5 Ways to Help Reduce Stress and Enjoy the Holidays

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the year our son was born marked the end of my try-to-do-everything-perfectly days…forever.

It turns out I was a bit of a perfectionist before my son came along. I just thought of myself as an ambitious pleaser who wanted to make every celebration fun and memorable. And, honestly, I had been rather successful at it (said in a sincerely modest way). My parents, my friends, my siblings would all look forward to coming to our home to celebrate any occasion. The food, the setting, the presents–all perfect…at least that’s what they’d say as they headed out the door while I stared at the massive clean-up effort ahead. (“Do you want some help?” they’d ask. “No! I’ve got this,” I’d assure them, perfectly.)

Dr. John D. Kelly, IV of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has good reason to call perfectionism “the bane of happiness.” It’s considered dedication when you work hard to achieve a goal, but when perfection is your goal, creativity, joy, inspiration, and productivity all suffer.

As a new mom, I was still in that stage where, on any given day, I might still be in my pajamas at 4:00 p.m., and I might not ever take a shower that day. No complaints. I was owning the joys of motherhood.

And then…it was December.

Even today, my heart aches a bit thinking about the “old me,” rocking our precious son to sleep while trying to plan a perfectly memorable Christmas. Before long, anxiety reared its ugly head. How could I be the perfect host? When would I have time to decorate? What could I serve for Christmas dinner? I hadn’t even shopped for presents, and Christmas was mere weeks away!

I started feeling like I might self-combust.

There’s a reason a baby is called a “bundle of joy.” Children bring us overwhelming happiness and feelings of love, stronger than we ever thought possible. As I continued rocking our son, I looked down at his sweet face and thought, “What is more important in life than this?” Nothing.

And with that, all thoughts of planning the perfect first Christmas for our boy vanished. I had been my own worst enemy, and it was time to give myself a break. That year, we had a pot-luck get-together with friends and relatives. Our son played with wrapping paper and cracked his first genuine smile.

Since then, I’ve tried to put feelings first, choosing happiness over anxiety and fun over stress. I still enjoy entertaining friends and family, but I share the burden. When someone asks, “What can I bring?” I tell them. When someone says, “Let me help you with the dishes,” I hand them an apron. Goodbye, perfection. I don’t miss you a bit.

Maybe you aren’t as driven to perfection as I once was, but there still are small things you can do to make your Christmas as stress-free as possible with your young children. Here are five:

  1. Dima Amso, an associate professor in the department of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University, explains that a 6-year-old may remember events from before her first birthday, but by adolescence, she probably has forgotten them. In other words, after a certain age or stage of brain development, our earliest memories typically fade. Bear that in mind as you stress over what to buy your 2-year-old for Christmas.

Instead, during this holiday season, focus on giving your little one enriching experiences that help foster sturdy brain development.

  1. Dr. Mollie Greves Grow, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, stresses the need to stick with day-to-day routines whenever possible. She says, “Structured routines, even during busy times like the holidays, help parents regulate the emotional and functional changes their children undergo.”
  2. Keep your child(ren) active. Exercise is known to reduce stress. And, it prepares your little one for naptime, which should remain a priority.
  3. Start (or continue) making family traditions. Baking together, trimming the tree, and crafting ornaments are just a few of the many activities you could enjoy doing as a family, year after year.
  4. Keep expectations realistic. Give yourself a break and focus on what’s important this holiday season: family, togetherness, and love.