This is the most wonderful time of the year according to Andy Williams (he’s the guy that sings “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”). I strongly disagree with Andy. This is a very stressful time of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas; but I prefer summertime to Christmas. I enjoy giving gifts, watching my children get excited about a new Barbie, and eating homemade ravioli with my wife’s Italian family. These are great things. But there are also major stresses. Here are a few:
The Business Insider says that the average American will spend over $700 on gifts during the season. (http://www.businessinsider.com/christmas) I don’t know about you but that’s more than both of my car payments combined. This is the second most stressful part of the holiday season- spending. We work all year on our finances, watching pennies, skipping lattes, and negotiating our cable bills all for what? So we can spend all of our year’s savings on toys for our kids that they’ll forget about by February… Ok- sorry, that’s super cynical. I love getting my kids gifts. I buy them things they don’t need and I do it all year long. Then, I do it up extra at Christmas. That’s just how it goes.
Spending Stress Reliever
Planning. I know it’s easier said than done, but planning is the only solution. Beginning in January when you and your spouse sit down for your annual budget meeting (I’m kidding, I know you don’t have annual budget meetings), start thinking about the amount you want to set aside for Christmas. Make Christmas another monthly payment like your car loan, mortgage, or electric bill. Pay money into your savings account that is earmarked for Christmas. Or, better yet- open another savings account and start making your “payments” into that account.
If you’re like the average American, and you’re going to drop seven bills on the relatives, think about how easy that would be done over 11 months- $64/month. What? Yea, $64 per month will get you $700 by December 1st. That’s a little easier to swallow. I know it’s a little late for this year to start that, but planning and stress relief is all-in on the “long play.”
The number one stressor around the holidays is relationships. My family and my wife’s family are both within 30 minutes of my house. So for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, we get to (read: have to) hang out with both of our families. It’s honestly not terrible. We have great relationships with my brother and his family, my sister and her husband, and my parents. We also have great relationships with my wife’s brother, sister, parents and their entire extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. However, I know that my family is not the norm for most. But even at that- having family over for an introvert like myself is stressful. They’re all coming over on Christmas day; there will be about 20 people at my house. So, I’m taking the 23rd off work to clean. Because we have to make the house look like no one lives in it any time people come over. Look, I enjoy a clean house as much as the next guy; and, I like my house to be clean. However, I hate that I have to do it just so 20 people can track in snow and mud, spill beer and glazed ham, and open every single present they receive leaving the boxes and zip ties and plastic casings out all over the living room. Then, Christmas night, I’ll be cleaning the house again… stress
Relationship Stress Reliever
That’s a joke, people (Or is it?). There isn’t an easy way to deal with relationship stresses that come with the holidays. You might have a strained relationship with your sister or your father. You might have a bad relationship with your mother-in-law, or your father-in-law might be a jerk. I don’t have those exact problems, but I know people that do. Here are some strategies I’ve uncovered for dealing with those people. It comes from James Altucher: http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/06/how-to-deal-with-crappy-people/
First: Treat people you don’t like as if you’re their grandmother (even if you’re a dude). Hear me out. Kill them with kindness. Help them get things, offer encouragement when they complain about their life, and overall be nice. They’ll either turn a new leaf and return the favor, or be so confused that they’ll stay away from you out of fear that you’re planning to murder them. Either way, it’s a win for you. Remember, “When you get in the mud with a pig, you get dirty and the pig gets happy” ()
Second: Don’t offer them any advice whatsoever. They don’t really like you, giving them advice will come across as condescending or arrogant; even if that’s not your intention. If you give them advice they will despise you even more. Don’t do it. Listen to their problems and say things like “that sucks.” Or “Wow, I’m sorry that you’re going through that.” You don’t even really have to care about their problems, but they’ll appreciate you listening to them which will help build the relationship. If you practice #1 and #2 together, eventually it could actually turn you around and you could begin to care about that difficult person and begin to care about their needs and problems.
Third: Don’t gossip about them. When you have a strained relationship with someone, don’t assume that other people in your family have the same strained relationship. Imagine you can’t stand your mother-in-law (tough, I know). Don’t assume your sister-in-law has the same issues. If you do, your sister-in-law could easily report your gossip to your mutual mother-in-law. At that point, your relationship with your mother-in-law is irreparable.
Overall, there isn’t a way around dealing with family during the holidays. That is, unless you’re prepared to cut them completely out of your life… if you aren’t willing to go that far, take James Altucher’s advice.
I love turkey. I love ham. I love stuffing. I love mashed potatoes. I love ravioli (one of these things it not like the others…). Eating has become a major part of the holiday season. My wife’s family makes homemade ravioli for Christmas Eve dinner- it’s amazing. I usually eat as much as I can without exploding. I also pair it with a glass of wine at dinner. Before (and after dinner) I usually have a beer, some cheese, and some bread. Then after dinner, we have roasted chestnuts and Christmas cookies. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a crap-load of food. Over-eating stresses me out. It’s very similar to over-spending for me. I try to eat somewhat healthy during the year. I work out a little, I play volleyball and flag football through the year, and I don’t stuff mounds of junk food down my throat. I do all of that work for eleven and a half months, then I eat a million calories in two days. Then I’m pissed at myself for a week and make a New Year’s Resolution to eat better and work out more. Then, around the 10th of January I’m downing my 4th beer as I eat an entire bag of Lay’s… look, I have trouble with commitment.
Overeating Stress Reliever
Dieting is really the same as budgeting. If you eat (spend) more than you need to, then you’ll gain weight (debt). Wow- did that blow your mind? I just made that up, then I tweeted it (@jeffleonard12). Here’s the trick to overeating stress: don’t overeat. I know, that’s not easy. There are a lot of dieting tricks you can apply during the holidays that will keep you from overeating.
First: Don’t Skip Meals.
Don’t skip lunch because you’re “saving calories” for a big dinner. If you do that you’ll overeat for sure. And you’ll be grouchy all afternoon- that’s not fun for anyone.
Second: Chew Gum.
Jeff, stop being dumb. That doesn’t even make sense. Yes it does, why are you always arguing with me? If you’re chewing gum, you’re less likely to snack- especially whilst preparing a desert. You won’t throw back and handful of chocolate chips if you’ve got a fresh piece of Big League Chew in your mouth- it’s just wasteful.
Third: Think before you Eat.
As you’re going through the buffet line, think about what you’re putting on the plate and what’s left in the line. Load up your plate with vegetables and meat so there’s less space for carbs and desserts on the first pass. This will help you fill up your belly without destroying your diet. You don’t have to completely skip out on desert, I know I’m not. But, you should try to fill up on vegetables and meats before you go for the good stuff.
Fourth: Work Out.
Don’t forget to work out. Even if it’s just a quick jog on the treadmill or 10 minutes of planks. Burn some calories and get the heart pumping- it’ll boost your metabolism and burn off a few of those extra calories you’re going to be indulging in this week.
The holidays are a stressful time of year. Hopefully this quick list will give you some ideas for calming those stresses. What else do you stress about?