I have worked in customer service for almost as long as I have been legally able to work in the United States… this is almost 20 years. About 10 of those have had me in retail; in a mall. The store where Lesley and I met used to have a holiday tram: we would have to park off the mall property, a few blocks away and the tram would bus us into the mall. This was a great idea, for many reasons, but inevitably sucked even more the first few days, and especially Black Friday because it would take more time. It. Was. Frustrating. This frustration we felt can be seen society wide during the holidays. Humanity emerges in these few weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of December—and not necessarily in a positive way. People are out and about and rushing around to find gifts and visit friends and family. Eating, cooking, wrapping, shopping. All of these things are done because its tradition. Because of “tradition” we force all of these extracurriculars on ourselves, at the end of the year. We feel the need, year after year, to do better, see more people, purchase better presents, make better food. Does it happen? Sometimes. Was all of the stress worth it? Probably not.
In the name of research for this piece I Googled “how to make the holidays better,” and “how to have the best holidays.” Most of the things that come up are shopping related, a few are travel related, there are a few checklists (that offer suggestions like: start shopping in September, start playing holiday music after Thanksgiving, and don’t try to decorate all in one day), and the article that came up that wins: “A Holiday Sweater Makes Everything Better.” Really? Shopping and decorating and sweaters sound like an utter NIGHTMARE waiting to happen.
As this holiday season begins, I encourage you to think of last year. How did you feel about the whole season when January 3rd arrived? Were you proud, satisfied, happy? Or were you exhausted and glad it was all over? What were the things you swore you would do differently?
Oh, this all makes me want to watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Probably just the cartoon one, although the Jim Carey version is delightful. “It came without ribbons. It came without bows. It came without packages boxes or bags…”
So not to totally jump into just Christmas, because so many people celebrate different holidays, but we all seem to get sucked into this holiday thing. It starts off just as the Starbucks cups change; a song here or there is a holiday one; the Salvation Army bells ringing… and the big one: Here in NYC the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade happens, and Santa Claus arrives. Sigh.
Don’t get me wrong. I love giving. I love getting together with friends. I love the smell of Christmas trees and I love walking Fifth Avenue and looking in the windows. There is something magical about this time of year. But, what do you do when the magic wears off and the frustration, and aggravation sets in?
Here at LiveClareLesley, we’re big on breathing deeply before approaching an issue or problem. We’re also big on giving you tips and suggestions on how to live through something. So, here are my suggestions from living on many different sides of this holiday: a worker, a traveler, a child, an adult, and even a grinch—yup, one Christmas I stayed home, refused to get out of my pajamas, did laundry and had Chinese food.
Remember the simple things:
1) No one in your life really wants you to suffer stress, especially for their sake. Really. No one I have EVER met has EVER said to me: gee, this is a great gift/dinner/idea that you’ve done, I just wish you would have worried and stressed and spent even more time than the 6 hours you already dedicated it to it, not to mention the sleepless night and the time you spent to earn the money to be able to afford this. Nope… that has never happened.
2) If something makes you want to scream, it’s the absolute wrong answer. Step back. Put the item down. Put the mixing bowl/spoon/knife down. Step away. Go do something different. Tell yourself that whatever you’re doing right now, its not worth the high level of stress its causing. Re-read number one.
3) Think of the simple things that make you happy. What is it you LIKE about this season? Its certainly NOT the pressure you’re putting on yourself. What is it? I LOVE watching Christmas movies—I try to make it through all of the cartoon classics and White Christmas, The Holiday, Love Actually, and Holiday Inn. And then I watch It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t. But I have those on reserve, and I make sure I have a bottle of whiskey to put a little into a cup of spicy tea or cocoa (a sensible splash in one cup when I get home and don’t have to be anywhere) and I snuggle up on the sofa and watch them. Or, I put one on and decorate a little. When you get stretched thin, remember your simple pleasures, and go immerse yourself in one!
4) Decorating. My dad lives in Colorado and is always decorating the outside of his house for Christmas. He used to joke that he was Clark W. Griswold (National Lampoons). He and my step mom spend a day or two (sometimes more) decorating the inside and the outside of the house. Now that all the kids are gone, they might not do as much, but sheesh!! So much decorating! Dad, I love you and if you read this, the house is always beautiful. But, I am ever the long term thinker—when putting up the decorations, I think about how much time it will take to put them away. Living in a TEENY TINY New York apartment, the decorating time is minimal because the space is minimal. However, I do like my twinkle lights. So, I give myself a time limit. How much time to I want to put into decorating. Total. In and out. I divide that in half and then allow myself that much time to decorate. Here’s the thing: it always looks good. This year I bought plastic snowflakes and put them up in the windows. I put on a Christmas Cartoon and decorated for the thirty minutes it was on. I felt more festive both while doing it and after. And then, I was done. Decorate how you want, for as long as you want… but keep it easy! I promise you, that you’re the only one who cares so much about the decorating.
5) Visiting and traveling. I refuse to travel these days. I don’t go home for Thanksgiving, and my mom and I go to the beach for Christmas. Done. My parents have been divorced forever, and I was always traveling for these holidays. I don’t want to do it anymore. I went to four different Thanksgiving dinners this year and I traveled via the subway. And I was happy. Point being: only travel as much as it makes you happy to do so. There are many other months in the year to see people. If it doesn’t get done this month, make January or February plans—those months are always rife with free time.
6) RELAX! I just had a conversation with a dear friend about her plans to go home for the holidays. She was already stressing out because her parents wanted her there for a week, but she had to work the day they wanted her to leave and the day they wanted for her return. By doing this, she had no time to actually relax during her holiday. Ok, side step for a little history lesson… the word holiday comes from “Holy Day” which was set aside by the church and the lords of the feuds to give relaxation to the workers (and to collect taxes). So, if you’re not giving yourself at least a little time to relax on your “holy day” you’re doing it all wrong. Make sure you set aside time to breathe and unwind. Remember that Santa only works one day a year, because its so stressful. He takes 364 days off.
Generally you need to remember to take care of yourself. Breathe. Meditate. Lock yourself in your room and do what makes you happy. Remember sickness and disease start when we stress ourselves out. You can wash your hands all you want, but if you’re not relaxing and breathing and resting, you’re gonna get sick.
So this holiday season, take time for yourself. Step back from the stress. Spend time with the people that really matter to you. If you feel stress creeping in, STOP what you’re doing and reevaluate if the task is worth the level of stress and ultimately your health. Now, go dig out that reindeer sweater, the fancy cocoa, and a fantastic movie and ENJOY this season.
–Clare the Elf