3 Step Plan To Reduce Stress & Reclaim Holiday Magic | Escape the Mental Load!

3 Step Plan to Reduce Stress, Boost Joy & Reclaim Holiday Magic

#MomsSelf-Care #StressLessForHolidays #MomsHavingFun #FamilyJoy

The appliances looked iridescent, they kind of shimmered under all the flour. It was almost beautiful.  I tried to ignore the ache in my back. Every muscle needed rest.  I had one more batch of dough in the fridge and two sheets in the oven.  The smell of butter, chocolate, pecans and pine needles permeated our home. Wonderful, holiday smells… but I wanted to cry. I estimated another hour of hard-core cookie making before I could sleep and it was nearly midnight…every container was filled with cookies & I hadn’t even stared packing the glossy red tins yet. The baby would be up (again) to nurse.  I felt stuck in my own over-do.

That was two years ago. I have a hard time saying no and disappointing myself feels even worse than disappointing others. I gifted cookies for at least a decade prior to that and skipping it, despite how my life changed post-kids, just felt awful…like falling further from my identity.

I used to love the holidays. I now grit my teeth from sorting Halloween candy straight through to January second. My kids seem oblivious…thankfully.  They relish holidays with playful abandon.

I need to repair my relationship with the season…quickly… before my kids are old enough to notice how drained I am.

When I asked 42 Moms what they find challenging and wonderful about holidays – from what they want their kids to remember, to how they reduce stress and boost joy — I received amazing stories and clever suggestions.

Although the majority of Moms shared they feel more stressed or tired during holidays, nearly half did not.  This reinforced my intention to change things. Let’s emerge from the holidays feeling full, versus spent, shall we?

Your-Love-The-Holidays Action Plan

  1. Understand your triggers – know where stressors lurk so you can avoid, accept or renegotiate.
  2. Hack your way through – use brilliant shortcuts for everything from gifts, to planning, meal prep and creating new traditions.
    1. Plan ahead where it counts.
    2. Reduce the workload.
  3. Restore the joy — make time for awesome!

Triggers…Why Are Holidays So Stressful?

For nearly half the Moms who responded it’s holiday logistics (planning, scheduling and coordinating the activities) that dominate seasonal overwhelm.

“The planning…We do more than our fair share of hosting and I feel responsible for not only the preparation, but keeping my partner and kids in the game and aware of what’s ahead.”

“Getting packed up and ready to go because it is difficult to be ready on time and (get) places with a 9 month old.”

Nearly one in four dread challenging family dynamics.

“Organizing things for others hoping they will all have a good time and hearing them complain about everything during the actual holidays.”

“…my mother in law makes EVERYTHING difficult and sends guilt our way….”

“Interacting with racist relatives.”

“Trying to meet step-children’s expectations of holidays that are very different than my own philosophies.”

The remaining stress triggers were more evenly distributed:  Mom guilt from trying to keep everyone (else) happy; hosting/loss of personal space; increased housework; too much to do for the short time frame; expense/obligation of buying gifts, childcare while juggling holiday responsibilities, large-scale cooking and/or catering to others’ food preferences. 

“Making sure everyone has a good holiday. Because I’m the Mom.”

“Receiving gifts. I don’t need anything and don’t like clutter, so I feel guilty about making good use of the things I receive.”

“…Wanting the house to look perfect.”

“Talking to adults while watching my kids.”

“Dealing with the huge change in the kids’ schedule: lack of sleep, eating tons of sugar (and) not sleeping in (their) own bed.”

Hack Your Way Through:  Plan Ahead Where It Counts.

Holiday time is compressed and many Moms make it work by doing anything that is possible ahead of time. More than half plan the schedule and logistics at least one month ahead, with nearly one in five planning two-plus months ahead.

More than a third, who travel plan at least one month in advance although some also play it close and plan less than two weeks in advance (this may be due to local versus longer treks).

The majority (60%) buy and plan gifts one or more months in advance and the rest (40%) handle gifts within four weeks or less.

Interestingly, most meal planning happens less than three weeks before the big day and the majority (62%) spend less than two weeks preparing, perhaps a reflection of many holiday tables sporting family-favorites and standby’s year after year.

Decorating and home prep is almost an even split, with nearly half waiting until the last two weeks and the other slightly more than half handling at least one month before.

Reduce Workload. Make Things Easier!

When asked ‘what are your hacks to save time, money or generally make the holidays easier’, here’s where Moms are saving and reallocating precious energy:

Organize Gift Shopping

“Have a gift list on my phone (and) throughout the year, buy things as I see them…”

“…wrapping stocking stuffers all year long and putting (them) in giant zip lock bags with their name on it.”

Many Moms also advocate exclusively shopping online to eliminate gift wrapping, wasted time in busy stores and shipping hassles. “We order most of our gifts online and have them shipped directly to our destination (in-laws house out-of-state). Huge time-saver.”

A couple of Moms described a heart-to-heart with the spouse to get aligned about overall priorities. “(I) tell my husband not to buy me anything more than token presents (and only those so that the four year-old would see us getting something for Christmas and not think everything was for him) and that I wouldn’t be buying him anything much. Also, as part of that, I gave him suggestions on things to give so money isn’t wasted on crap I don’t want cluttering my house…I would rather have him get me a book…something I want (and plan to buy anyhow) for myself or the house (even if it’s socks…or a new spatula for the kitchen).”

