How To Reduce That Holiday Frazzle Factor

Does a wave of exhaustion sweep through you just thinking about the upcoming four weeks of holiday “joy”?

Even if you look forward some of the seasonal delights that await, do you feel a tinge of trepidation when you consider how all the shopping, the parties, the sugary treats will affect your well being and your intentions in your life?

Women get slammed particularly hard during this western tradition we call ‘the holidays.’ Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa – or some combination of all of these – it’s usually the ‘Mom’s’ responsibility to shop for the gifts, send out the cards, bake all those cookies, craft the handmade gifts, plan and cook the meals.

Maybe you get some help with all of this – maybe not. However it shakes out in your family or your world, chances are you’ve got a much huger load of work on your plate during the month of December.

It’s too late now to plan ahead to do things totally differently (such as spend the entire month of December in a country that doesn’t even celebrate Christmas – one of my long-standing fantasies!)

However, with a bit of intentional forethought you can make it through these coming weeks with your own heart and soul intact and with positive energy to dive into the new year.

I Was The Frazzle Poster Child

I used to be the poster child for how to be a frazzled mess during the holiday season. Running a retail shop required me to begin preparations in July or even sooner.

As if deciding on products to order, hiring staff, decorating, organizing the holiday open house, marketing and all the myriad tasks of retail weren’t enough, I piled this gigantic heap of must-dos for the family on top of it all.

We absolutely HAD to gather with the entire extended family for Thanksgiving week; we had to attend the local crafts fair, purchase a tree that same weekend, bake cookies, hold a couple of holiday parties, attend several more, purchase and wrap WAY too many gifts. (I always wanted to spend the evening of Solstice in front of a fire, contemplating the return of the light. But far too often I found myself amid a swirl of wrapping paper and ribbon, staying up way too late, eating too much.)

Christmas Eve and Christmas morning had to unfold in specific ways. For years I held onto these attachments, passed down to me from my own first family and now sadly passed down to my children. (Although I’m working on undoing some of the damage before they have kids of their own.)

Why do we do it?

I think a big part of the angst and obsession we feel around the Christmas holiday is because it is one of the few traditions and rituals we participate in as a culture. Our western (particularly U.S.) culture lacks rich the traditions and rites of passage that are integral to life in so many other regions. So, the few such traditions we do celebrate gather into giants of importance.

Too bad this winter tradition has to be all about buying, spending, consuming.

Yeah, I know, I know. It doesn’t have to be. All those platitudes about the ‘true meaning’ of the season. And it’s possible to experience at least some of this. But the much louder message barraging us everywhere we turn is: CONSUME CONSUME CONSUME.

And if you can’t, or won’t, there’s something wrong with you.

I don’t believe it’s possible to just turn that ocean liner around in your own life by just thinking or saying, ‘this time it’s going to be different.’

I think the first step is to acknowledge we’re on that boat. Take an honest look at your own participation in the madness. And then move from there. Perhaps this year it will be a few small steps to reduce the frazzle factor. The point is to take those tiny steps because they will prime you for a fresh way to walk into the new year.

How To Reduce the Holiday Frazzle Factor

1. Start from where you are.

Sure you may wish you could throw the whole buying thing out the window, bring some of nature’s greenery into the house, and celebrate Solstice instead of Christmas. (Or maybe you’d just like to take off to that tropical country.)

But you are likely looking at a reality of kids, family members and friends that you don’t want to let down with little notice. Plus you may genuinely LIKE some of these holiday traditions. But that’s the key:  pare it down to what you like. Drop the rest – or drop at least 50 percent of that stuff you’ve always hated.

Make a list of all the things you normally would do, then cross off all the things you truly hate to do. Just cross ‘em off. Do it. Look at what remains and take 20 percent off of that.

How’s that feel?

2. Pay attention to who gets your money.

Okay, here’s where I get into a bit of a rant. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits (a blog I often enjoy) recently wrote a couple of posts promoting the idea of buying nothing during the month of December.

Well, that’s all well and good – as long as you don’t mind if your favorite local Mom & Pop shop closes its doors come January 1. Or if your favorite little independent web store pulls down their site.

Because, here’s the honest truth from someone who spent 20 years in the retail biz. The way retail works for most small-timers is struggle, struggle, struggle – debt, debt, debt, for about 10 months out of the year. Then for three blessed weeks in December the disaster is once again rescued. The debts get paid, and the cycle begins again.

I wrote about this in more depth last year with Shop Local and Independent This Holiday Season.

It’s not a pretty reality, but there it is: micro retail businesses NEED the holiday season spending frenzy in order to survive. So, if you’re buying gifts anyway, please resist the temptation visit Wal-Mart, or whatever big box you frequent. After all, it just gives you quantity over quality.

You may have to spend a little more for a smaller item at an independent retailer, buy you’ll be doubling the giving when you do it. And likely giving a much higher quality gift.

Think about it – please!

3) Step Away From the Buffet.

