by Carol Parker Thompson, Ph.D.

I love Christmas—the decorated yards, lights, houses, food, and events. But, let’s face it. The holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year. There is a dizzying array of demands, a hamster wheel of tasks — planning, decorating, cleaning, shopping, baking, spending. One could wish for a time-out.

Well…we cannot have a holiday melt-down here and have you weeping in your eggnog, so the doctor is here to help!

This year we’re going to reduce our obsessive compulsive dedication to the “TO DO” list by creating a “TO DON’T” list. We’re going to plan ahead, focus on what is realistic, prioritize chores, decline some invitations, ask for help, and take care of ourselves.

Our “To Don’t” list will help us reduce holiday stress and enjoy the season more. Now, doesn’t that seem like a pumpkin-pie attitude?

The Twelve Days of Christmas were meant for celebrating, not hyperventilating. So, here is your official permission to stop sweating those holiday stressors and say to yourself, “I don’t have to do this, and here’s my alternative”.

• I don’t have to address, stamp and mail Christmas cards to my 200 dearest friends. I’ll just send a Holiday e-card to those I see less often.

• I don’t have to accept every holiday event. I’ll say “No” to some overtures and choose the ones that are the most joyful, fun, and fit comfortably into my schedule.

• I don’t have to use every Christmas decoration that I have in storage. I’ll choose the ones that are the most meaningful, those that have been collected over the years, or were gifts given by friends or family.

• I don’t have to observe every Christmas tradition remembered since childhood. I treasure traditions but want to be open to new ones.

• I don’t have to endure biting winds and freezing cold wading through snow for hours looking for the perfectly-shaped Christmas tree. I don’t have to have a real Christmas tree at all. There are many beautifully shaped and realistic artificial ones available for decorating.

• I don’t have to try and guess what the perfect gifts will be for my friends and family. I’ll ask them for lists from which I can choose, or give them gift cards.

• I don’t have to wait until the last minute to shop for gifts. I can try to shop early in the month, at odd hours, during the week. Then hopefully, the stores are not out of the item, the size, or the color requested.

• Alternatively, although I always prefer supporting local merchants, I don’t have to go to the stores at all. I can go online, order and have gift-wrapped nearly any gift requested.

• I don’t have to give in to pressure placed on me to spend beyond my means. I’ll develop a budget for gifts and food shopping and stick to it. I don’t need to buy happiness with a mountain of gifts. My friends and family will not love me less.

• I don’t have to bake twelve dozen different kinds of cookies. I can ask my family to choose their two favorites and make those.

• I don’t have to do everything myself—plan, shop, decorate, wrap, clean and cook. I can ask my family to help, assigning each of them tasks.

• I don’t have to sacrifice my sleep, health and good disposition in order to have a joyful holiday. This year I’ll take care of myself and do what I can in a leisurely time frame.

Sometimes the expectations that we have for ourselves are so unrealistic that they are unattainable. If we are heads of households, we try to be everything to everybody. The holidays often amplify those feelings.

No one should have to have a holiday meltdown, cut back on sleep, give up healthy eating or exercise to have a memorable Christmas. To enjoy the holidays more and experience less stress we need to focus less on what is ideal and more on what is doable given our health, time, financial and support resources.

Relax. Reread the “To Don’t” list. You, too can have the best Christmas ever by saying to yourself, “I don’t have to do this”.

Contact Dr. Thompson at

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