The holiday season is upon us, but let's just say that this doesn't exactly conjure up feelings of holiday cheer and excitement for everyone. To many people the holidays are an incredibly stressful period of time for a variety of reasons. Within a very short time period there is a lot to juggle, and let's face it: As mamas, we often feel like that exponentially expanding to-do list falls squarely on us.
There is the planning of parties, buying gifts, the endless to-do list, making decisions about social plans, shopping for outfits to wear to said social plans, wrapping up the work year and coordinating winter vacation plans—just to name a few.
The mental load of pulling off a successful holiday season is no easy feat and it's common for anxiety levels to run high. If our mental loads get too heavy and we feel like we are carrying them alone, we may start to resent our partners or support system and take the stress out on them. Ideally, we should share the load with our partners or village, making for a less anxious and more joyous holiday season.
Here are nine strategies to help share the mental load and ease your holiday stress, mama:
1. Pick a good time together + schedule it
We're all guilty of wanting to unload on someone else when our stress levels are high. If it's not a good time, your partner or family member may not be receptive and you will be left feeling disappointed. Rather than set yourself up for that, have a planned team huddle at a scheduled and agreed time when you are both available, willing and most receptive.
It could be in the evening after the kids are asleep, an early morning chat before the day starts, a phone conversation or during a night out. Put it on your calendars and plan to give your undivided attention.Throughout the holiday season, I encourage several of these plus check-in points and updates.
2. Write it down
Before you can share your mental load you have to identify what is on your (or your partner's) mind. Begin by making a list of all the things you need to do with the timeframe (making it as detailed as possible), and all the things you feel worried about with the holiday season. Mental load isn't just the tangible concrete tasks, but the added weight of how we feel about these tasks and the things that concern us.
3. Be mindful of your tone
When communicating, make sure your tone is supportive, encouraging and fun. This isn't a time to criticize and argue. Remind yourself that the more you can be in it together, the better it will feel for both of you.
4. Delegate tasks
Look at the list together and decide which tasks each of you can accomplish best. Each of you has strengths (and weaknesses), so delegate based on strengths, availability and interests.
For example, if you are really creative about gift ideas but your partner is the best bargain finder, make a list of items you want to purchase and have them do the actual purchasing. If your partner doesn't get riled talking to family about holiday logistics but you do, have them be the family liaison.
If you want to control everything and want your partner to take the kids out for the day to give you time to get it all done, that works too. Whatever the breakdown of tasks, ensure you are both on the same page about them.
Remember, if you choose to take ownership of something on the list, you can't also resent your partner for not doing it—that's not fair. If you want them out of the kitchen when you cook, let's not complain "Why am I always the one cooking?" When we delegate and accept the tasks we have divided, we want to also be okay doing so.
5. Learn to let it go
Once something has been delegated, let it go! Your partner is a different person than you and will inevitably do things differently than you—perhaps on a different timeline than you would want or in a different way than you want.
6. Offer positive feedback
It's easy to harp on the things we don't like about our partner. Remember, the more you criticize, the less likely that your partner will want to be in it with you. If your partner feels that nothing can ever be done right by you, they will stop even trying and resentment will only further ensue. If efforts (for both of you) are acknowledged and praised, you are much more likely to want to do more of it. Besides, wouldn't you rather have a happy relationship than have the perfect color napkins at your holiday table?
7. Communicate—don't mindread
How great would it be if everyone around us knew exactly what, when and how we wanted things all of the time? Unfortunately that's not reality. No matter how long someone knows us or how much someone loves us, that doesn't mean they know what is going through our minds and what exactly we want at any given moment!
Since we can't expect our support system to mindread, we need to be really clear and specific about what we do want.
It's also important to be clear about how you are feeling. Rather than internalizing and feeling angry or concerned about a situation, communicate it. If we don't actually verbalize it, it will still come out, just in less than ideal ways. If you feel concerned about a family dynamic, talk it through so you don't feel like you are shouldering it alone. Sometimes talking about it can also give us another perspective.
8. Manage expectations
The holidays are naturally going to heighten our stress levels. The more we can articulate our expectations of how we want things to go and what we are feeling anxious about, the better we will be able to manage and game-plan for our stress.
For example, if you have different expectations about what it means to be on time for a party or an airplane flight, talk about it in advance and come up with a plan together. Figure out what time specifically you will plan to leave rather than a vague let's get there on time.
9. Find humor
While it's last on the list, I think this is one of the most important tips I can give. It's so important to laugh. Find a way to be a team in the holiday season together and laugh about the things we may find stressful. Know that when you laugh at it together, it takes the weight of the situation away and also brings perspective.