Four tips for managing holiday stress

This time of year brings out the best in people … and sometimes the worst. Maybe it’s the cold weather. Maybe it’s the grating holiday music. Or the molasses-like crowds.

Or the pressure of choosing the right gift.

Or the never-ending to-do list.

Or your Elf on the Shelf.

Or the financial and emotional stress.

Whatever the reason, you’re sure to come across someone who has just blown their last nerve and is hovering on the edge of their sanity.

Maybe that person is you.

At some point, I know, it’s probably going to be me.

So here are a few tips to help you keep your cool, at least until 2017.

Know your limits

Last year, 10 adults and 12 kids spent Christmas crowded together at my parent’s farm. We ate too much. We drank too much. We laughed. We played games. We went on sleigh rides and watched movies. Everything was grand.

But one evening toward the end of our stay, as we got the kids settled in bed, one of them threw up. And then another one threw up. And before we knew it, the kids were dropping like flies.

All of the moms — in typical mom fashion — spent the night struggling to grab a few seconds of sleep in between holding back hair, and washing bedding, and cleaning up vomit. (Oddly enough, the dads were nowhere to be seen.)

The next morning, as the sun started to rise, I looked at the collection of sick kids and soiled blankets sprawled across the living room floor. I looked at my sisters, bleary eyed and miserable. And I turned to my husband and said, “Start the truck. We need to get the hell out of here.”

“Just one more sleigh ride,” my mom pleaded, but we were already pulling out of the driveway.

So don’t feel bad if you have to be the one to say, “This party is over” or if, on occasion, you just have to cut and run. Because nobody knows better than you when you’ve had enough.

Choose your battles

Normally, my husband and I divide household tasks pretty evenly. Except when it comes to Christmas. I do like, 95 per cent of all things Christmas-related. No — let me rephrase that — I do 95 per cent of all the behind-the-scenes stuff that nobody gets credit for, like the planning, the cleaning, the shopping and baking.

The Christmas cards and the decorating.

The wrapping of gifts and the candle-stick making.

I basically do it all.

Unless we happen to be hosting. Then my husband pulls in on his white steed, takes centre stage, and cooks the Christmas meal. And while all of the guests “Ooo” and “Aww” over his efforts, I get stuck with the thankless tasks of scrubbing pots and peeling potatoes.

Sometimes I resent the fact that I get bumped from the role of holiday heroine to scullery maid just as the curtains open and the show begins. But the truth is my husband is a much better cook. Even at his worst, his skills in the kitchen have exceeded mine.

Case in point, the first meal he ever made me was a tuna stir-fry that consisted of whatever one could find in a broke university student’s fridge. His friends scoffed. They told me I was too nice because I actually ate it. But it had nothing to do with being nice. It had to do with being hungry. Because I had spent the first months of university living off granola bars and oranges. I needed the protein.

His cooking has improved exponentially since then. So if all he does for the month of December is show up to roast the turkey, I’m cool with that. Because I would rather peel a hundred potatoes and scrub a thousand pots than take on responsibility for the Christmas feast.

Focus on the positive

Every year, I dream that I’ll finish my Christmas shopping early. Not ridiculously early, like in July. Just normal-person early, like maybe December 1. Or the 15th, at the latest.

I imagine how wonderful it will be to spend the last weeks before Christmas doing only fun things, like watching classic Christmas movies, making gingerbread houses with the kids, or relaxing under the glow of the tree, a spiced rum and eggnog in hand.

But every year, despite my best efforts, I find myself doing last-minute Christmas shopping and hating every second of it. The jammed up parking lots. The crowded stores. The claustrophobia that starts to surround you when you’re trapped in an aisle and you can’t find what you’re looking for and you’ve already been to 12 stores and you just blew your budget out of the water because now you’re shopping in full-on panic mode. (FYI — this is why people are losing their minds over Hatchimals.)

This year, as per usual, we failed to finish our Christmas shopping early. And by we, I mean my husband. Because every year I make the mistake of leaving one or two gifts up to him. And every year he puts it off until the clock has run out. Maybe he’s waiting for inspiration to strike. Maybe he’s hoping he’ll win the lottery. Maybe he hasn’t realized Christmas is an annual event.

Likely, he’s just waiting for me to do it for him.

So with less than a week until Christmas, we bundled up three sick kids and ventured out into the blistering cold. We squeezed into a parking stall and herded into the store, shoulder-to-shoulder with a million other people. And as I struggled to navigate a 1,000 pound shopping cart through a crowd of strangers while my kids yanked it from side to side and whined about how hungry and bored they were, I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit sorry for myself. This was not the stress-free Christmas I had planned.

Then, as I was wallowing in general humbuggery, trying to make my way through the traffic jam in the produce aisle, my six-year-old let loose a tremendous, uncovered sneeze. Embarrassed, I tried to pretend we weren’t together. Can this day get any worse?, I sulked.

And then I heard him very loudly declare, “Wow. Good thing I didn’t have any boogers in my nose!”

Good thing indeed.

There’s always a bright side.

Keep it in perspective

No matter how stressed we may feel during the holidays, we don’t have to look far to gain a little perspective. In fact, on the day of our last shopping trip, while waiting at a traffic light, we watched a Tim Hortons’ employee face the bitter cold to bring a hot drink to a man standing on the boulevard asking for change. Not only did she bring him a drink, but she stood outside with him for a few minutes, smiling and chatting, as I’m sure she would with any customer.

It was a small act of generosity, but it reminded me that most of the little things that stress us out and push us to lose our cool during the holidays are just that — little. They don’t really matter.

The things that do matter are the things that warm our hearts.

So whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate, and with whomever you celebrate, I wish you joy and love this season.

And just enough inner peace to make it through.