Does anyone ever feel overwhelmed at the sight of Christmas decorations that show up the week before Halloween? I don’t think anyone can argue that we are bombarded by commercialism. Madonna’s hit song, “Material Girl” topped the charts in 1984, because everyone could relate to this sad message reflected in our culture.
But don’t worry! These three strategies can be applied to any time of year where holidays and family gatherings begin to overrun the normalcy of life. And the fact that these are supported by brain research means you don’t even have to feel one bit guilty about making your life a little easier during this hectic time. Give yourself a break! Everyone will appreciate it. Trust me, I’m a doctor!
1. No one remembers gifts, without a story behind it.
The truth is that people, even children, don’t remember presents from year to year. The memories people log in their brain are the stories that surround particular experiences. We give gifts because that is the tradition, but in reality, if you ask your children what they got for Christmas last year, they will most likely say, “I don’t remember.” Unless the present was attached to a very strong emotional experience, the brain really has no reason to separate your gift out from any other desired item. I am not saying to stop giving gifts, but it is ok to scale back.
Don’t kill yourself shopping for the perfect presents. Pick a theme if you are buying for adults (i.e. cozy throw blankets, or movie gift cards). Most people enjoy the feeling that comes with giving, more than the feeling they get from receiving gifts. Go figure!
If you can, buy the special gift that your child asked Santa for and a few other things from the list. The truth is that the brain is wired for making memories from personal experiences. It is not equipped to remember more than 7 items at a time, think phone numbers. If you can attach a fun experience to gift-giving, like making it a little treasure hunt or slowing the process by taking turns and really enjoying each gift, the experience will be more meaningful.
2. Delegate the workload (Shopping, Cooking, Cleaning Up, Decorating)
The brain is like the bank, and every decision you make during the day, or task you take on, is like taking a withdrawal from the account. The more withdrawals you make, the less energy your brain has available. So, it is a great idea to prioritize the things that need to get done or decisions that need to be made, and then D.E.L.E.G.A.T.E. This keeps the brain bank from getting depleted and gives everyone some ownership in the entire celebration or holiday season. Children who get to have a purpose and are able to accomplish a task are more resilient as adults. Giving children responsibilities also teaches them skills necessary for adulting. A good way to start this is to have a family meeting and make a list of all the things that need to get done. Then let everyone choose the ones that they want to do, and it is okay for people to partner up to do certain tasks accomplished, this promotes opportunities for memory-making. Lastly, set dates/times for completion for tasks, this promotes accountability and helps keeps everyone’s expectations in line.
3. Set boundaries and say, No.
We all can quickly get overbooked during the holiday season. Especially with social media, people are exposed to so many events, along with the obligatory work or family celebrations. Facebook can quickly overload the schedule.
When we say yes, all the time, the energy that fuels happiness is depleted, and it happens fast! By learning to set healthy boundaries and to say, no, we gain so many health and wellness benefits, including more energy, more confidence, more respect, more fun and actually more time!
It is not easy, especially if you are in the habit of saying yes to everyone for everything, but there is no time better than the present to learn the skill of setting simple boundaries and saying no. As a family, couple and even a single person, you can choose a concrete number of activities you will say yes to during month of December. I actually think this is a good idea to employ year-round, however, it works like this. Decide on a number based on your personal situation, but I suggest that for most people keeping the maximum to 4-8 events during the month. Then if something comes up that you just cannot miss, you must cancel one of the other events on the calendar. If you already have a full schedule, then you have the perfect reason to politely decline the invitation.
These are skills that transcend all seasons and celebrations because each one truly does provide the opportunity to engage in more meaningful relationships. The holidays are about spending time together but we often get lost in the chaos. This is just a start to shifting from going through the motions of the holidays to creating stories and long-term memories for yourself, your children, your family, and your friends.
I hope this helps make your life a little easier, to build to stronger relationships with loved ones and to make meaningful memories.
Happy Holidays, Dr. B
If you have any questions or comments, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.