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It’s the most busiest time of the year

A few years ago I found myself in a fit of tears as I addressed, stuffed and stamped holiday cards while trying to cook dinner and parent all at the same time.

"It's just too much. I don't know how to get it all done." I lamented to my husband.

Keeping up with the bustle of the holidays had become anything but joyful. And I resented that these supposedly fun things felt like a chore. Especially as I saw friends posting such happy pictures on social about how wonderful their holidays were.

After the New Year my husband and I talked about it. "Something has to give. This isn't sustainable and I'm over it."

So we stopped sending out holiday cards after 2017. And we started looking at the activities of the holidays as optional.

Every year in December I notice a different kind of energy buzzing about. It's not the cheer. It's the lament of surviving. People are just trying to get through this month, which requires heroic feats, while running on an empty tank.

We are so conditioned to live with stress and find comfort in being busy that we tend to grin and bear it. But we don't have to. Being over the top busy is a choice.

What's more, not getting adequate time for rest and recovery is not optional. It will catch up....Eventually.

And why not do it now? There's always been something about December that makes me want to hibernate. The days are growing shorter and colder. I feel a bit more introspective than usual and my body instinctively wants to slow down.

It's the crux of the duality we face this time of year. Be a hero that does all the things or embrace a time of rest by slowing down.

I have chosen a more radical take on the holidays where I actually do less and enjoy some of the festivities.

Part of it is going into the holidays with the expectation there will be more things I can do than I will choose to do. Knowing that there will be things I consciously say "no" to makes it easier to let go when faced with the choice.

I also think about how I want to feel during and after different activities. For example, I could have gone out to see live music this past weekend and had fun. But when I imagined how tired I would feel afterward I realized there's ways I can have fun and not be depleted. So I opted for the things that did not require me to lose precious sleep.

Perhaps the most difficult part in making intentional choices during the holidays is accepting the consequences of such decisions. It's quite possible that saying no to something you've always done will upset or offend someone (possibly even yourself).

In fact, so much of the over the top bustle during the holidays comes down to two common patterns. 1) People pleasing and 2) keeping up appearances. Saying yes to all the things is a matter of fulfilling some unspoken rule we internalized years ago. It starts off like this - good people/parents/children do (blank).

But that equation couldn't be further from the truth. Your worth as a person isn't measured by sending out holiday cards, or singing in a holiday choir, or hosting dinner for everyone in your family, or buying everything on your kid's wish list, or making sure the family has matching PJ's for Christmas morning.

If it's not additive, you don't have to do it. If it's draining and depleting you have my permission to say no.

Sure you might disappoint someone. It happens, they'll get over it.

You might even really hurt someone's feelings. They'll deal. And if they can't accept that your needs might not match their expectations, that's more about them than it is about you. You are not responsible for fulfilling or meeting the desires of others, especially when it's depleting you.

In fact, if drawing a boundary about the holidays ruptures your relationship beyond repair, than there's a values misalignment going on, which begs the question - do you even want them in your life?

It is hard to renegotiate commitments like this. In fact, it's easier to stay on the path of least resistance and continue bustling about feeling over the top busy. That is, it's easier to follow that path until it just gets to be too much and something (or someone) snaps.

So yeah, it can be uncomfortable, awkward and scarry to stop doing things the way you've always done them during the holidays.  But if you're like me in 2017 and you find yourself on the verge of a breakdown, it might be time to make different choices.

Removing the pressure to do all the things during the holidays has been incredibly freeing for myself and my family.

That's because I have been able to let go of any lingering guilt, shame or feelings of inadequacy for not doing things "perfectly." And instead show myself compassion and understanding.

I liken my approach to Marie Kondoing the holidays. Tossing aside the things that don't bring me joy while embracing what does.

Fast forward to 2023 and I surprised myself. This year I've mailed holiday cards to some friends and family. Not because I think its expected of me or because I think I should reciprocate. I've sent out a handful of holiday cards because I'm enjoying it and doing so feels easeful, and generative.

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