How I Stopped Being Busy and Overwhelmed At the Holidays and Why It Mattered So Much

Karen Patten

I used to always be completely overwhelmed at the holidays – overwhelmed by a desire for sparkly decorations and shiny lights, but I only ended up with marrow-sucking exhaustion. Any given afternoon in November or December would go something like this: I would snatch the boys up the moment school was out – no time for play on the playground, talk with friends, or anything else fun.

We’d race here before zooming there to find the perfect morsel of food, decorating item, or gift that I thought would “create” the perfect holiday for everyone. And after maybe or maybe not finding what I thought I desperately needed, I’d roar into our driveway like Cruella DeVille scouting a new litter of puppies.

I’d slap some crappy meal on the table and we’d scarf it down before before I took on the roll of Bedtime drill Sergeant.

I was so overwhelmed at the holidays and stressed out of my mind that I wanted to shoot tequila (and I’m not really a fan of shooting anything…) just to make bedtime come sooner. For everyone.

Related Story You May Also Like: 100+ Tips for a Stress-Free Christmas

Then I figured out that I was seriously confused about this one thing that changed everything about the holidays for me.

Want relief when you're overwhelmed at the holidays - yea. Me too. This is such a simple twist in thinking that freed me to spend joyful quality time with friends and family and to have a relatively stress free holiday being a fun, connected mom for my kids. #stressfree #holiday #overwhelmed www.themidlifemamas.com

This Was Exactly What I Never Wanted To Happen

I used to bust my arse (Is that really a word?) every holiday season. My calendar was over-flowing with things that I will gouge my eyes out if I have to do again I didn’t really enjoy with people I didn’t like know very well.

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As a mom, I wanted to make things super special for my friends and family. I wanted to follow old traditions and create new holiday traditions.

One day, as I rushed the boys into the car after school, my youngest son asked me, “Mommy, can we just go home today and play holiday songs and make cookies?”

Once he asked for something so simple, the reality of what I was doing developed in my brain like the slow hot burn of the perfect Indian curry maturing on your tongue.

My mind played a film reel of the crappy meal; my squirmy, miserable boys being dragged from errand to errand after school; and the shameful drill Sergeant I became at bed time.

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Nowhere was any of this in my holiday plan for our family. Nowhere.

So Why Was I Doing All of This?

Writing this post, I came across the scientific, reptilian brain, most likely reason moms get so overwhelmed at the holidays:

Women “feel compelled to create rituals and follow traditions, especially around Christmas, because of a need for… “family-making.”

Sharing a special meal, hiding a pickle ornament in the Christmas tree — “they’re all rituals to demonstrate that we care for one another, and that this caring has permanence, history and a pattern that will persist…It shows that we are all bound together. And for millennia, women have been the ones responsible for family-making.” (cite)

But then I realized the more immediate reason I felt run over by a reindeer. I had completely confused all my busyness with something different.

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Busyness Is Not The Same As Giving Of Myself

What I realized was that what I wanted more than anything was to be present for my family and to give of myself. I wanted to give the best of me; I wanted to give my love in the form of creative energy to do activities, throw parties, and decorate the house beautifully. I wanted to plan and organize relentlessly so I could “create” a beautiful holiday.

And then, the connection. Creating my own busyness is not giving of myself at all. It’s actually keeping myself from those I love the most. I had the two confused.

While I was busy creating more busy, our holiday time was ticking away. While I was “sharing” all my creative energy, I had no energy left for the people I love. While I planned and organized relentlessly, I missed many opportunities to spontaneously and joyfully celebrate the season with friends and family.

Spoiler Alert

Spoiler alert: this crazy thing happens at the very precise moment that you turn forty. (I don’t know why – but I’m can’t make this shiz up.)

It becomes easier to say stuff you previously thought was impossible. For example: I’m not doing that any more. Nope. Not doin’ it. I promise – it gets so much easier to say this. No further explanation is necessary and there’s no need for guilt.

So I can now say “no” to any obligations or invitations that aren’t in line with our family’s goal of keeping a genuine, simple, and joyful holiday season. And you can too.

I once heard somebody say that “No is a complete sentence.” #wordstoliveby

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Thoughts For When You Are Overwhelmed At The Holidays

So if you, too, are overwhelmed at the holidays, try to remember:

  • I won’t try to “create” a holiday experience, instead I will share many holiday experiences with those I love.
  • I won’t try to “make” somebody happy, instead I will always offer kindness to brighten somebody’s day.
  • I won’t sacrifice my peace of mind, instead I will encourage and help others to find their own peace at the holidays.
  • I won’t spend my time relentlessly planning, instead I will enjoy spontaneous moments of joy as they come to me.
  • I won’t create a “to do” list; instead, I will be present in as many moments as possible.
  • I won’t fabricate errands to run; instead I will find joy in the simple and genuine family moments.

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Welcome!

Hi, I’m Karen, the Atlanta mama, writer, and creator at Intentional Family Life. I’m a passionate advocate for intentional living so that you can experience all that you deserve for yourself and your family. Here, I inspire moms to chose what matters most and then to only do the things that move them closer to what matters most. Read More About Karen…

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