5 Ways You Can Stop the Holiday Chaos by Being More Intentional, So You Can Enjoy the Season More

The holidays and special occasions have long been a source of stress for me. Can you relate?

Do you cringe having to socialize with that uncle who always takes the time to tell you how you should have made the opposite decision on everything you’ve ever done? Do you have friends or relatives who misinterpret your kindness and good listening for an invitation to dump all their verbal garbage on you? Or do you just have too many expectations?

Stressful Holidays of Yore

My first holiday season away from my childhood family was also my first holiday with my husband. Halfway through the morning, I was crying, then arguing, then crying because I was arguing with my husband. I hadn’t even considered that I should talk about my expectations for the day with him and the day wasn’t going how I wanted it to. Compounding that was the fact that I had only had coffee and cookies for breakfast; I felt jacked up on caffeine and probably fairly hangry too. So while I pictured a leisurely morning, just the two of us, opening presents and then having breakfast, he had planned a different type of morning.  I had an idealized version of what the holidays would look like, based on a replica of my childhood holidays, but unlike then, I didn’t have any mother swooping in to make everything perfect for me on that day. I don’t typically have problems adulting, but this is one area where I really wish struggle with it. Am I the only one who wishes that there was someone planning special things just for me for the holidays?

My angst and anxiety from the holidays is largely a cause of high expectations and a desire for the holiday to be extra special and meaningful. And this pressure causes me to expect everyone to act a certain way- and that just doesn’t happen. Part of my holiday angst was determining what are my ways of spending the holidays.

I struggle with the reality that the expectations in my head never seem to match what the actual holiday brings.

I’m only recently learning to let go of expectations and to enjoy the holidays as they are. Here are the actions I take to enjoy the holidays with pleasure.


1. Prioritize what YOU value about the holiday.

Being intentional with how you plan to celebrate the holidays means that you are choosing what you do and not simply fulfilling what others think you should do.

I doubt that most of us actually plan to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ yet I think that it can happen without our noticing. The other day I was in the lobby where my daughter takes dance class. Although I’m not friends with any of the other dance moms, we engage in friendly conversation. One mom who is always wearing the smartest outfits- preppy with just a touch of boho- told me and the other mom that she had just picked up a lovely advent calendar and couldn’t wait to use it. The Magnolia advent calendar.

Now I love Chip and Jo Gaines- we both had a baby this year; so obviously we’re very connected :D The other mom chimed in and said hers had been in the family for several years and she loved opening something every day. I cringed inside a little because I don’t have one. I kept quiet and turned to burp my baby and coo at him.

The thing is, I deliberately don’t have an advent calendar. I celebrate Christmas and think advent calendars are super sweet, but there is no way I want one more thing to keep track of and have up in my house. Same reason I don’t do Elf on the Shelf or the Kindness elves. And yet, sometimes when I hear how much fun others are having these holiday traditions- I start to wonder if I’m missing out, or making my children miss out on something.

I’m free to change our traditions this year if I want to, or any year, but I try to always make sure to value what I value about the holidays. I care about the environment deeply (read here about how I give back), so I try to reject excessive consumerism- or rather what I deem excessive. One person’s excess is another’s happy place.

I wrap presents with reusable cloth bags and furoshiki and last years gift bags. And yet I adore seeing the varied wrapping paper choices out there. I carefully unwrap every present my sister gives me so I can use the fancy wrapping paper again.

If you love wrapping paper and decorations, dive deep into it and make sure you’re planning to wrap and decorate. If food matters to you, but gifts don’t, focus on that. For me, seeing holiday lights is one of the most important parts of the holiday; so I prioritize it. I don’t emphasis or dwell on the aspects of the season that don’t matter to me. Developing my sense of self-trust helped me to prioritize the things that matter to me. 

2. Remind yourself, that’s her story/issue not mine.

There are going to be social engagements this time of year. I’ve already been invited to two cookie exchanges and its not even December. Inevitably there will be people at the event who say things to be hurtful. Some of them don’t even mean to, they are just sharing their opinions. I make my job to insure that I don’t take on others opinions and judgments as my own.

I have worked very hard to address limiting or hurtful beliefs that I hold about myself, because I recognize that mindset is a powerful force. However, its inevitable that in interacting with others we are going to be exposed to outdated, narrow or otherwise  limiting beliefs. My way of maintaining my positive, empowered attitude is to protect what I ‘let in’ to my mind. Consistently, I remind myself (quietly in my head) that these are their issues, not mine.

