Saturday, December 3, 2011

Figuring Out What Counts

Stop stressing and just have fun instead.
This morning, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she and her fiancĂ© had just done their budget for the month, and they’re not going to be able to give anyone Christmas gifts – not even each other. She’s had a rough year due to some health issues, and I know things are hard right now. But it made me sad, because I hate that our society has turned the holiday season into something so stressful that people feel obligated to give others presents.

Now, a brief disclaimer – I’m a tree-huggin’ dirt worshiper, but I do recognize that no matter what you celebrate – whether it’s Yule/Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Festivus – you should never feel pressured to the point of despair. If this is supposed to be a season of joy, why make yourself sick over it?

A few years ago, my family decided to take a very low-key approach to the holidays. This was due, in part, to having a pair of twin birthdays the second week of December. Coming just a couple of weeks before Christmas, it just became overwhelming. The stress – birthday party, birthday presents times two, Christmas decorating, gift shopping, holiday parties, OMG WE FORGOT A TREE – it all became too much. So we just stopped. It’s not that I don’t care about the holidays, it’s just that if it makes you miserable, you’re missing the whole point of the celebration.

So, in the interest of both saving money and keeping ourselves from having a nervous breakdown, here are some tips on how to survive the holidays. Some of this is from my article over at About.com, How to Have aLow Stress Yule.
  
Quit Worrying About Presents:

Your friends don’t care if you buy them something. They love you no matter what. So, if you can’t afford to give them presents, do something else. Let everyone know how much you value their friendship and company by holding an informal potluck dinner sometime in December. Everyone brings a dish to share, and NO ONE brings presents. Or better yet, do an upcycled gift exchange, where everyone brings one wrapped re-gift to exchange. I did this one year and ended up with a pair of monkeys having sex in a snow globe while “Love Me Tender” played in the background, and someone else got a Chia Head that looked like Engelbert Humperdinck. Put “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the DVD player, eat some noms, and hang out for some good times with people who love you.

You really feel like you need to give someone a present? Get in the kitchen and whip up some cookies, pies, breads, or candies. Dig out that sewing machine and stitch up some handmade goodies. They will be appreciated far more than that Sex Monkey Snow Globe, believe me.

Set Limits:

Are you in charge of the community coat drive, the local toy roundup, and getting your entire PTO's fundraiser up and running? Step back. Be willing to say "No" when someone asks you to commit more time and energy than you have to give. We all want to help others at this time of year, but if you take on more than you really are capable of, you'll become resentful and angry - and that's no way to spend the holidays. Learning to say "No" might be the best gift you can give yourself this year.

Ditch The Decorations:

Do you and your significant other fight for three weeks about who’s going to hang the lights, and what day the tree goes up? Quit worrying about it. I have one friend who puts up FOUR trees in her house each year, and it’s a source of endless amusement to me and endless stress to her. I didn’t have a tree at all last year because I took the kids to visit my parents, and this year, we may just skip it altogether. After all, it’s just going to get tossed out a few days after the holidays are over, and it’s one more thing for the dog to eat and barf up later. I think I’ll just hang a wreath, put out a few vintage woodland Santas and a Yule Log, and call it a day.

Figure Out What The Holidays Mean to You:

If you’re a Pagan like me, this time of year represents the return of the sun – it’s a time of hope and renewal. It’s not supposed to be a time when I’m freaking out about whether or not I bought Just the Right Gift for someone I only see once in a blue moon. It’s a time to think about giving to others, not because I *have* to, but because it’s a nice thing to do. And that giving can include gifts, or my time and energy. It’s why my kids and I take a day to go pick out toys for the local fire department’s holiday toy drive. And yeah, it’s totally self-centered, I do it because it makes me feel good.

If you’re a Christian, and you’re celebrating the birth of Jesus as the reason for the season, then take some time to think about what message you want to share. Does fighting over who gets the last Kinect at WalMart really say HAPPY BIRTHDAY BABY JESUS? I think probably not.

Take the teachings of your belief system – whatever it may be – and celebrate them. Keeping things minimalist is a good way to remind us what really matters – and what’s all trappings.

Decompress:

When you're feeling overwhelmed in the middle of the season, and you know you still have things that need to get done, take a break. Turn off the phone, shut the door, and go have some Me Time. Take a power nap, go to the gym and beat the shit out of something, or have high-quality recreational sex with someone you find attractive. Doesn’t matter what, just do something OTHER than think about the holidays for a while.

Recognize Burnout:

A big problem many people seem to have is they just fail to realize they're burning themselves out. Stress creeps up on us, and then we tend to justify it by saying, "Well, it's the holidays." Learn to recognize the signs of burnout, and react accordingly. Some signs include:

  • Depleted levels of physical energy
  • Lowered immune system, feeling run-down or ill
  • Lack of interest in things that you normally enjoy
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Negative, pessimistic outlook
  • Anger directed at people who don't deserve it, like kids and sales clerks
If you start seeing these behaviors in yourself, it's time to take a step back and recognize that you're stressing out. Now that you've discovered the problem, take time to fix it, so that you and the people around you can have a happy and healthy season. Don’t be the person who screams at the grocery bagger because he forgot to say MERRY CHRISTMAS, because then you’re not only stressed out, you’re an asshole.

A Final Note:

This is to my friend whose post triggered this whole thing. Listen, sweetie – we all have rough years. Some more than others. But you are loved, very much, and none of us are going to love you LESS just because times are tough. If we did that, we’d be shitty friends. You and your honey can stop worrying about giving people presents. You’ve got each other, and you’ve got all of us. Merry Christmas.

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