I laugh a little to myself when I consider the concept of balance during the holidays whether its work life balance amid a crush of year-end work, family obligations or the (insane) desire to channel Martha Stewart this time of year. While I draw the line at things like making my own wrapping paper, staying up until 2am baking cookies or waking up at 5am to wrap presents or work on a presentation are pretty standard fare around here.
The holidays are all about excess. Excess celebrating, doing, shopping, eating, drinking. There is no zen or balance much less exercise or diet. We typically leave that for January.
I need for this to change. I have a feeling many of us do. Inspired by a challenge from Microsoft to use Bing's Smart Search powered by Window's 8.1 I decided to search for and compile the ten best tips I could find on finding balance during the holidays and having a stress free (or maybe just lower stress) holiday season.
Perhaps its unrealistic but my aim is to have a lot more of this for holiday season 2013:
And look a lot less like this:
I did my search on Microsoft's Surface 2 which was pretty awesome as far as a device that could work just as well for business or personal use largely because all of my windows systems like Word, Excel, and Power Point were readily available which came in handy since I was multi-tasking (as usual) while doing my blog research.
Conducting the search on Bing yielded the gorgeous set of images below to start winnowing down the list to the ten best. For a variety of popular searches, you’ll see a rich, visual summary of the most relevant information from across the web and apps.
After reading an exhaustive number of tips from the amazing array that the Bing Smart Search resulted in I came up with a list of ten very practical solutions towards making your holiday manageable and a bit more stress free. Just for fun I also tossed in the most ridiculous tip I found while compiling this list. My little holiday gift to you at the end.
1. Make your travel plans early. Then make the best of it. Booking travel is not fun. Traveling someplace less than exotic to spend time with family who you might have mixed feelings about isn't either. BUT if you let procrastination take hold you will blow your budget on airfare that increases exponentially as you get closer to the holiday. Use online tools like Bing‘s Smart Search. Make a plan, book it, and be done with it. Now you have eliminated the stress of having this hang over your head. On the day of your travel try to make the best of a bad situation buy good magazines, download good music, movies, games for yourself and anyone else traveling with you just in case they aren't thinking as strategically as you are.
2. Family visits and mastering the strategic strike. In doing my Bing search statistics seem to show that dealing with family is the most common holiday stressor. Revisit past holidays and try and come up with a limit on how much you can handle. If you start to lose your mind on day five of a visit, book your tip for four days. A full day with Aunt Mary makes you lose your mind, if it is at all in your control make it a lunch visit. Don't feel like you have to give a reason when you change things up. Your friends or family might be disappointed up front but a short but happy visit is worth ten long and nasty ones.
3. Shopping streamlined. The value of the strategic plan can't be undervalued here. Make a list, check it twice just like Santa. Do some online research to figure out the best single gift to give rather than just lots of stuff. Consider shopping online away from the insanity at the mall. Check off items as you buy them. Carry that list with you even after you think you are done shopping. When you have your hand on one extra knickknack that caught your eye for your mom, or the 15 in one knife for your dad refer back to the list so you can remember what you already purchased. Don't shop out of guilt. If you have no idea what get consider gift cards. Shopping for people that have it all consider giving something that is consumable. This will help keep you on track and on budget.
4. The Parties. Break out the calendar. Map it all out. Once you see it all laid out it will give you a better idea of what you can fit in. Recognize that you can't be in three places at once and RSVP accordingly. Prioritize your events and keep in mind that you might not have the stamina to make it to the fifth event in one day. Be realistic. It is better to RSVP “no” ahead of time than to be a “no show”. By all means remember to RSVP.
5. Eating and drinking. There are hundreds of tips on how to stay healthy and what types of food to eat and avoid at a cocktail party. A Bing search just on that topic will provide you with endless info. I like to take a strategic approach to indulging. If you know tonight's event will have the most amazing food. Indulge enjoy it. Eat lightly during the day so you have room. Skip the cookies during the 3pm meeting or the pizza your co-workers ordered in. If however you know tonight's festivities will have a less than stellar spread break out that list of cocktail party do's and don'ts. Why waste the calories or feel guilty about consuming something sub-par?
