Tis the season of overwhelm, but it’s different this year. As one of my best friends put it last week, “My strategy is to prioritize the balls I don’t want to drop, and hope for the best with the rest.” She has a very demanding corporate career and two kids. She’ll hold on to the kids (not compromising there), prioritize the work projects that can’t get neglected, then phone it in, delegate, or push off everything else. The overwhelm can be real. As a Q4 content creator, I thought I was in one of only a few industries with this unreasonably busy season. And then I started talking to EVERY SINGLE WOMAN I KNOW. This year I have a strategy that I hope to god works.
On top of the holidays, which rely heavily on the labor of moms, unfortunately every industry is at its most busy in Q4. It’s gnarly. The biggest challenge with 2022 is that the world, all industries, and society at large are treating us like we are still in 2019. We aren’t. And we can’t go back.
What we’ve learned about priorities can’t be unlearned. So much came into focus during those two years that we can’t unsee. It’s this expectation and pressure to hustle, to do all the things, keep every ball in the air, scramble, feel scattered, and yet be ok with being exhausted as if it’s just “normal”. I feel like my friend is right – Either some balls are going to drop or we are.
Before 2020 I was maniacally just doing it all because that’s the expectation. And while I would take a full week or 10 days off between Christmas and New Year’s, most of that time I felt I was recuperating (to be fair my kids were also much younger, and so much more exhausting). Christmas of 2020 was the first full season that was so slow and as we all know, such a different experience (with different highs and lows). This year I was already on the chaos train in early November, and it was driving recklessly. So I put on the breaks, hopped off, and came up with a plan to slow down.
So here’s my strategy to cope or better yet AVOID the overwhelm – advice I’m giving myself and thought I would share (and I think it’s working!!)
Rebrand Some “Holiday events” As New Years Events (And Push Off Til January)
Example: A few years ago we were behind on our holiday gifts for our clients (we would send our clients fancy boxes of 6 chocolates). We missed the shipping deadline and after throwing my hands in the air and beating myself up we sent them as “New Years’ gifts instead”. They were all ELATED and actually had time to enjoy them, reach out, and connect with us in January. These might have even gotten overlooked during the holiday season. We did this three years in a row and it proved to be a far better gift marketing strategy (I think they noticed us more, tbh). Since Covid, we stopped doing client gifts altogether because managing addresses was impossible (who is remote? Who is in office? Who quit? Moved companies? Did the office close down?) THAT IS OK! Too. The same principle goes for New Years’ family photos/cards and even New Years’ neighborhood potlucks or cookie drop-offs. Shove it to January.
Plan your service efforts in January. We want to be the family that does meaningful service projects to help others during the holidays, but the truth is that I never get my shit together, and then I beat myself up. But listen, so many organizations and churches are helping the underserved in December (one of the reasons I wish I belonged to one), and maybe a January or February project would be more impactful when there’s typically less help. This could also easily turn into a really great resolution where you help more throughout the year and not just for the holidays.
Reschedule every optional personal appointment for January. This could be a lunch, a non-urgent doctor’s appointment, a girl’s night, or your pet grooming. Unless it’s holiday-specific or urgent, reschedule anything from December to January. Of course, we can’t let people down and we are scared of hurting people. You’ll say to yourself, “it’s just an hour of my time” but nothing is “just an hour”. You have the time to get ready, the commute, finding parking – everything is a thing. I went through my calendar and rescheduled so many appointments and I feel SO MUCH BETTER. I got like 15 hours back in December plus the brain space that would have been sucked into those appointments.
Turn any work event into a long lunch or 3 pm happy hour, not a nighttime event. My team loves doing this – meet up early on Friday and have fun DURING work hours. They’ll thank you, I promise. Those that want to roll it over into dinner will:)
Lower Your Expectations
You can’t be disappointed if you have low expectations. This means for your house, your food, less personal gifts, and your hosting abilities. I’ll go first! Done is better than perfect.
