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Dashing Through December- How to Deal Effectively with Demands and Decisions During the Holidays!

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza or (n)one of the over 900 global holidays listed for December on the “who-knows-how-reliable-website”, does the year-end holiday season seem to create unwelcome disruptions to your regular routines?  If so, you are not alone. My family celebrates a very low key, secular version of traditional Christmas, yet over the last several years, I have experienced an uncomfortable pressure of “hustle and bustle” that I could not readily pinpoint.  This year I noticed that I am comfortably calm and began wondering about what caused this pleasant shift.  My past feelings of heavy holiday stress were understandable over a decade ago when our Christmas celebrations included shopping and shipping of Santa presents to the grand-parent’s house and organizing travel from California to Canada for four of us around work obligations, holiday party invitations, ear infections, school concerts and class celebrations.

Back then I was an active participant in the holiday hoopla but ever since my daughter, now a college junior, took over most of the holiday baking and all of the indoor decorating for fun, I can’t claim to be overwhelmed with holiday preparations.  My husband has always done more than his fair share of domestic tasks, including all of the online Christmas shopping, and somewhat surprisingly my 18 year- old son often willingly dons a pair of headphones and cleans the hardwood floors while listening contentedly to some politically relevant pod-cast.  Santa and Canada are no longer part of the holiday magic so my stress of recent years seemed puzzling until the other day when someone called me in a panic and asked me whether my twenty-year-old daughter could pet sit over the holidays.  I held my tongue…you mean the daughter who has had her own cell phone since 3rd grade and whose number you have been given each of the last twelve times she has pet sat for you?  My reflexive crankiness triggered sudden flashbacks.

Christmas Day 2015.  Being in the emergency room with a separated shoulder the first holiday after my mom died.  The pain, the frustration and the resentment that escalated with the slow tick of the clock above my hospital bed. That massive black beast that we let the kids agree to look after for two weeks, looking at me pleadingly because she had figured out that my daughter and son were not strong enough to handle walking her.   Me deciding to run her for a bit and her tripping me in the blink of an eye.  That feeling of hitting the frozen ground shoulder first. The time and money spent on 3 months of physical therapy.  My decision not to tell the family about the “incident” and ruin their jubilant mood after a Christmas in the Caribbean.   The $280 the kids got paid.  The $450 emergency room co-pay that was eventually waived, thankfully.

I suddenly realized that from mid-November until the first week in January, I was used to feeling resentful about being asked to make decisions I did not want to make.  I felt put upon by the barrage of requests from organizations, acquaintances and neighbors seeking money or time to support their various fundraising efforts or to mitigate the effects of a stressful holiday “situation” which clearly had resulted from poor planning on somebody’s part.

Up until last summer, I used to waste a lot of time and energy resenting such requests, and then re-visiting my responses to them if I felt someone took advantage of me.  Then, on the 4th of July, I made a clear decision to stop feeling responsible for other people.  My new-found independence doesn’t make me mean, uncaring or nasty.  I often agree to do things that will make life a little easier for someone else.  For most of my friends and family, I don’t wait to be asked.  But I now handle all requests for my time or my money through a fixed response process.  First, I pause and reflect on what is being requested.  Then I ignore my initial emotional response, which often reflects years of patterned behavior, and I quickly ask myself the following questions:

  1. How would granting the request affect the commitments and plans I have already made to ensure my family’s financial well-being and to support the causes and organizations that are important to our family?
  2. How would granting the request affect my mental and physical energy levels and the commitments and plans I have already made to ensure that I meet the needs of my family, my friends, my colleagues, my clients and honor the volunteer time I have already promised to my favorite non-profit organizations?
  3. How would granting the request affect the commitments and plans I have already made to maintain the most important relationships in my life?

At the end of this process, I can now quickly deliver a firm “yes” or “no” without any rumination, guilt or anger.   This holiday season has not felt burdensome.  Freedom from the responsibility of others is a gift I am cherishing.  As the sun sets on the year 2017, I suggest that you take a few minutes and reflect on how you have managed the demands and decisions you have faced in December and in the months prior.   Do you find yourself resisting or wanting more distance from certain people? Given the plethora of demands on our time, I think that the last half of December and the mad dash into 2018, makes a great time to practice handling requests from others and for re-enforcing any behaviors that foster personal well-being.