For most Americans, the weeks between now and New Year’s are some of the busiest of the year. When we’re not shopping, cooking, or decorating, we’re socializing, eating, or traveling to the next event on the calendar. Yes, we mean well when we cram our time so full of activities and obligations: We want to have fun. We want to spend time with loved ones. We want to celebrate, eat good food, and look our best at every event.
But often, we end up overdoing it. Instead of savoring seasonal cheer, we find ourselves irritable, stressed, and exhausted as we fall more and more behind on our to-do lists. In multiple areas, it’s easy to inadvertently cross the line from “healthy” to “too much,” leaving ourselves inadequate margins of time and energy.
One thing I’ve learned during my career is that balance looks and feels different to everyone. There isn’t a magic formula for staying within healthy boundaries. That’s why it’s important to take your temperature in several key areas as you move through the next few weeks. Yes, going overboard might be tempting and easy to rationalize, but not at the expense of your well-being. When you stay focused on honoring your needs and values, you’ll stand the best chance of creating a fulfilling holiday—and of beginning 2014 in a good place physically and mentally.
Here are seven key areas in which you should be careful not to overindulge:
*The calendar crunch. Cocktail parties. Potlucks. Gift exchanges. End-of-year company celebrations. Concerts. Fundraisers…and the list goes on. These events are staples of the holiday season because they’re supposed to be enjoyable. And they can be…but only if you curate your schedule. Try to avoid going to too many events or attending the wrong ones. As you pencil things in on your calendar, ask yourself: How much time do I need to recharge between events? How much time should I set aside to complete personal tasks? Will spending time with certain groups of people energize me or drain me?
*The parade of requests. Since seasonal events don’t plan themselves, chances are you’ll be asked to pitch in with your time, talents, energy, and money. As the requests come rolling in, resist the urge to automatically say yes to everything. Trust me: You don’t have to plan your company’s holiday party just because you did so last year. You don’t have to stay up till 2 a.m. baking cookies for your child’s class. You don’t have to host every member of your extended family for a holiday dinner. Keep your limits in mind and practice saying “no.” Don’t give away so much of your energy that you have none left to enjoy this time of year!
*The commercial frenzy. There are a million and one things that Americans spend money on over the holidays. The problem is, as you walk through crowded malls and watch endless streams of red-and-green commercials, it’s easy to get carried away with your wallet. Keep in mind that no purchase is worth the anxiety that a larger-than-expected credit card bill can bring. And especially be wary of overspending on clothing, shoes, handbags, and other items that are on sale, but that you don’t need. When shopping for clothes specifically, I recommend looking at the garment first and the price second. And above all, remember that the best holiday memories won’t involve “stuff.” Instead, they’ll feature the people you love. So don’t be afraid to create a budget and stick to it.
*Decking the halls. Decorations are a time-honored staple of this season. And with each year, glossy magazine spreads, television specials, and (most recently) websites like Pinterest up the ante. As a result, I think that many of us have mistakenly gotten the impression that our homes need to look like Martha Stewart paid a visit. But the truth is, it’s okay if your tree looks a little scraggly. You haven’t dropped the ball if you didn’t make each decoration by hand. As you deck your halls, ask yourself, Am I doing this because I’ll really enjoy these decorations, or am I doing it so that other people will be impressed? Remember, the most important thing is that you enjoy being in your home.
*Buffets, potlucks, and finger foods. (Oh my!) The holidays are known for good food, good drink, and lots of it. It’s tempting to partake until you’re stuffed, and then continue partaking regardless. You may not want to hear it, but the truth is that you’ll feel better physically and emotionally if you limit your intake to a reasonable level. Be sure to drink lots of water, eat healthy foods, and avoid gorging on treats at every opportunity. I also recommend getting in some light exercise, even if you can work in only a short walk a few days a week.
*Daydreams of perfection. Does this sound familiar? Every year, you say to yourself, This year everything will be different. The holidays will be perfect. No arguments, no disagreements, no awkward silences. But then, Uncle Tim makes inappropriate remarks at the dinner table, your teenage niece storms away from the table in a huff, and you can practically see your spouse’s blood pressure rise as your mother makes critical comments. Ultimately, you’re unreasonably disappointed. I’m not suggesting that you put up with blatantly bad behavior, but do manage your expectations. You’ll be much happier if you don’t ask your imperfect—but still valued—loved ones to reenact a Hallmark commercial.
*Virtual reality. During the holidays, the impulse to share every little moment with your social networks might be even greater than normal. But before you update your status or post a photo for the 749th time, take a moment to consider whether the Internet really needs to know what you’re sharing. You don’t want to run the risk of missing out on real life because you’re so focused on your virtual one. Experiencing some things with your family and friends without screens and keyboards is important.
Over the next few weeks, I hope you’ll take a step back and intentionally design a celebration that is meaningful to you. Remember, there is no “right” way to celebrate the season. Don’t feel bound by what your friends, the media, or our consumer culture tells you that you should be doing. At their heart, the holidays are about love, fellowship, faith, and values. If you’re focusing on those things, you’ll stand the best chance of having a holiday that’s truly filled with joy.