people toasting over table full of food

The holidays are upon us—want to not only stay sane, but enjoy them?

Maybe you are already one of those people who breezes easily from Thanksgiving to New Years Day humming happily and surprising friends with gifts and strangers with acts of kindness. Maybe you dread this routine-interrupting, be-sure-you-play-nice time of year. Whichever camp you fall into, one thing is for sure—this time of year is busy!

Last year, I offered some stress-reducing tips for this time of year. This year, I’d like to offer you some ideas to help you feel less busy (even if you are). Did you know that some of the busiest people feel and act like they have all the time in the world because they engage in a few simple practices? They have an almost supernatural ability to slow time down, which is what most of us really crave this time of year.

Think about it. Before modern life put us on the fast track, winter was a time to move indoors and watch the snow fall next to a crackling fire.  It was a time to spruce up the house, make pretty things for family members, prepare food for the long months ahead, tell stories, play music, and connect with loved ones.

So while we can’t play pioneer all winter and still expect to pay our bills, we can still find time for special moments this time of year. Here is how the busy people make it look effortless:

people laughing in a living room

Make time for the important things

Decide what is and is not important to you. Are you doing things you hate out of obligation? (And I’m not talking about a bad job—that is an entirely different topic that only a career counselor should tackle.) I’m talking about a family tradition that stresses you out. Do you have grown kids you would love to spend time with, but you never really enjoyed cooking the big holiday meal? Offer to teach them the family recipes they look forward to each year and do it at their home. Not only can you start a new tradition that makes your life easier, you give the gift of passing on family history and the blessing that you trust your kids with this important part of the holidays.

Speaking of grown kids—are you still giving them stockings each year? Have you taken over the stockings for their kids, too? It’s okay to hand that one over now. When your kids were little, it was a joy to find little toys they would love and their favorite candy. To stay up late drinking hot cocoa (or something a little more adult). But I’m willing to guess as the years have gone by, the cost of those stuffing items have increased, and if you are doing the grandkids’, too, would it help to realign your holiday budget and buy back time  if you gave the gift of stuffing stockings to the parents?

What about the holiday parties and events you either throw or attend? Are they energizing and fun, or at some point do you start to feel exhausted? Listen to those feelings and choose only the ones that bring you up and say no to the ones that drain you. You don’t have to fill your calendar this season. Leave some downtime for yourself.

Make the important things memorable

One of the secrets to bending time is to enjoy the memories as you are making them. This may sound like an impossible feat for parents of small children and teenagers, but ask any grandparent—you won’t remember the meltdowns, you’ll remember how they melted your heart. So hang in there, you’re doing great!

So how can you be present this time of year when it seems to be hurtling towards the new year at light-speed? A few things really busy people do to make a moment memorable is to tell the people they are with what a good time they are having. Anticipate the emotions you will have before an event you know will happen, and relive the memories soon after the event. Keep your memories in a mental “treasure chest,” and mentally take them out often or share them with a loved one. Have you ever shared the story of the first time you met a baby with the child they have become? Watch their faces glow with pleasure. It makes you both feel wonderful.

Let go of expectations. Even if you have been anticipating a really great time, and it turns out to not be so great, it’s okay. Busy people are good at letting things go. Your toddler decided to have a DEFCON 1 tantrum in the middle of Christmas dinner at your very proper in-laws’ house? Do what you need to do to deal with it and ignore the stares and advice of everyone there. You may be judging yourself more harshly than they are. And if not, better luck next year, when you can all laugh about it.
gratitude notebook on a fern
And lastly, if you don’t already have a gratitude practice, now is a good time to start one. Recalling what is going well in your life every day has tremendous benefits. You can do it solo or involve your family. There are lots of ways to do it: use a journal, make a box or jar to slip pieces of paper into, or simply say it aloud. You can use any phrasing you like, “I am grateful for…” “I appreciate…” “It means a lot to me that…” If you write these things down, consider writing them down for your loved ones. Give you spouse a card with all of the things you have thought of over the last few months that you love about them. Watch him or her tear up and get ready for the hug. Best. Gift. Ever.  Having trouble coming up with something to feel gratitude for?  Here’s some help–especially for the cynics among us.

And your gratitude doesn’t have to be big or compare to anyone else’s suffering. Just because you enjoy a meal, doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty that not everyone around the world does. That defeats boosting your mood when you aren’t in a position to do anything about those less fortunate than you. Appreciate what you have and the beauty around you, and you will find you are calmer, have more energy, and yes, a feel like you have all the time in the world.

Wishing you a bountiful Thanksgiving and warm, memorable holiday season!

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