Save Time & Money

“For a few years now we decided no gifts for adults, it makes me sad.” 

 “Screw the cards, Facebook!”

 “Black Friday shopping with my oldest daughter, great tradition and (we) save lots of money. I also use online coupons for cyber Monday shopping.”

“I take advantage of every single Shutterfly freebie over the year. When Xmas comes, I have a ton of photo Xmas gifts to give recipients. You still pay shipping from Shutterfly but still very affordable. “

“Coordinate gift buying for kids with spouse – otherwise we end up with an insane number of presents for our child. Send suggestions for kid’s gifts to grandparents/aunts and uncles…to avoid duplication and steer them towards things we’d like our child to have.

“Give joint gifts (e.g., my sisters and I typically give a single gift to our Dad).” 

“…Buy holiday clothing early.”

Minimize Meal Angst

Raclette makes a fabulous Christmas Eve Dinner, everything can be prepared in advance so that nobody has to miss out on the party.”

“I have main dishes catered and ask other family members to bring snacks and desserts.”

 “Get menu from my sister early to take away anxiety.”

“Created a new traditional meal for Christmas Eve. Something that I like (not the traditional fish) and is easy to make.”

“This year I hired someone to clear the table and wash dishes at Passover, which was amazing!”

Many moms cater some part or all of the meal to reduce the amount of cooking, dishes and time spent on meal logistics. “I have mostly stopped cooking and tend to order meals pre-made so I can just heat them up.”

Digitize Your Routine/Outsource Where Possible

“(Keep) checklist from previous year in Google docs.”

“Try to send holiday pictures first of the month before Christmas.”

Dial Up Happiness!

When asked ‘what’s the most awesome thing you’ve done and why?’ many found great ways to reduce stress by choosing a new path or building meaningful experiences into the mix.

Family Dynamics Tips:

“Split the holiday – one week with each side. Got to do things that each side enjoyed versus finding (the) lowest common denominator…”

Prep/Hosting/Household Tips:

“It might be when I hired someone to do the dishes! It was just such a load off of me knowing that I didn’t have to step away from the celebration, or have it waiting at the end of the night after I put the kids to bed, cleaned up, etc.” 

I have never hosted a holiday. That seems to be the best trick!  Always go somewhere else.”

Meaning Of The Season/Gratitude Tips:

“Inviting last minute people whom I knew where by themselves. It was great to share with them and be a larger group.”

“Volunteering at the local homeless shelter because it allows my sons the opportunity to give to others and realize that ultimately true joy comes from giving rather than receiving.”

“Did not buy gifts and volunteered at a shelter. Giving back is better than giving and getting.”

Vacations/Going Rogue Tips:

“…going on a road trip with my daughter and husband, because we were enjoying time just the three of us, far from home and worries, no need to make somebody else happy.”

 “Thanksgiving. Stayed home no expectations. Cooked what we wanted and ate when we wanted. No travel.”

 “Went to Figi!  No stress.”

 “Last year for Christmas we didn’t travel OR host – just stayed at home and enjoyed the time. It was AMAZING.”

Invent/Adopt Fabulous Traditions tips:

“I make photo ornaments for all the special kids in my life. When they get to be an adult, they should have 20 to 30 ornaments that show their growth over the years.”

“Weaving traditions within the craziness. We hide a pickle on the Xmas tree for everyone to look for. It started years ago and has grown with such anticipation that there will be people clamoring over one another to get a better look!”

“Planned a family game with the extended family.” 

“Taking time to do something special just my daughter and me.” 

“…do an activity with nieces and nephews in lieu of (buying) individual gifts.”

“Traveled to another destination as a family (i.e. Skiing in Utah). Kept gifts light and created great memories.”

What Moms Love about the holiday overwhelmingly had to do with family togetherness and making memories for their children.

“I enjoy the celebration itself – the meal, the gathering. It is a time when most of my work is done, at least temporarily.”

“The kids’ excitement.”

“I enjoy getting together with family because some of them I only see on holidays.” 

“Time to relax and recharge; family quality time; reflection and an opportunity to educate the kids on my faith (if a religious holiday).” 

“Being with family and friends and disconnecting from the daily grind.”

Whether you relish the pomp and circumstance or want to boycott forced fun, holidays shape how kids experience childhood. One Grandmother who responded shared memories she loves, Taking the time to make homemade cut out cookies and decorating them with the kids. They still remember this and do it with their own children…Honestly, just being together and not getting stressed out about anything.”


Last year, for the first time in over a decade I didn’t send cookies as gifts. I made two small batches for my kids to experience the baking and decorating but skipped the high-volume, production. Realizing the 15-hour cookie making marathon had become a forced fit in my current life was hard, but I had to change. As one surveyed Mom stated, “…The bottom line is that the holidays should be (in my mind) about time together and not about ‘stuff’.”  Well said!

Are you inspired to drop the stress and have some fun for the next two months?  Do you have other great hacks and tips that will help us all over the holidays? Don’t be shy, please share in the comments!


If you enjoy this post and would like updates & research on finding time for self-care & personal growth every week-ish, send me a note!

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