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By Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian

Where did the year go? I need three more Augusts (minus the sweltering heat here in Florida) to catch up! The holidays are always stressful, even for those of us who love them. We have a tendency to do everything possible to make the holidays harder than they have to be. Here are a few tips to surviving all the cheer and chaos.

1 – Postpone – Leading up to the holiday, figure out what must be done and what may be put off until later.  Do the windows really need to be cleaned before everyone arrives for dinner? Will anyone care if the front yard isn’t perfect? Can you avoid making that new and complicated side dish this year? Deliberately choosing to relieve yourself of some of the holiday burden ahead of time can make the rest of your to-do list seem more manageable. Remember that clients are also struggling with the holidays – if there is pushback about workups and treatments, consider reassessing at a later date if that is appropriate. You may avoid a complete refusal of care by providing some breathing room.

2 – Cut back – If you are all stressed up with nowhere to go, the point of the holidays is defeated. If you need to spend a bit less on gifts, do it. The only people who will be angry probably don’t deserve a gift at all. How many food items do we need before family dinners become ridiculous? Pick a few favorites, and if anyone wants something else, ask them to bring it with them. If you are dreading holiday parties, decline invitations until you feel less burdened. If you aren’t going to have fun, don’t go. Multiple office holiday parties can get expensive. If the gift exchange game is voluntary, just sit it out this year.

3 – Make it fair – If you cook, don’t clean. If you clean, don’t cook. If you are always the host, ask someone else to volunteer. If you are always asked to travel, offer to host and have everyone come to you. Don’t be the person who volunteers to work every holiday unless doing so makes your life better. If your work policy is to see everyone who calls the day after a holiday, encourage extra staffing to compensate. If not, send some cases to the emergency clinic if needed.

4 – Take a break – Go lie down and take a rest if you need to. Escape to a local park or to the movie theater. If work is slow, ask to go home early if you can afford to do so. Take lunch away from the office if possible. One year, my husband and I took a cruise for Thanksgiving. Although we missed spending time with our families, it made the rest of the holidays more enjoyable because we were well-rested.

5 – Keep it simple – Christmas lights always bring a smile to my face – until I have to put them up. Decorating and cleaning for the holidays can be exhausting. A few years ago, I was in a car accident. The thought of not decorating made me feel worse. Instead of going all out I got help with the outside lights and didn’t put a single ornament on my tree.  I wrapped it in poinsettia garland and white lights. I’ve gotten more compliments on that tree than any other. It’s been that way ever since.  It doesn’t take much to add a festive feeling to your home or office – only do what brings you joy.

6 – Sleep – Being overtired and dealing with guests or clients is a dangerous combination. If you’re not doing something vital to national security, GO TO BED EARLY. If everyone takes a tryptophan-induced nap after dinner, leave the dishes in the sink and go nap yourself. Trust me, they’ll be there when you wake up!

7 – Exercise – One of my favorite holiday traditions is the Ghost Town Bike Ride (this isn’t an actual thing, so don’t Google it). Every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning, my husband and I get up early and ride our bikes. There is NO ONE on the road. The quiet is almost eerie in our busy city. It’s as though the peace and physical exertion provide a Control + Alt + Delete for our stress levels (plus I eat with less guilt). We’ve also done an after-gorging walk in the park that helps our digestion and lets us breathe the fresh air. Even taking a minute to stretch at work or taking a walk around the building can clear your head and make you more efficient.

8 – Eat wisely – Oh, stop rolling your eyes! I know holiday meals are a time when most of us throw our diets to the wind and eat until we can’t breathe. I still eat everything I want, but instead of piling my plate, I take a small spoonful of everything the first time around. I can go back for seconds or thirds if I want, but challenging yourself to eat a giant plate the first round is just asking for trouble. Using a smaller plate can help you not feel deprived. My mom and I tend to split pieces of desserts so we can taste everything without making ourselves sick. I also try to make myself chew everything thoroughly instead of bolting it down. That gives my stomach time to fill up. Remember, you’ll get sick of leftovers before the week is out. Save something for tomorrow! The office break room is a dangerous place to be during the holidays. Put some of the holiday calories out for your clients to enjoy. Wrap a cheer plate for the postal workers, delivery people and reps as they come by.

9 – Let it go – Refuse to take part in work or family arguments or acknowledge slights. It is supremely frustrating to try to fight with someone who won’t respond. If there’s a blowup at work, acknowledge that this is a very stressful time of year and work to defuse rather than discipline. If you are a holiday host, invite guests to step outside for the Airing of the Grievances. If you are a guest, busy yourself with dishes or take a walk if conversation becomes hostile. You are the only person you can control. Release yourself from the responsibility of making everyone happy or keeping the peace.

10 – Remember – Many of us have painful holiday memories. I lost both of my grandmothers within a week of Christmas, so there is always some sadness associated with that holiday. Every year, we toast those who are present and those who aren’t. We tell stories about our loved ones that make us laugh, even if we’ve all heard them a hundred times. If a recent loss is overshadowing the holidays, be kind to yourself and don’t take on so much. Consider honoring lost pets at your office and reaching out to clients you know are suffering. Kindness to others is a win-win.

I wish you all a peaceful holiday season. May you find more joy than stress. May your turkey come out juicy and your cheesecake not so much. May full mouths prevent ugly words. May the beauty all around you stand out. Above all, I hope you treat yourself with love, kindness and understanding in a world that often lacks all three.