I’ve made one promise to myself this holiday season, and I intend to keep it. Won’t be easy. Falling back on old habits happens a lot more than most of us are willing to acknowledge. Just the same, I’m hard at work exercising my vow-keeper muscle.
This Christmas — and, I hope, for all future Christmases — I’m not going to overdo it.
I will not try to make everything perfect.
I will not try to make every party I’m invited to.
I will not go crazy decorating.
I will not bake until all hours of the night.
I will not wrap every gift as if auditioning for a contest.
In short, I’m tempering my expectations and cutting down on the superfluous activities that stress me. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. I invariably get sick during the holidays. Blame these illnesses on seasonal strain. The rest of the year I’m healthy.
I was reminded of my cyclical afflictions this Thanksgiving. Just in time for the much-awaited family gathering, I was hacking away between puffs of my inhaled medicine. The sniffles — caught from, of course, a snotty-nosed grandchild — had (once again) developed into bronchitis.
Too busy preparing guest rooms, shopping for dessert ingredients, and figuring out how to share oven time with The Hubby, I hadn’t eaten properly or gotten the sleep I needed. Oh, and there was also the matter of writing deadlines bumping right up against Turkey Day. Combined, these pressures proved overwhelming. The outcome was, as always, predictable.
When I run myself ragged, when I wear myself down, I usually succumb to an inconsequential bug that I could otherwise fight off. Over the years, this has happened often enough for me to pause and take notice. But I’m hardly alone in overdoing it. Many women I know seem preternaturally inclined to excessive effort during this time. They spend the last weeks of the year harried and hurried. By January, they’re hollow-eyed and pasty-faced, exhausted.
“It’s like we’re all trying to channel Martha Stewart,” one friend explained. And not doing a good job of it, I’d add.
I’m not sure why we feel guilty saying no to commitments we know will tip the scales. We love this season of cheer, the opportunity to gather with family, to toast our lives with old friends, to make memories. But…but.
Part of the reason, at least for me, is that I’ve watched too many commercials and Hallmark movies that depict totally unrealistic Christmas settings. I earmark magazine pages with advice on how to create the perfect atmosphere of wonder and welcome. It all appears so…so, well, doable. The curated lives on social media don’t help with the pressure, either. Everyone is happy, everyone is celebrating, and, to boot, their outfits and props are unfailingly enviable.
But here’s a confession a long time in coming: I’ve neither the talent nor time to replicate these fantasies. More and more, I also wonder if anyone notices. Rather than trying so hard, maybe I need to care less.
So, back to my promise to practice self-care. You already know my don’ts, the refusals I hope will keep me grounded and rested. Here are my do’s.
I will temper my expectations and relax all my I-shoulds.
I will only hang around positive people, people who love me.
I will delegate, delegate, delegate.
I will schedule alone time, preferably outdoors.
I will light scented candles whenever I want to.
I will take long walks after dinner to enjoy my neighborhood’s Christmas decorations.
And I will live in the moment, savor what’s right in front of me, and take one day at a time. After all, the future will come soon enough.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.