We got back from a family vacation in Phoenix last Monday, and I have to confess, I made a common vacation mistake: I fell for the lie that I could cram my schedule full and push myself like crazy until the moment we left on on our trip, because I could slow down and relax once we were on vacation.
My muscle therapist warned me I was making a mistake. When I had an appointment a few days before we left on our trip, he asked me, “What are you planning to do about your stress level?”
“I’m going to Phoenix!” I replied enthusiastically. He snorted, shook his head, and said, “The more stress you have when you leave for vacation, the longer it will take for you to unwind.”
I felt truth in his words, but by then it was too late – I was exhausted from two months of a crazy schedule and lots of life changes to deal with, so by the time we got to Phoenix, I felt frazzled. It took me half the week to finally feel truly relaxed.
It felt great once I’d finally purged the stress from my body, but by then, the vacation was already half over. The weather was beautiful, and we did some really fun things out there, but I came home feeling regret about how it had all played out. I wanted to go back and do everything differently.
As I’ve thought about it since, I realize that I have the tendency to fall back on this same strategy for Christmas, too – go hard, hard, hard, all through the craziness of November and December, and then wonder why I can’t enjoy the actual week of Christmas. “Christmas has just lost the magic it used to have when I was a kid,” I think to myself every year.
Or maybe I keep approaching the holidays like a marathon runner who pushes with everything in him to the finish line, only to throw up and collapse the moment he crosses it.I’ve begun to wonder if there’s any way to arrive at Christmas without the “throw up and collapse” mentality. What can I learn from my vacation mistakes to take with me into this next busy holiday season?
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
1) Let it be what it will be.
A lot of my stress leading up our trip came from wanting everything to be “perfect” once we got there. I always put this pressure on myself to get all the right snacks, the right clothes, and try to keep everybody in perfect health, etc. I get this idea in my mind that vacations or holidays need to be unrealistically wonderful – it’s family! And we’re SO HAPPY together! And we need to make MEMORIES!!! ALL THE PRESSURE!!!!
Guess how well that works?!
Everett got sick the day before we left on our trip, and it wasn’t great, but it was fine. Everyone survived, we still had a good time, and came home with great memories.
I realized that what I want is to have these special times feel like a little taste of heaven, but the problem is that life still happens on holidays. We’re not immune to sickness or any other life problems, just because it’s a “special time”. It’s like the bride I heard about years ago who had strep throat at her wedding. It just seems like that shouldn’t be allowed or something. We should be immune to problems during all vacations, holidays, and special occasions.
But it’s life, so these things happen. I can’t hold vacations or holidays up so high in my mind or expectations.
Christmas is just Christmas. It can be a time that is special and beautiful, but it can also messy and painful. I need to remember to let it be what it will be.
2) The unfinished tasks will still be there after the holidays.
Another reason I pushed myself so hard up until we left for Phoenix was because I wanted to feel like I had finished EVERYTHING, and there would be no loose ends to come home to. I was trying to work ahead so I could relax more on vacation, knowing there was nothing unfinished to go home to.
But when we were on vacation, I realized how impossible that goal had been – there’s always more to do, because life goes on after vacation, so the to-do list is never done. In trying to finish what could never actually be finished, I took on more stress, and then took longer to relax.
It would have been far better to hit “pause”, slow down life in general, and arrive on vacation already feeling relaxed, ready to enjoy myself.
3) Rest can’t be banked.
Deep down, I know better than to think it actually works well to push like crazy now and rest later, but we live in a culture where we hear this idea all the time. We neglect sleep in order to get more done. We are being “productive” and “successful” when we abuse our bodies to reach unrealistic goals.We can skip rest and relaxation, but we can’t do it well. I look at the weeks ahead, and I know the only real way to have the Christmas I want is to get there slowly. I need to pace myself. I need to relax NOW so that I can enjoy not just the week of Christmas, but everything leading up to it as well.
Maybe that means planning ahead a bit better so I don’t leave stuff to the last minute. Or saying no to some of the Christmas events, because we don’t actually need to go to EVERYTHING. Maybe I’ll buy a bag of chocolate covered almonds and bake a few less kinds Christmas treats. Everyone will survive. My kids think they want all their favourite Christmas baking, but what they really want is a kind, loving mother in her right mind.It means being realistic about my expectations, my energy level, and my priorities, instead of allowing myself to get swept up in the pressure to do it all.
Let’s do this well. I want to hear all your best tips for making Christmas simple and restful!!