So many things to do and such little time
Mid November through January are some of the more ironic times of the year. For many, it is a time of family gatherings, travel, trips to the mall, spending more than you can really afford, baking, decorating, gift wrapping, gift giving, donating, cleaning, cooking, and basically magic making for your children. The irony is, of course, that while it is incredibly stressful for millions of parents, it really is "the most wonderful time of the year" for most children. The pressure is high to visit relatives, cook amazing dinners, decorate your house and make the season bright. But what I have found is that many parents are barely coming up for air. They are drowning in their to-do lists, family stress and expectations as they also go along with their usual daily responsibilities of going to work or raising kids. It's not like in December we suddenly get more hours in a day or mental health breaks. In fact, there is less time than ever. Sleep is compromised, budgets are pushed and family tensions run high. I want to share what my clients, my friends and myself are doing to prioritize ourselves and our time to not just stay but to also remember the spirit of the holiday season.
I am "sinking" what can I do?
A few weeks ago I had a meeting with "my cru," who are a group of women who I meet with quarterly to review my goals. It was the start of the holiday season and I shared that I was starting to feel overwhelmed. Yes, even though I wrote a whole book about women and burnout I still get that drowning feeling at times. I still say yes sometimes when I wish I would have said no. I still try to live out fantasies about creating Christmas miracles for my kids. I sometimes skip meals, workouts and self care to just get one more thing done.
But, when I do these things, I pay the price. And now, I don't let myself sink. I might dip down, need to come up for air but I am aware of the things that I need to keep me floating. So, when I essentially spend two months with parents who feel similar ways and worse, I want to share what keeps them afloat too.
I believe that just like we need to stop the madness around being the perfect parent we also need to figure out how to manage the triggers that get us to that place. The triggers that I have been talking to my clients about this month have been - family, siblings, alcohol, money (psstt...doesn't matter whether you have a little or a lot - it's still an issue), health, politics and in-laws.
I had one woman wrote to me, "even in January talking about all of this stress will still resonate with me as the wounds will still be fresh and every year I feel a little smaller from what happens during the holidays..."
Powerful and well said, right? The holidays are an emotionally loaded time filled with loss, sadness, excitement, nostalgia, pressure and a host of other memories, some of which may be traumatic. So, the first thing I want to say is that you need to be gentle on yourself. This isn't some generic self-care advice- this is a health tip. A mental and physical health must that needs to be tended to as much as the gifts under the tree.
Once you have the foundation of prioritizing yourself first- yes, you come first- during this time of high stress, you will be better prepared to make decisions around the other priorities in your life. It's not too late- try dropping the ball (listen to this podcast) on some things so you can make room for matters most to you.
How to prioritize what is really important:
1. Focus on one thing, one issue, one person at a time. Stop multitasking and start mono-tasking. When you are at work, be at work. And when you are at home, be present with your family.
2. Write down what needs to be done within 24 hours, within the week and then beyond. Time should help dictate what comes first. I say this because people tend to procrastinate under stress. You would think it would be the opposite but it's not. We tend to avoid what we aren't as excited to do, even if it has to be done tomorrow. Stress begets stress, so get the most immediate things done sooner.
3. Values based decision making- around the holiday season you may want to create a special list that is around your top values of the season. This may include what you eat, the music you listen to, who you spend time with, experiences you want to have with your kids etc...and then decisions can be made off of that list. If it doesn't align with your values, it doesn't need to be done.
4. Ask for help- this tip shows up in a lot of different situations. But simply put learn how to ask for help and then receive the help around the holidays. It is a sign of strength to let others know when you need them. Yes, everyone may be busy around you but you can still help each other out at different times- it all works out when there is collaboration and community.
5. Spend time with friends you love- there may be a good deal of obligation and family events but when you get invited to spend time with someone you love or care about- don't cancel or no show because you are tired or "too busy." Spending that time will recharge you and bring joy, laughter and relaxation probably when you need it most.
I want to end with a reminder about the foundation. In order to make the above five tips work, the foundation needs to start with your own needs. It is not selfish to prioritize yourself, it just may be the best stress management tool you have throughout the holidays and every day.
Happy Parenting and Happy Holidays!