While the holiday season can be filled with love and happiness, it can simultaneously bring anxiety and conflict. Oh the joy of the season! Am I right? As much as I love this time of year, I’d be lying if I said it was all sparkles and magic. Jam-packed calendars, entertaining, countless group settings, unreal spending and possibly spending time with a relative you don’t see eye-to-eye with adds a layer of stress to the season.

How to move through the holidays in a way that lets you embrace the good and not get caught up in the rest?

From my experience, it’s all about setting realistic expectations and boundaries. The older I get, and especially now that I’m a mom, the more I realize that I do hold some control in these chaotic times. It’s perfectly okay to say no, it’s okay to carve out time for myself and family, and it’s 100% advised to ask for help when I need it.

Scroll on for my go-to methods for expectation and boundary-setting at the holidays…

Note your non-negotiables.

It’s so easy to let our routines go during these busy weeks, but as someone who personally thrives off a healthy routine, I know there are a handful of habits I shouldn’t give up. Top priority for me is having a fridge stocked with my healthy staples, getting my quick workouts in, a good night of sleep when possible and making sure we are home each night for my kids’ bedtimes. This list will look different for each individual, but I think it’s important to note what you need at a baseline to show up the way you want to during the holidays. 

Get clear about what’s already on your plate.

Before you start replying “yes” to your rsvp’s, I think it’s important to take a look at your calendar and get clear about what you actually have to attend. Maybe it’s a work party, a family gathering, etc. Take note of what gatherings you’ll be attending regardless and build from there based on what you can personally handle. 

For the rest, don’t be afraid to say no.

If you’re honoring your non-negotiables and you want to commit to more parties – by all means, be my guest. But, if you’re feeling like your plate is full enough, please do not be afraid to say no. People are more understanding than you’d think and I believe it’s more important to preserve your holiday spirit than it is to show up at every holiday event as the Grinch. 

Work in downtime.

Regardless of what your non-negotiables are, when you look at your calendar try to understand how much you can take on in a week. For me personally, it’s probably one work-week event and one weekend commitment. More than that and it’s just too much. I need downtime to recuperate before the next thing. Doing this can also help you commit to as much as you’d like without everything being clustered together. 

Mentally prepare for difficult family members, friends, co-workers.

The holidays bring us all together but that doesn’t mean you’re over the moon about all the people you get to see. Everyone has a difficult relative, friend or co-worker who you don’t see eye to eye on all topics with. My best move in these situations is to just make a mental note of topics I’m not going to engage in (if I’m trying to avoid unnecessary conflict in a group setting). Depending on the environment that can be religion, politics and general gossip. 

Be realistic and upfront about giving.

The financial pressure of the holidays can really wear on us all. Communication is truly the key to success here. What I’ve done with my friends and family this year is to simply be upfront and honest about what I’m planning. For some friends we are sticking to just gifts for the kids, for most of my family we’re shifting toward more experience based gifts. There’s a way to discuss budget in order to relieve some stress without giving away your surprises.

Lean into group gifting (white elephant, secret Santa).

For a lot of our gift exchanges for the adults we’re going this route. Less work, less money, and honestly more fun! I’m really looking forward to it. For all the adults coming to our home on Christmas day we’re doing a beverage based white elephant with a $20 limit – this can be the fixings for your favorite cocktail, a bag of freshly ground coffee and a cute mug or a bottle of wine. 

Don’t fear the potluck!

All the cooking for Thanksgiving was done at our home this year with friends and while I loved almost every minute of it, for this round of holidays we are going potluck style. Less mess, less work, less of a financial investment. All for it! 

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Amy Frances