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Tis the season to be… stressed!

By Tracey Dowdy

Between parties, school programs, and end-of-year deadlines at work, the holidays don’t always feel like “the most wonderful time of the year.” This year, instead of working like an elf pulling the third shift on the 24th, give yourself a break. You can’t do it all, afford it all, or be everywhere. Before you open one more door on that Advent calendar, set some boundaries for yourself and your family.

“I can’t afford it.”

It seems like the Christmas decorations come out earlier and earlier every year. Things really ramp up once “Back to School” is out of the way and from that point on we are bombarded with commercials for the latest and greatest tech gadgets, toys, and fashion trends. Instead of running up a huge credit card bill you’ll hate yourself for in January, set a budget and stick to it.

Back in the day when I had a retail job, I remember a customer who had an envelope of cash for each person she had to buy for. When the envelope was empty, that was her cue to pack it all up and head for home. Simple, but genius.

In my house, we pick names. I come from a family of 9 and my husband from a family of seven.  Counting spouses, parents, nieces and nephews, we’d have 57 people to buy for. Instead, adults and kids each pick a name and we buy one thoughtful gift with a price limit. The gift has meaning and helps us stay connected, even if we aren’t together.

“I can’t do it all.”

Just accept it now. There’s no way you’re going to participate in every party, gift exchange, volunteer opportunity or family event. Prioritize. Don’t waste time at an event with people you don’t know – or don’t like – if simply declining the invitation would have solved the problem. People understand we’re all pulled in every direction this time of year. Your time is precious and the holidays are all about making memories, so do everything in your power to make sure they’re good ones.

“My family makes me crazy.”

If your family looks less like a Norman Rockwell painting and more like the Kardashians, take comfort knowing you aren’t alone. Family brings out the best and the worst in all of us. If your family is truly abusive and it’s an unhealthy environment for you or your kids, stay away. On the other hand, if it’s like mine, they’re probably just occasionally annoying, sometimes inappropriate, frequently loud and always hilarious. Go in with reasonable expectations, be quick to forgive, and pick your battles.

“I’m overwhelmed.”

During the holidays, many people find themselves depressed and anxious. In fact, one Danish study found that suicide rates rise as much as 40 percent after Christmas. Unreasonable expectations about how things are supposed to be, pressures at work or home, and financial issues are all stressors that can seriously impact individuals and families alike.

That’s why those boundaries are so important. Be good to yourself and in turn be good to your family. No one enjoys being around someone frantic and agitated because things aren’t “just so.” So let it go: use paper plates for Christmas dinner; decorate the front half of the tree or skip it altogether; bring Oreos instead of your Nona’s famous shortbread to that cookie exchange. No one expects your home to look like Martha Stewart’s…well, except maybe Martha’s family.

Give yourself permission to say no. It may not bring peace on earth, but for you at least, it can bring peace of mind.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, Ontario. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

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