holidays, mental health, parenting, stress

Two Steps to Lower Stress this Holiday Season

We had a great Thanksgiving this year. No, really, it was kind of amazing and pretty stress free. And it wasn’t because of anything big. It was the synergy of so many little things that made it extra special. But all those little things wouldn’t have been possible if I had not made a major change this year.

What did I do differently? Two things: I slowed down long enough to make a plan and I asked for help in a meaningful way. With so much to do, slowing down seems impossible. But as the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. With a plan and help, I was able to enjoy my holiday and more importantly be present with the people I love.

Make a Plan

Many of us put things on our calendar and make to do lists, but how many of us actually take the time to block out a plan to accomplish all those things effectively? A long list is often a starting pistol for a race we just can’t win. The list never ends. Surprise school projects and work assignments, sick kids in the middle of the night, or an unexpected repair are always lurking around the next turn. The result is hitting the ground running from the moment we wake up until the moment our head hits the pillow.

My strategy this year was to start the week with a big picture master list of things I must do, including down time and family time. I then blocked out my week by grouping similar tasks and gave them specific days. For instance, Wednesday morning was Pie Time. I made sure I had all the ingredients, the kitchen was clean, and Sarah (my sous chef) knew that Wednesday was pie day. I am the designated pie maker in our family, and it means a lot to me to carry on my grandmother’s tradition. Despite being something I love to do, I often get overwhelmed and feel rushed. The effort becomes forced instead of an act of love. But this year everything else was basically done when Pie Day came around. I woke up, enjoyed my cup of coffee, and Sarah and I made a gorgeous cherry pie, an eggnog cheesecake, and 2 chocolate chip cheesecakes. I was able to enjoy something I loved because I made a plan and knew I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment.

Moral of the story: Multitasking is overrated. It’s just an excuse to pile on one more thing. Give yourself some breathing room to focus and you will actually get more done in less time.

My master game plan for the week. I intentionally framed it in broad strokes. This is the framework I used to block out my time and to let others see the big picture.

Ask for Help

Confession, I am a type A, in charge, get it done by myself kind of person. Shocking, I know. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need help. Asking for help can be hard; knowing how to ask for meaningful help can be even harder.

The difference between asking for help and asking for meaningful help goes back to planning. Remember that list of surprises that upset your to do list? Did you ever stop to think how your requests for help could be doing the same thing to others? If you want real help you need to plan for it.

My children are older, but I’ve been asking them for help since they were little. It’s important to show our kids that relationships have reciprocity. I know that you can pick up on your own, but the point is you shouldn’t have to. The key is to ask ahead of time. When they are little, have a set time for certain chores or warn them ahead of time that they will be helping (ex. After lunch we are going to clean up the kitchen. And yes, kids as little as 3 can help clean the kitchen. They just need a stool.) As kids get older, make them part of the plan. Tell them what you need and give them a chance to offer ways they can help or to pick an item on your list.

This year I presented my master plan and told them areas where I needed help. They volunteered for some and were told others were command performances. I asked what their week looked like. A Friendsgiving and an extra cheesecake were quickly added to our unified plan. By asking for help and offering it in return, everyone’s stress level went down. Things got done and they got done fast. My kids were happy to pitch in because they knew what was coming up and could plan for it. I wasn’t throwing off their own to do list. When people, big and little, know what’s expected of them and can plan for it, they are much more likely to do it with a happy heart (which gets it done even faster).

Now I know that sometimes we can’t plan ahead for when we need help. And we can’t plan every minute of our life. But the more structure you give to life’s big picture, the more flexibility you will have to weather surprises. Case in point, this Thanksgiving. After all my careful planning and asking for help, we woke up to a kitchen light that just stopped working. On Thanksgiving. No Light. None. In the Kitchen.

And it was all ok. I had made all my casseroles on Tuesday. Pies were made on Wednesday. The Turkey had been dry brining for a few days and was already in the roasting pan. My house was clean. The family was all here. We had a few smaller lights and the window in the kitchen so I could function well enough. At this point it was just a matter of rotating things in and out of the oven. I didn’t really need the overhead light for that. Since there was nothing we could do about it that morning, I looked at my cooking schedule for the day and started by putting the breakfast casserole in the oven. Everything went like clockwork from there. We sat down to thanksgiving dinner 20 minutes later than planned, but it was the best turkey I’ve ever cooked.

The broken light could have ruined our thanksgiving. Instead, we just rolled with it. We watched White Christmas and binged The Madalorian. We decorated the trees and did a little online shopping. The next morning, my father took my kids to the UT game and WE WON! And it was all possible because I slowed down long enough to make a plan and ask for help.

So take a look at your week. What’s your master plan? Who do you have on your team that you can call on to help? Take a moment, make a plan, and ask for help.

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