Let there be Peace on Earth.

Let there peace on Earth…

and let it begin with me. The idea of “holiday stress” has always seemed solely cliché and never applicable to me. That’s most likely because for most of my life all I had to do was wake up, run downstairs, open the gifts, eat the ham and sweet potatoes, and revel in the magic of a holiday that brought so much happiness and cheer. As an adult (and mother) with gifts to buy, really long car trips to conquer, and multiple family occasions to attend, stress has surreptitiously slunk its way into my favorite time of year.

Since we were married, my husband and I have never lived in the same city as our families, both of which live in the same city. We kill the proverbial two birds with one stone when we make the haul home and get to spend time with both sides, which is so wonderful. However, this once-absent holiday stress first appeared when we started trying to be everywhere, for every event, for everybody. Well, not for everybody, for us. We didn’t want to miss anything if we didn’t have to, but this all-inclusive RSVP meant a lot of time bouncing around, a lot of sneaky glances at the clock, a lot of late arrivals, and for me, a lot of guilt. Add in two babies and very little sleep, and the whole thing was just plain exhausting. I felt like I could never really be anywhere. In my mind, I was already on to the next meal at the next house with the next family member, and the anxiety of disappointing someone was ever-present and ever-growing.  Talk about an out-of-body experience… We needed everyone’s patience and understanding, but we needed our own most of all.

In talking to friends and family, I learned I am not the only absent-minded guest at the brunch table (sub: dinner table, dirty Santa game, cocktail party). This year, I am making a resolution before the ball drops; one that will serve me well for what is left of this year. I am making a promise to myself to forgive. That’s right: forgiveness is the stuff peace is made of. How you ask? That stress (which leads to anxiety, which leads to edginess, which leads to guilt) can be curtailed with a little compassion and a lot of grace. And, it starts with me…or you. Instead of beating myself up for the array of things I should have done better, namely not getting so stressed in the first place, I vow to pat myself on the back, forgive myself for whatever I am thinking or feeling, and remind myself that I really am doing the best I can. When you are easier on yourself, you can be easier on others, and that is how grace can grow and peace can spread.

That said, if you Google “holiday stress,” you will stare down link after link of helpful coping tips and ways to ward off what seems to be a cultural norm. I browsed through several, and there is some really useful information out there. From sniffing citrus to taking a walk to just saying no to at least one holiday obligation or request, everyone has a list of go-to stress busters in easy-to-navigate slide show format. My biggest takeaway was a simple one. Nothing is perfect. Every family has conflict, every dinner has an overcooked turkey or undercooked potatoes, every gift exchange has at least one unscraped price tag. Try to shake the expectation for perfection à la Stepford and see that life is unfolding as it is meant to. It’s okay to be down, underwhelmed, or irritated at the holidays, just don’t let those emotions take root. Acknowledge them, let them go, and make room for joy. Don’t miss the smile on your child’s face when he opens his first present, the cold, creamy taste of the egg nog, or the familiar chorus of your family laughing in unison.

The peace is actually always there. We don’t make it; it was given to us long, long ago. It is our choice to deem ourselves worthy of a calmer, happier existence than is possible when our lives are stifled by stress. We deserve this always, but especially now. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? We have been given the ultimate gift. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Wishing peace, joy, and love to you and yours,