Okay, this one is not exactly a unique piece of advice, but I’m talking about taking care of YOU – not just because you want to fit into your jeans come January 1st, but because you want to feel some modicum of calm, some degree of energy and enthusiasm during these coming weeks.

If you succumb every time you confront those ubiquitous tins of cookies, those boxes of candy, those tempting piles of greasy finger foods at the office party – you just ain’t gonna feel any of that good stuff. Dare I say that instead you will slide through the holidays feeling like shit?

And who wants to start off the New Year feeling like crap? Is it really worth the fleeting pleasure of swallowing down that 4th cookie? I’m not saying you have to resist temptation every time (unless of course you are dealing with allergies or other health issues.) Sure go ahead and have that cookie. That ONE cookie.

To my mind, it’s just as detrimental to be too rigid and to forgo pleasures as it is to overindulge. So enjoy those flavors, those once-a-year treats (one of my favorites is a glass of Bailey’s Irish Cream on the rocks). Just don’t drown in the entire bottle!


A little intention goes a long way.

How do you want to feel? During the coming days and weeks – and on the first day of 2013? What is most important to you?

Hold that thought. Hold it loosely yet close to you, and return to it the next time someone passes you the cookie tin, or the big sale flyer arrives from the big-box store, or when you see someone with a bigger, better tree or car or load of gifts.


Does this work for you at all? What’s your holiday survival strategy? Let’s share some ideas in the comment section and over on Facebook.





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Showing 18 comments
  • LoriLynnSmith

    Love it, I am totally all about self care at all times of the year but this stressed ridden time we need to more than ever. warm hugs!

    • saraho

      @LoriLynnSmith   so true!  And it’s exactly at this time that it’s tempting to let the self care fall away while we race around fulfilling the needs of others. (Or our own self-imposed demands.) Hugs right back atcha Lori!

  • BobbiEmel

    Great post, Sarah! I’m glad you mentioned Leo’s “no buying” thing for December. I knew there was something about it that seemed a little off to me, but you’ve pegged it. 
    Thanks for all the helpful tips!

    • saraho

      @BobbiEmel  So glad you liked it! I thought about writing just a rant about the whole ‘buy nothing’ thing – but then I realized there’s a lot more I want to say about this whole holiday thing. I don’t begrudge the pull to simplicity and away from consumerism…and I think we can still achieve this by buying less while supporting our friendly independent business owners. Happy Holiday!

  • Carol Hess

    These are great suggestions for reducing the holiday crazies, Sarah.  I think the single most important thing I do for myself during the holidays is to let go of my Norman Rockwell expectations.

    • saraho

      @Carol Hess Ah that says it all ‘let go of the expectations.’  Norman Rockwell and otherwise. And just the idea of ‘doing for myself’ during the holidays used to be a foreign concept. So happy to embrace it now… even it it did take 50 years!

  • AnnieAndreHacks

    I’m not really sure about the whole Don’t buy anything in December either. Sure I could do it but i don’t want to.  
    Besides, i’m one of those moms who saves most of her purchases and gives things during the holidays. Yeah, i’lll wrap up some boxers and socks to give to the kids. It’s a running joke.  
    But seriously, we try to put more emphasis on doing things together. Making cookies, is a amily thing. We make them all together. Hundreds o them. Christmas day is about cooking and eating together and playing board games together. 
    Now that i think about it, it’s the rest of the year that has me all frazzled..:)
    can’t wait to start “Reset, Revive Restart..

    • saraho

      @AnnieAndreHacks LOL, that’s so funny Annie! I’ve done the exact same thing! Christmas is the time that everyone gets stocked up on their socks and undies, hairclips and other essentials. I’d get a kick out of wrapping that stuff up, and really everyone appreciates it.  Since this is going to be a bit of a ‘leaner’ Christmas (quite a bits so!) socks are actually topping my shopping list. And the great thing is – you can get such awesome socks from the independent retailers! I love playing board games with the family on that day too… wish I made time for that more often during the rest of the year.And wheee! Reset, Revive, Restart already has me totally inspired!