I have one family member who thinks that I’m an ‘old’ mom. I know that he generally cares about me, but I think he can’t help himself, because he has a belief about moms who are a certain age. Recently, we were talking about my baby and breastfeeding, he proceeded to tell me that a 3 yr old cow produces better milk than a 15 year old cow. Now, don’t jump all up in arms- he prefaced that I should not take offense and he didn’t mean it that way. Still, its hard to hear yourself be compared to a cow.

An old cow.

Yet, I don’t hold hard feelings about it. When the this memory comes up- as it is inevitably coming up as I relate this story to you know- I simply remind myself, that it his belief, not mine. I have no problem with the fact that I’m on the older side of moms. I focus on the positive attributes of my age and continue to remind myself of those positives.

I encourage you to make a habit of doing the same. Some folks like to push buttons by saying hurtful or insulting things and others just do it because that’s where their frame of reference is. If you have family members who hold different beliefs than you and you feel that they want to pull you down to their level, just change the subject and let it go.


This year I’m really going to focus on this tip. I’m making a game of seeing how many new and interesting things I can learn about people who I feel like I already know. One way to go about this is to alter the normal kinds of questions you ask.

Vanessa Van Edwards has an amazing YouTube channel and offers tons of tips on social interactions. She studies human interactions and conversations. Her research found that if you can engage in conversation that makes people focus on the positive, you’re both much more likely to enjoy the conversation. Conversing in this way is like an act of kindness for both of you.

One way to have people focus on the positive is to ask questions like, “What is something interesting that you’ve been working on lately?” This is so much more likely to go in a positive direction than simply asking, “What’s up with you these days?” (which typically tends to go in a mundane or negative direction). You could also ask an older family member for their favorite holiday memory from when they were young. For children, I like to ask about what books they are reading, fun things they’ve learned recently, etc.

4. Time in nature.

If you can find the time to take a daily walk, you are doing one of the best acts for your body, emotions, and mind. When you take a walk outside you activate so many positive benefits.

If you haven’t heard of the benefits of walking, what kind of virtual cubicle have you been holed up in? Seriously, we are more creative when we take walks. And even if your life doesn’t seem to demand creativity, we can all benefit from finding new ways to look at the same issues we deal with on a daily basis.

Even though the weather is cooler and trees are more bare, there is still beauty in the starkness of the season. Not to mention the joy of walking down streets lite up with holiday lights. Walks also give us a great excuse to step away from whatever holiday commitments we’re entrenched in and get a chance to move our legs.

We spend a lot of this time inside as the temperatures drop and all that dry, stagnant air can take a toll on your body. Even a quick 10 minute walk fills your lungs with fresh air and reminds you that you are not just a head resting on a body. You have a body that wants to stretch and move.

Have you heard about how Superman posture helps you to actually act more confident? Research is still ongoing, but so far it looks to be that by spending several minutes in a power pose (shoulders back, chin up, hands on hips) you trigger your brain/emotions through your physiology to be confident and powerful. Check out this fabulous TedTalk about it.

One reason I love talking walks is that when I am starting to shlump over and slouch, walking around gets me standing up straight and using good posture again. Once I’m standing with my good posture, its easier to be face various holiday situations with confidence.

5. Fill up your cup first: make time for extra self-care.

Take some extra time this season to focus on self-care (my tips here and here). If you are a parent it is incredibly easy to forget to tend to your needs when you are spending extra time going to school events, holiday parties, getting gifts for teachers, etc. And yet it is even more important to look at your schedule and identify when you can do the activities that fill you up with nourishment. I created a checklist with self-care ideas for all different areas of your life- physical, emotional, social, spiritual. Get the checklist here by signing up for my newsletter.

I have learned over the years that one of my best self-care activities during the holidays is to keep up the amount of exercise and healthy eating that helps me to feel good. I can’t just get up, eat cookies, drink coffee and expect to have a fabulous day. No, I need to eat protein, fruits and veggies in addition to nibbling on the fun sweet stuff.

Wishing you the happiest holidays that feel like celebration and not stress. Comment below and tell me which tip you’re going to try this season.

Lots of love, Rachel

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