Thriving Through the Holidays: Simplify

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been posting based around the theme of Thriving Through the Holidays. See some of the former posts here.


During the month of December, I seem to have the same exchange over and over again with people. It goes something like this:

 “So how are you doing?”

“Good, but busy. I really love this time of year, but I feel like I’m too busy to really enjoy it. (Insert list of person specific stressful holiday plans/shopping/activities here.) It’s all good stuff, but I end up dreading it and just wanting to get the holidays over with!”

Can you relate?

I know I can. My husband and I really enjoy doing crafts or creative activities together. For months we’ve been gearing up for Christmas, as we both really love this season. In an attempt to de-commercialize Christmas and put our focus on things we find more meaningful, we planned to make our own advent calendar. We talked at length about how we wanted the advent calendar to be experiential, and emphasize doing things that we value during the holiday rather than being about gifts (or the all too tempting treats!). We came up with a long list of items, and what we would need to make our project. And then Thanksgiving hit. With family out of state, we are always traveling, and our task of making the calendar got put off and put off. We ended up waiting to the last minute to get it completed (actually two days late – we hung it up on December 2nd!), and though we enjoyed creating it, by the end it became more about just getting it done. Feeling already behind on other holiday projects because of all that the advent calendar entailed, we opened the first few days with an exclamation of, “How are we going to have time to do THAT?” After a few more days of opening task after task that we didn’t have time to complete, we found the humor in our situation. In our attempts to keep the holidays simple and meaningful, we were actually piling stressful activities on ourselves!

We’ve had to change our expectation of the calendar, and are thinking of it as a learning tool now. Next year we will mix in a few more pieces of chocolate and a few less time-demanding events (we probably don’t really NEED to make a gingerbread house every year). We are ok with the fact that probably half of our advent cards will not get completed this year (and for two responsible, perfectionist types that’s a big deal!).

I’ve realized when it comes to the business of the holidays, I am usually my own worst enemy. My own expectations of what I SHOULD do, or what I think others EXPECT of me can lead me to feeling frazzled and over-committed. Normally, when I examine where these statements are coming from, I realize that I either came up with them on my own or from COMPARING myself to others.

It’s true what they say that comparison is the thief of joy.

This year I want to challenge you to find ways to simplify the holidays. It’s never too late to start making changes that will increase your joy and appreciation for the holidays. Here’s a few quick steps:

1. Set realistic expectations.

Sure it may be a great idea to do 24 Random Acts of Kindness during December, but if you only have time to do 3, set 3 as your goal instead. Its better to set your goal at 3 and accomplish it, than to set it at 24, fail miserably, and end up stressed and eating an entire roll of Christmas cookie dough to console yourself.

2. Prioritize.

There are things that HAVE to get done, and things that would be NICE to get done. Know the difference and hit the high priority items first. Maybe you’ll end up with extra time to do some other things and actually enjoy them more.

3. Allow yourself a few mess-ups, or the ability to drop a few things.

Maybe you are feeling like it is already too late. You’ve already over-committed yourself and every one of your family members to too many things. It is not the end of the world to change a few plans and decline a few invitations, and not everything has to get done. Cut yourself some slack.

This holiday, don’t let your own or other’s expectations and comparisons rob you of the joy of this holiday. Take time to simplify and take back the joy of your holiday season.

About Liz Fava, LPC

Liz provides individual and couples therapy for adults, including counseling for dating, engaged, and married couples. She also conducts couples workshops, and training and supervision for therapists.