  • PaigeBurkes

    I agree with your that one of the biggest things you can do to avoid feeling frazzled is to figure out what works for YOU and only do that.
    Before my husband’s brother and sister (and we) started getting married and having kids, it was the tradition in his family that everyone bought at least one gift for everyone else.  Then everyone got married and they thought nothing of continuing the tradition.  A couple years after Chris and I were married, the absurdity of buying so many gifts dawned on me and I boldly suggested that we reduce our outrageous spending by doing the “secret Santa” thing where you put everyone’s names in a bowl/hat and each person chooses one other person’s name.  Everyone decides on a maximum amount to spend and each person only buys a gift for the person whose name they chose.  Although I felt like I was playing with fire to suggest a change to a long-standing family tradition, they openly accepted it and continue the tradition.
    Then we all started having kids (there are eight between all the siblings in my husband’s family).  The expectation is that each family has to buy a gift for every child.  That started to add up but the rest of the family felt that the kids wouldn’t understand a secret Santa program – they might feel jipped.  We participated one year and, when we added up all the bills and saw how little each kid really cared about the gifts, we said never again.  The next year we showed up empty-handed on purpose.  The rest of the family apparently felt obligated to buy our kids presents.  We requested that they not do that going forward (to avoid resentment on their part).  While this decision hasn’t gone over as well with the other adults, we’ve stuck to our guns the past bunch of years.  None of the kids seem to care.  Chris and I buy our own kids a limited number of gifts that they’ve really been looking forward to and we celebrate Christmas with just my husband, me and our kids.  It has significantly reduced the stress we used to experience about the holidays.
    A couple alternatives to the traditional holiday festivities that I’ve experienced (and to which you’ve alluded in this post) are renting a boat/yacht (with our without crew) and spending the holidays on the ocean, island hopping and snorkeling.  We also rented a house on St. Thomas and had our own little tropical holiday, decorating the palm tree in the living room and swimming in the ocean later.
    For the ultimate in self-care, you could spend a week or two over the holidays with someone you truly connect with at a spa, resort or dude ranch in Arizona.  Or do the same alone.
    Know that anything is possible when we can let go of the guilt, expectations, fears of not being accepted, etc.  It’s hard at first but doesn’t take too long to become accepted as the new norm.

    • saraho

      @PaigeBurkes Wow, Paige, you always inspire me with your commitment and ability to ‘walk the talk’.  For years I wanted to introduce the ‘secret santa’ idea to the big extended family (that included a slew of in-laws)…but I could never quite bring myself to do it. So there we are, year after year buying (or making) a ridiculous amount of gifts. And then I’d cringe at the piles of wrapping paper and ribbon that needed to be recycled or sent to the landfill. This year, like you, I’ve resolved to change.
      My absolute favorite year was when I sold my store and I followed my decades-long dream and opted out of the whole thing (almost). My husband and two daughters traveled to Peru for the holidays, and since we were gone, the other relatives didn’t expect gifts. We could only bring a few small gifts in our luggage so Christmas morning was a pleasant, streamlined experience. Followed by a relaxing day basking on the beach surrounded by partying Peruvians.
      You are so right when you say that ‘anything is possible when we can let go of the guilt, expectations and fears of not being accepted…”  Thanks for a great comment!

  • acordaamor

    I like what you say about letting go of the need for the holidays to go in a particular way — at least for me, the whole purpose of bringing people together, whether at the holidays or at some other time, is to connect, and if there’s a rigid agenda that gets in the way of connection, the agenda needs to change.

    • saraho

      @acordaamor  That gets right to the essence of things! The ‘fun’ of the holidays lies in connecting with those we love. Making that time to be together, share food (lots of it!), and just enjoy our connection. The guilt and expectations just take away from that joy of connection. A good new mantra for thinking about the holidays is “Yay, I get some time to connect with my loved ones!”  That’s the best gift of all!

  • Patti Tokar

    I’m with you on the “start from where you are” step.  I love the holiday activities … baking cookies, the lights, the music, shopping for special gifts, a party with friends … but it all gets packed together in a couple of hectic weeks and can quickly turn from enjoyable activity to a treadmill frenzy. 
    You mentioned the retail store owner and how shopping at their stores can really help them – I was just reading a study that showed that if residents would spend just an additional 10% of their dollars locally, it would have a major effect on the growth of their city’s economy.  So yes, spend locally, even just a couple of purchases by each person can make a difference.

    • saraho

      @Patti Tokar  You are so right about that! Keep spreading the word about making a difference by spending locally! I hope you have a sweet and unfrazzled holiday Patti!

  • HappierHuman

    “Does a wave of exhaustion sweep through you just thinking about the upcoming four weeks of holiday “joy”?” Dang… I never knew it was that bad for the women. For me, there was never really anything negative to look forward to during the holidays, so I never had that feeling. 
    “Step Away From the Buffet.” Hah! My parents need to listen to that advice, what with their cholesterol problems. But me…. well my BMI is borderline underweight, so I need to go to as many buffets as possible. 
    I hope you were able to de-frazzle!

    • saraho

      @HappierHuman  LOL, so glad you get to step TOWARDS the buffet – it’s the right time of year for that. The de-frazzling is an ongoing process… but so far this year has been fairly frazzle-free. Not out of the holiday woods yet though! Thanks for stopping by.

  • JaneRobinson

    I have always said that there would be no Christmas if women did not participate.  Oh yeah there might be some presents (probably unwrapped) but a fully decorated home, a meal full of family recipes, christmas cards with personal notes, stocking stuffers, phone calls to elderly aunts?   I have learned just as you have to give up the things I can, focus on the things I must and ask for help.  Looking forward to Reset, Revive, Restart.

    • saraho

      @JaneRobinson  Sometimes I think all of society would collapse if it weren’t for us women…and certainly this holiday season would be a far different animal. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we all went on ‘Christmas strike’ one year? Maybe we’d all have more fun! (But, no. Guess that wouldn’t be so good for those independent retailers I’m promoting…:-)   )

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