza! You know the scene: the turkey’s in the oven, presents are wrapped and under the tree, the fire is cheerfully blazing, guests have started arriving, Christmas music is playing joyfully in the background, and… you haven’t had a shower, the table’s not set yet, potatoes aren’t peeled let alone cooking, the other sides aren’t started yet either, and you’re out dashing from one store to another trying to find something, anything, that will pass as a thoughtful gift for Aunt Darlene who just arrived with your brother, who swears he told you he was bringing her, and cranberry sauce, which you forgot to make, again. And maybe some Advil for your throbbing head.

Every year some version of this is played out in homes everywhere during the holidays. Why do we do this to ourselves? I know, I know. There are some among us who love it and can’t get enough. To you I say, knock yourself out. But for those of us who, like me, can only take so much before pulling a shot of scotch for calm, what can we do?

Conventional wisdom tells us not to let ourselves get overwhelmed. Scale back. Slow down. Don’t take on so much. Right, you say, but how? If I don’t do it, who will?

Well, why don’t we look at some of the possibilities, shall we?

  1. You can cancel Christmas, like the Kranks. Just don’t do anything Christmas-y.
    Best excuse not to do this: You will end up alienating several friends and relatives and disappointing children.
  2. Take off. Go away somewhere warm for some surf and sun.
    Best excuse not to do this: Same as above, with the additional possibility that this will likely require wearing a swimsuit, and that’s a whole other level of stress.
  3. Don’t do presents. This would cut back brilliantly on costs, plus think of all the the time saved on shopping, wrapping, exchanging and returning.
    Best excuse not to do this: See above plus, inevitably, someone will buy you something and then the guilt. Oh, my, the guilt.
  4. Cater it all – Christmas dinner, appetizers, sides, dessert, cookies, squares, wine. Rent dishes, glasses, cutlery, linens, chairs.
    Best excuse not to do this: Can get expensive and it’s just not the same; the house will not be filled with the delicious smells of the overeating yet to come.
  5. Revert to yelling, screaming and barking out orders. Can you say Mom-zilla?
    Best excuse not to do this: Could be a serious mood killer.

Which takes us back to the original suggestion – scale it back a bit. Now, doesn’t that seem like the lesser of several evils? Again you ask how? Well, why not consider some combination of the above?

  • Don’t cut out presents completely. Just buy presents for the younger kids or draw names so everyone only buys for one person.
  • Cater part of the meal, for example the appetizers or buy cookies from your favourite bakery.
  • Draw names for KP duty and clean up.
  • Share the load. Ask someone to bring dessert or an appetizer.
  • Start early and make ahead and freeze what you can.
  • Take turns hosting the pre-Christmas parties. Or hold yours during the post-holiday lull; January and February can always use a bit of brightening up.

It’s generous and kind of you to open your door and welcome friends and family into your home and share a meal with you, but remember to be kind to yourself, too.

These are just a few ideas, there are many more. Check out these articles for more holiday destressing tips.

What about you? How do you keep holiday stress at bay? Or do you go all out, regardless of the stress? Share your joy and wisdom. Leave a comment below.

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