3 Ways to Find More Meaning and Less Stress This Holiday Season


‘Tis the season for celebration, gathering, and the potential for endless to-do lists and chronic stress! Once the music starts playing in the stores and the toy catalogs are delivered in the mail, my anxiety tends to ramp up. Don’t get me wrong; I love the holidays. Mostly. But I don’t love the self-induced obligations or the hyper-consumerism that can often sneak alongside the cookie decorating and caroling. Health episodes and heart issues have been known to ramp up for women around the holidays because of the increasing demands and pressures to provide the picture perfect holiday celebration. Why are we doing this to ourselves?

During the pandemic, our Christmas was naturally scaled back, and I found that I didn’t hate it. In fact, it was the most peaceful season we’d had in a long time. I’ve decided to keep the smaller and more simplistic approach to our traditions, and it’s gone a long way in keeping the peace and upholding the more meaningful elements of the season.

Now, I am not an expert – this is a constant battle to remind myself of what is and what is not important, but these are a few strategies that keep some of the stress and existential meltdowns at bay.

Evaluate What’s Actually Important to You

I have a friend who loves creating elaborate scenarios for her Elf on the Shelf. I’m so glad she loves it – that is my worst nightmare come alive. That’s a hard pass for me. A few years ago, I realized tracking down addresses and mailing out Christmas cards made me grumpy and bitter, so I stopped. Baking my grandmother’s almond roca and making little plates for the neighbors brings me joy, so I’m going to keep on doing it.

What tasks are you keeping that are making you miserable, and which ones make you truly happy? If you can cut it out, do. People will adjust eventually. Your sanity is worth it.

Cut Down on the Unnecessary Spending and Clutter

How much money do we spend on things that will end up in someone’s donation pile a few months later? How much time, money, and clutter is created by picking out unnecessary things that people don’t need or maybe even want? Here are a few strategies to consider:

1. Find like-minded friends or family who also want to cut down their shopping lists. Can you and friends, family, or coworkers all agree to an activity or quality time instead of gifts? Wouldn’t a group happy hour and an escape room be more fun than buying each other obligatory Starbucks gift cards or bath bombs? Would a secret Santa exchange cut down on buying for everyone? Can you all go in together to adopt a family? The alternatives to gift giving are endless! 

2. Consider gifts that aren’t toys for the kids – experiences, consumables, and things they need. So many of the toys my kids receive on Christmas morning are out of sight, out of mind by February, leaving me with a consumerist hangover. Consider concert tickets, zoo passes, laser tag, art kits, music lessons, mystery day trips, arcade cards, baking supplies, science experiments, and certificates for time spent with relatives.

Last year, we encouraged family to send fewer material gifts and more opportunities for quality time and the kids loved it. They still talk about their trips to the monster jam show and horseback riding excursions. There are varying options of all price ranges, but experiences will create lasting memories and reduce the obnoxious clutter.

3. Consider the same practice for the adults in your life. Every year, my dad asks for something for Christmas that will save him a trip to the hardware store. Carbon monoxide detectors. New drill bits. Insert eye roll every single year. Last year, I gifted him a gift certificate to go white water rafting and that’s time we might not have otherwise spent together. My mom and I went to a sip and paint experience that she loved far more than yet another framed picture of her grandchildren. (I’m sure she would have loved it, but she’s running out of surface area.) Most of us can agree that experiences and time mean so much more in the long run than material items. 

Give, give, give

Charities and non-profits are in need all year round, but if people are looking to give and make this a more meaningful season, here is a starting list of local and national organizations that could use your love, time, or contributions. A comprehensive list can be found on our post 40+ Places to Show Love and Fill Needs in Portland.

Hands on Portland
Black Fairy God Mother – found on Instagram
Feed America
Toys for Tots Portland
St. Jude’s Research Hospital
Oregon Food Bank
Trevor Project
Angel Tree Christmas
Samaritan’s Purse: Operation Christmas Child
Because People Matter
Equitable Giving Circle
Santa’s Posse

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Emily Corak has spent the last three decades in the Pacific Northwest and prefers to live in Vancouver because parking in Portland terrifies her. A mom to two kids, ages 3 and 7, Emily has been an educator for the past decade and she currently works with middle school English language learners. She wasn't planning on becoming a mother, but she's glad she was so careless because it turns out she really likes being a mom. Most days. Emily is now going back to school for her MFA in creative writing after deciding she had more to offer the world than breast milk and unsolicited grammar advice. When the world allows, she spends any spare cash on plane tickets, and she lives for books, tea, and all things Top Chef. She occasionally writes about anything and everything that comes to mind, and you can find her work here: https://offbrandmusings.blogspot.com/