Our tree this year is cute but definitely not “there” as far as design content for the internet. So my options are: 1. Stress about making it better but like REALLY FAST (was supposed to shoot tomorrow), spend a ton of time, and money, rearrange all the ornaments, DIY a garland, etc. Or 2. Shoot it unsatisfied and tree shame myself or have people disappointed in it not being up to par (both are guaranteed to happen), or 3. Not shoot it at all since there are no sponsors involved and just leave it as is. I’m definitely not doing 1, but not sure if I want to do 2 or 3. The pressure to be perfect is back/real – and I feel responsible for other people feeling that way, too. Did we OG design content creators create this holiday monster of everything looking so chic and perfect on the internet so that even we are disappointed if it looks just OK even though our kids couldn’t be happier???? I’m SORRY!! Which brings me to:
Don’t Feel Like You Need To Post On Social Media Unless It Brings You Happiness
Release all your self-imposed social media posting obligations and take yourself out of the comparison culture hunger games. Example: I saw Brian trying to write a post for me on Facebook for my birthday while we were having such a fun family day and I was like, “oh, no, you don’t have to do that, I promise, just come hang out” and he looked at me, with hope in his eyes like, “really???” We were both so relieved that we made a pact to not have to tell the world in a poignant yet funny way how we feel about each other, our kids, our holidays, or every single occasion. Only post if you want to:) I’m taking my own advice on Christmas Day and maybe I’ll photo dump at the end of the day or end of the week but no, I will not be on social media when I don’t feel like it, which is often these days:)
Employ The Genius Of The Potluck (Say Yes To Offered Help And Even Ask)
I know that this might be a regional difference, but y’all I have found that when we lived in LA we felt this pressure to provide it all, cook or cater the whole meal, “Just bring yourself.” So if we have a get-together this year (which will be small -I’ve learned my lesson re large party panic attacks), I am going to try answering the “What can we bring?” with “A cheese plate or chips and guac would be great!” (with hopefully some notice). If your friends know you they’ll understand that you are busy and not think twice which also gives them permission to do it themselves. If you are busy and have no time to make something, we wrote a whole post about Trader Joe’s appetizers here – they are GREAT and your real friends won’t care where it’s from.
Stock Up, Buying Once The Stuff You’ll Use A Lot
Stock your pantry full of 10 good but generic (universally appreciated) hostess gifts that don’t take up a lot of space. I’d suggest something consumable (local wine or candle) so as to not make someone else store/donate something that might not be their style. DONE.
Stock up on biodegradable and compostable cups and plates. I truly don’t like promoting anything single-use, but if you are having folks over give yourself permission during the holidays to have an easier cleanup. Obviously, stay away from plastic or styrofoam if you can, but if that’s not in your budget just do your best! There are a lot of options out there now and we can’t be perfect all of the time or we are all going to actually explode and splatter our guts all over our faux wreaths. And then they’ll never biodegrade:)
Set Boundaries And Be Firm (To Protect Mental Health)
I try to only schedule two or three social or holiday “events” a week (even that is a lot). This year we are doing the Hood River Santa Train, Elf The Musical, Zoo Lights, and two crafting/cocktail parties with different kid friend groups before we leave on the 16th for two weeks (where we’ll see Santa at Skypark!). Book in recovery time for just yourself or your family, time to clean the house, do laundry, and meal prep – Just say you are booked. This is a personal limit, I know, but for me limiting my social schedule has helped my depletion greatly. Yes, I see my friends/family less than I used to this time of year, but they are so busy, too! Maybe this is an age thing, maybe post-covid life shift, living in the suburbs (which I love), or maybe I’ve always needed these boundaries for myself but was socializing so much that I would sacrifice my own health to have a good time (pretty sure it’s all of those things).
Let yourself be the person you are, not the one you want to be. I want to be the family that sings carols door to door, but I don’t really think that’s for us. I want to be the family that bakes cinnamon rolls like our family did, but it’s just so messy and I’m terrible at baking. I’m good at decorating, messy crafting, filling the house with spirit, and making big batches of soup/grilled cheese. All the rest is someone else’s expectation of me which I’ll fail at and then feel bad about myself. Lean into what you enjoy because that is what you are going to be good at, which will make you feel better, not worse about yourself (general life lesson).
Any other good holiday hacks to help prevent (or cope with) overwhelm? Brian’s therapist gave him the best tool that we use all the time now – “Expand your timeline” – which has helped us not only slow down but also take the pressure off doing everything “this year”.