MARY READY: Confessing Christmas stress and coping with it

Mary Ready, Ready or Not

Next Friday is Christmas Day. And by that point, I’ll be joining the many wives, mamas, and grandmas who are exhausted from the shopping, cooking, Christmas card writing, wrapping, decorating, light stringing, house cleaning, etc. that comes from “doing Christmas.” As much as we try to be festive, singing carols, and cheerily wishing everyone “Merry Christmas,” the accompanying stress and fatigue of the season makes closet Grinches out of many of us. No wonder we hear some folks say, “I’ll be so glad when Christmas is over!”

Even people who tend to maintain a balanced and managed life, whatever that means, the rest of the year may experience a slipping of the façade during the November-December 31 time frame. When money is limited and the perceived demands of the season are unlimited, stress easily finds its home in many souls who are trying to match Christmas card for Christmas card and gift for gift. For some people, this time of year stirs up deep feelings of sadness, especially if a loss such as divorce or death has become attached to memories of happier Christmases Past.

For me, it’s another blue Christmas without Frank, but I’ll try to be happy for everyone and, most important, to focus on the Reason for the season.

As for advice-giving, anything I could say is insufficient in offering infallible coping strategies. Besides, most people already know how to mitigate the stress of holiday activities. Instead, they choose to become Christmas martyrs, trying to please everybody. I could offer my own counsel (which I probably wouldn’t follow either), but the common theme for avoiding the frenzy of the season is KEEP IT SIMPLE.

From Psychologist Dr. Roslyn Feierstein comes a few anti-stress tactics for the holidays:

Keep menus and plans simple and don’t let events get bigger

Exchange gifts by drawing names at work and in big families

Buy fewer gifts

Send Christmas cards only to out-of-town old friends

Listen to soothing music as you wrap presents or just while doing nothing

Tell people NO. Don’t add to your own stress by taking on someone else’s tasks.

Budget your time, energy, and money.

Enjoy the spiritual aspects of the holidays.

Remember no one is perfect, and no one expects you to be.

To those tips, I would suggest humming “Silent Night” or “Jingle Bells” under your breath when things get stressful, even if people look at you as if you’re deranged.

Also, go to church Christmas Eve, even if you haven’t been since Easter.

One helpful thing my family has done for the last few years has been the “name draw.” I have a big family, including immediate and extended, so the total number of gift exchangers stands at 12. If each person buys 11 gifts, that’s stressful and expensive. And if someone gets left out, then we have the guilt factor. So, on Thanksgiving Day, we draw names. That way the participant only has to buy ONE gift ($35 to $50 limit). On Christmas Day, the gift exchange is not only streamlined, but totally fair. It’s worked thus far. Of course, granddaughter, Catie Bug, is exempt from the rules, and anyone who feels so inclined may shower her with gifts. And they do!

OK, now it’s time for my annual, sappy, little Christmas tale. Maybe it’s true. Maybe not. I’m willing to bet a similar incident has taken place more than once during the yuletide season.

A woman was out shopping with her two little boys. After three hours of looking at row after row of toys and hearing them whine for everything they saw, she was tired and feeling the overwhelming pressure of completing her Christmas gift list without spending beyond her means. Her arms full of packages and kids, she was relieved to make it into the over-crowded elevator. She pushed her way into the back of the car and leaned wearily against the wall. When an elderly man wished her “Merry Christmas,” she replied, “Whoever started this Christmas business should be hunted down, strung up, and shot!” Then a voice emanating from the front of the elevator quietly responded, “Don’t worry, we already crucified Him.” For the rest of the trip, the elevator ride was in total silence.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.