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If there’s one time of year that’s arguably more hectic than others, it’s the holiday season—and (is it just us??) but no one seems to feel the weight of the pressure more than moms. Needless to say, the holiday season can bring about an equal amount of overwhelm as it can bring about joy. What’s worse: It almost seems that the pressure attached to this period of time between October and December is actually growing by the year. “Consumerism and social media has the everyday person living beyond their means as they try to compete with thousand-dollar décor and top chef level table spreads,” says Karen Balumbu-Bennett, L.C.S.W, school-based psychotherapist in Long Beach, California. “Moms already manage a multitude of visible and invisible tasks, and the holiday season only brings on more responsibilities.”
Living with these unrealistic expectations and bottling up emotions affects many women’s mental health as well as their physical health, warns certified parent coach and owner of Happy Parenting & Families, Jen Kiss. “The extra pressure and expectations that surround holidays can elevate moms’ anxiety levels, stress levels and general feelings of overwhelm,” she says. “Because of the limited time and increase in tasks, moms are even less likely to prioritize their self-care, which can quickly lead to an increased risk of burnout.”
As such, being emotionally present—aka as emotionally and mentally in the moment as much as you are physically—is a real challenge moms face during the holiday season. The good news is that it’s possible to cut out some of this extra stress and pressure and reconfigure your life during the holiday season so that it doesn’t overwhelm you. Here, experts share their best kept tips for being present this holiday season.
While it’s not always easy to do, one of the best things you can do as a mom—both for yourself and your children—is to ask for help. This is especially true around the holiday season. “Traditional images of mothers portray the mother putting everyone else’s needs before her own, but this pressure to do it all yourself can add to the chaos of the holidays,” warns Emily Guarnotta, licensed clinical psychologist and blogger at The Mindful Mommy. Instead, she recommends giving yourself permission to delegate the tasks that you don’t enjoy. “For example, you might have your groceries delivered, do your holiday shopping online, or hire a housecleaner,” she says. We also are huge fans and advocates of delegating some of the emotional labor and gift selection to your partner.
If you feel stressed and overwhelmed, remember that you are far from alone. In fact, it’s quite common for mothers to feel this way during the holidays—and that’s because of the pressure we tend to place on ourselves this time of year. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, Guarnotta suggests asking yourself if you’re contributing to the stress by placing unrealistic expectations on yourself. “If so, make a conscious effort to ‘let go’ of these,” she says. “If your goal is to enjoy your holiday season, it is important that you release at least some of these expectations.”
Turning down plans or saying “no” to something your kids really want to do can make you feel like a “bad” friend or mom, but it’s incredibly important that you not over extend yourself—especially around the holidays, notes Balumbu-Bennett. “If you can’t attend every holiday party or afford the newest game system, that is okay,” she says. “Check in with yourself and set realistic boundaries that you can commit to.”
Most of us shrug at this concept because, well, we have no free time! However, making time for yourself doesn’t have to mean a significant period of time—it can simply be a short 15 minutes. What you do with this time is completely up to you—take a bath, go for a walk, read a chapter in a book, meditate, etc. “Schedule it in as though it is an important meeting, because it is,” says Kiss. “Help yourself get into the habit so that you are going into your holiday with a full tank.”
Balumbu-Bennett suggests starting each day with intentionality. “Each day decide on one thing that you will do for fun or one guilty pleasure you will indulge in and be intentional about the energy you want to put forth,” she says. “Say out loud and declare the type of day you plan to have, as there is power in speaking positivity over your life.”
“Choosing or creating a grounding ritual that either initiates the season or is a hallmark of it can be an excellent way to create space for being present in the moment,” notes Leah Rockwell, L.C.P.C., perinatal mental health trained licensed professional counselor in Frederick, Maryland, who specializes in working with anxious moms. “Perhaps it's a tech free tree decorating evening or a fondue night, choose or create a signature activity that you, the cruise ship family director, will find peace in enjoying.”
Not only can gratitude remind you of all of the things in life you are thankful for and, therefore, give you much-needed perspective during difficult times, but research has also associated it with living a happier life. “Gratitude is a powerful practice for transforming stressful moments into positive ones,” says Guarnotta. “All it takes is taking a minute to take a deep breath and acknowledge at least three things that you are grateful for in your life at that moment.”
When was the last time you exercised and felt worse than you did before you started moving? Probably not often. And that’s because exercise releases feel-good hormones called endorphins that simply make you feel happier. It’s also a great way to relieve stress in your body. Whether you like to run, lift weights, go for a walk, or something else, Kiss recommends getting your body moving. “When we can get our body to stop signaling a stress response it will reduce the levels of cortisol in our system, and less cortisol allows us to think more clearly, function better and sleep better,” she says. “It also gives us more control over our emotional regulation, making it easier to keep our calm, which is a win for moms and their families.”
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