'Tis the Season to Rethink Holiday Plans

Stress is a major factor in many of our health-related problems. A key way to reduce stress is to simplify. By reducing clutter, commitments, tasks and expenses, your life will streamline into the Stress Free Zone. Elaine St. James tells us how.

(This column was adapted from Elaine St. James' new book, "Simplify Your Christmas," Andrews McMeel Publishing.)

Now that Labor Day is behind us, the next big push for many people is Christmas. If you're one of the millions of people for whom the holidays have become an exhausting and even dreaded time of year, it's not too soon to start thinking about how you might change them.

Here are some steps you can take to make your holidays easier and more enjoyable.

(1) Take some time in the next week to sit down with your family and decide what worked well for your holiday celebrations last year and what didn't. Then plan to eliminate as much of what didn't work as you can. For example, if no one in your family likes plum pudding, fruitcake or gingerbread houses, check those time-demanding items off your list this year. If traveling over the river and through the woods via crowded jets and packed airports to Grandmother's house left everyone, including Grandmother, tired and cranky, figure out another, less stressful time of year to see family members.

(2) If you're not sure how your family and friends would react to your desire to simplify Christmas, ask them. You might be surprised at the responses. Many people are on automatic pilot during the holidays. They just keep doing the same things, whether they like them or not, because they've always done them. But if you ask sincerely, you might learn what they'd really like to do.

You might find that many family members are financially strained by having to buy presents for everyone and would prefer to draw names this year.

You might learn that no one at work wants an office party. Or that many people like the party but would forgo the secret Santa routine.

Your family might agree that it's not necessary to send the annual Christmas letter, or one of them might agree to do it for you.

You might find that the very things you dislike about Christmas make others feel overwhelmed, too. Once you bring the question into the open, you've created something that didn't exist before: the possibility of doing it differently this year.

(3) Let your family and friends know as soon as possible that you've decided to simplify the holidays.

"I love Christmas, but it's become far too commercial. Instead of buying more stuff we don't need, let's use the money to make a contribution to our local homeless shelter."

"After last year I can't face the thought of another Christmas party for as long as I live, so don't even think of inviting me this year." When they invite you anyway, politely decline.

"Hey, everyone, we grossly overdid last year, so we're going to spend the holidays in a Tibetan lamasery this year."

Letting people know now how and why your holidays will be different makes it easier to change because you're then relieved of having to live up to other people's expectations. If you remain firm in your resolve to simplify, it'll help them let go of what they think you should be doing, and give them time to adapt their psyches and their holiday plans accordingly.


Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111, or e-mail her at estjames@silcom.com.

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