As far as drinking goes that advice about alternating drinks with water or setting a limit for yourself does work. Also be careful about refills one glass of wine can turn into three and you can loose count in a snap.
At home splurge on cut up fruits, veggies and prepared soups so that you have something fast and easy to eat if you arrive home ravenous after a crazy day or after a party short on eats. I have come home ravenous from a parties where I never made it to the buffet table and consume a whole box of crackers and a wedge of cheese solo because it was the easiest thing. Not great.
6. Entertaining. Holiday entertaining can be fun. It can also leave you so depleted you wonder how you can summon the strength to make it to New Year's Eve. Resist the urge to do it all. Enlist a lot of help. Here again mapping it all out ahead of time is invaluable. Now look at the list and figure out how to cut corners. Planning on making ten different kinds of cookies. Go for five. You really want to do ten? Okay, start making the dough now and freeze it. There are amazing prepared appetizers at large discount retailers that are actually very tasty. If the food is yummy your guests will not care who made it. Buy prepared dips then doctor them up with your own seasoning. Take a look at your menu, if it must be home made sub in easy make a head options. If friends ask what they can bring refer to your original plan of action and tell them. They will be thankful not to have to rush out and get flowers or a bottle of wine that you probably don't need on the day of.
7. The Wrapping. I only saw this on one list but there are places that will actually wrap your gifts for you. There are probably people on TaskRabbit who might be willing to come to your home to help. Same goes for that tree trimming if you think of it as an obligation. If you have saved on travel and on gifts perhaps there is room in your budget for more outsourcing. Same goes for Christmas cards. Ask yourself if you really need to write a personal note in each one, hand address and stamp them. If you are willing to pay up there are services that will create the card and send it out on your behalf.
8. Shortcuts and Perspective. Resist the urge to realize holiday perfection. The images you see on Pinterest and in magazines are great for inspiration but remember most of them were executed with a design team, stylists and professional photographers. The kids will not care if you buy a prepared gingerbread house kit rather than make it from scratch so long as they can decorate it. Oh and maybe you should look into events at local schools and churches the kids will have just as much fun decorating gingerbread houses or taking a cookie baking class. This kills a couple birds with one stone. The kids do something fun, they get out of the house, and it buys you time for holiday prep or even a well deserved nap.
9. Merry Christmas to Me! (And You!) Reward yourself particularly if Stanta missed the memo on something that will make you feel great. Even if you can only afford something small remember not to loose yourself in all the holiday crazy and your efforts to make the holiday great for other people. Book a massage even if its just a ten-minute shoulder rub. Sign-up for a class in the New Year. Get your spouse to take care of the dogs or kids for one morning and sleep in. Take a half day…and don't spend it on holiday prep.
10. Health and Wellness. There are a gazillion tips on stress reduction out there. Exercise is on every one of those lists. Try to carve out some time for it especially if it is a part of your normal routine. Forgive yourself for the holiday disruptions in your schedule. If exercise isn't a part of your normal routine consider a taking a walk, even if its just a short one each day. The experts (I am not one of them) seem to think that getting outside, breathing deeply, and seeing the sun really will make you feel much better even if it is cold and blustery.
I'm not going to tell you to take up meditation. I know it is good for you and can improve your health and longevity. It appeared on a lot of lists. It is on my personal to do list eventually. HOWEVER it takes a lot of work. I don't think starting a meditation practice if you don't have one already at the start of the holidays will work well. That said if all else fails take a few minutes, close your eyes, breathe deeply and imagine you are this woman.
#1 Most ridiculous tip to lower your holiday stress that came up in my Bing Smart Search: Don't stress about about bathing during the holidays. This is from a well respected national publication. WHAT?! I have been a sleep deprived new mom, a singleton with a broken shoulder, and a sleep-deprived investment banker choosing between a shower and a nap. A shower, even a very short one, will make you feel better. I promise. Find those five minutes for yourself. Let the baby cry. Push back your conference call. It might not seem like it but you do have that time.
What are your tips and tricks? Please share those and any other off the wall suggestions for lowering stress you've come by.
Thank you to Bing for sponsoring this blog post.