Creating a Life Free From Chaos

Got a Case of the “Shoulds?” 5 Simple Tips for De-Stressing This Holiday Season

This is a guest post by blogger Haley McManigal.

Got a Case of the "Shoulds?” 5 Simple Tips for De-Stressing This Holiday Season

Every year around this time, I come down with a terrible case of the “Shoulds.” I notice that my family and friends suffer from this illness as well. It’s the holiday season, and we’re bombarded by obligations and expectations and overwhelm. And so it happens: we inevitably become caught up in the frenzy of it all and we want everything to be perfect.

We should be attending the best holiday parties. We should be preparing delicious, homemade, all-organic meals from scratch. We should be perfectly serene and appreciative of the season. We should not get angry or frustrated with our kids, our spouse, or ourselves. We should have all of our Christmas shopping done by December 1. We should be more involved with charities for the holidays, do more to give back to the community or help the needy. We should have more creative ideas for our Elf on the Shelf. Our Christmas cards should be perfect… oh wait, Christmas Cards?! Our homes should be spotless and beautifully decorated; our lawns adorned with nativity scenes and giant inflatable Santa Clauses. Oh, and we REALLY SHOULD focus more on the real reason for the season.

You can see where I’m going with this. We “should” ourselves into a frenzy.

I was talking with a friend of mine recently, and she suggested I stop beating myself up for not living up to my own unrealistic expectations. “But then what motivation will I have to improve, or to get it all done?” I asked, shocked and confused. “None” she responded. Even more confused I asked, “Well, what if I never improve?” “So what,” she said. “You’re pretty great just the way you are.”

This conversation made me realize that maybe, instead of pushing ourselves to do more and more, we could just be allowed ourselves to let go of these unrealistic expectations altogether. What if we focus instead on simply enjoying each moment of this holiday season as it comes and making the most of the present moment?

Here are 5 tips for “Letting Go” this holiday season:

  1. Don’t try to be Martha Stewart. So you didn’t have time or energy to decorate a tree straight out of Southern Living or hang a Griswold-worthy light display on your house and lawn. So what? Let’s try to appreciate meaning over beauty. It may be true those ornaments on your tree look like something out of Little House on the Prairie… but your kids made them in kindergarten for heaven’s sake and they make you smile every time you look at them. The ornaments stay.
  2. Simplify your gift-giving. Don’t try to get every single person you’ve ever known a special and thoughtful Christmas gift. Can you say STRESSful? That’s the worst for me, running from store to store trying to find just the right thing for so-and-so. It’s time to let it go. Sure, you want to put some special thought into gifts for your loved ones; but your mailman, your co-workers, your kid’s teachers? Maybe get them all the same thing, just to make your life a little easier. Remember: it’s the thought that counts. And I’m pretty sure that those guys will be shocked and delighted that you thought of them, even if it’s only a gift card or a box of chocolates.
  3. Be in the moment. Don’t try too hard to make memories. Sometimes we become so focused on trying to make special memories or make holiday traditions that we overlook the reality of what is happening right under our noses. You’re going to make memories whether you like it or not, and usually, you can’t predict when something magical will happen. So lighten up a little and go with the flow — just be in the moment and let it naturally unfold.
  4. Don’t try to be Julia Child. If you love to cook, great! But if you dread the thought of slaving away in the kitchen making a huge meal, then DON’T DO IT. Maybe let everyone bring a dish and do a potluck, or buy pre-made stuff at the grocery store, or just order out. The world will not end.
  5. Take care of YOU first. The holidays can be a lot of work and a lot of stress, but only if we allow them to be. Be sure to take some time for yourself this holiday season — time to recharge and take care of YOU. I know that there are a million demands on your time, but just because you are invited to 25 holiday parties doesn’t mean you have to attend all of them. Maybe pick just a few that you are truly excited about and graciously decline the others. Then let go of the guilt. Your job in this life is not to make everyone else happy. Your job is to take care of yourself and your family first, and that is inevitably going to require you to say “no” to everyone else sometimes.

Got something to add to the list? How do you avoid the “Shoulds” during the holidays? Do you have special techniques to help simplify your holidays and stay present amidst all of the chaos? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

Haley McManigal

Haley McManigal is a writer/architect/artist located in Knoxville, Tennessee. She works full-time as an architect and channels her creative energy into her writing and art in her free time. She writes weekly about creativity and mindful living on her blog at