I love the holidays, but for me, the season approaching also comes with a note of dread. While I appreciate all the decorations, festive foods, and family traditions, the work that goes into being Chief Holiday Magic Maker for my family often leaves me exhausted and depleted.
As we continue to up the ante on the holidays, the mental load that moms carry during this time of year only grows. This year, though, I’m making changes to lighten my load and make sure I get to experience my fair share of joy, too.
Here’s how I’m easing my mental load this holiday season.
Tips for Managing the Mental Load at the Holidays
1. Streamlining traditions
One of the things I love most about the holidays is the heartwarming feeling of familiar traditions. Trying to honor too many routines and rituals, though, can transform them into stressors. This year I’m evaluating my family’s traditions and streamlining them to focus on quality over quantity. I’m prioritizing the ones that bring the most joy and meaning and letting go of those that feel like just one more thing on my to-do list.
I’m also looking for ways to simplify some of the traditions that are important to my family. For example, every year my kids look forward to delivering treats to the local fire station. And while in the past they’ve enjoyed baking them with me, for them the thrill is mostly about showing up at the station bearing gifts. So, this year we’ll leave the baking to someone else by delivering goodies purchased at our local holiday market.
2. Giving donations instead of gifts
I’m grateful to have so many wonderful friends and family members in my life, but this can also make holiday shopping feel overwhelming. Plus, most of the people I love would be the first to tell you they’re not in need of any more stuff. This year I’m using the money I would have spent on gifts to make donations to causes that matter to my loved ones.
One frequent complaint I hear about making a donation instead of giving a gift is that it can feel impersonal. One remedy I’ve found for that is Heifer International, a global non-profit that works to end hunger and poverty around the world. They have a great “gift” catalog where you can specify what exactly you’re donating in someone’s name—whether it’s a flock of chickens for Aunt Agnes, a hive of honey bees for Cousin Bob, or a baby goat for your younger sibling.
3. Being mindful of spending
There’s a whole other layer to the mental load that comes with managing post-holiday finances. This year, I’m being proactive with my budgeting to save myself stress later on. It can be easy to get caught up in the excess of the season and want it to be perfect for your family, but that doesn’t mean you have to overspend. When the impulse strikes to add “just one more” gift for the kids to my Amazon cart, I’ll remind myself that what they’ll remember most about the season are the experiences, not their gifts.
4. Setting realistic expectations
If you’re the one carrying the mental load at the holidays, chances are you’re responsible for it in other areas of life, too. And, unfortunately, real life—like laundry, dentist appointments, and coordinating child care—doesn’t pause for the holidays. You can’t do it all, so you might as well not set out to.
This year I’m giving myself permission to take things off my list or to do them differently. I won’t be saying yes to every invitation. I might even (gasp) bring store-bought cookies to a baking swap. This way I’ll be sure to have the energy to focus on what truly matters to me and my family. After all, the holiday season is about creating meaningful memories, not trying to achieve perfection.
5. Delegating responsibilities
While I wish we lived in a world where everyone in the family was as plugged into the holiday to-do list as most moms are, sadly that’s not the case for most of us. However, one of the most effective ways to reduce the mental load is to delegate responsibilities. So go ahead and assign tasks to family members and friends, like meal planning, grocery shopping, or decorating.
Even young children can get involved. This year I taught my 6-year-old how to gift wrap and he loves it so much I made it his responsibility. Not only does this sharing of tasks alleviate some of the pressure, but it also fosters a sense of teamwork and collaboration and gets everyone invested in helping to create the magic of the holidays
6. Outsourcing where possible
Doing everything yourself doesn’t make the holiday magic any more “real” than if you get help. If it’s financially feasible, choose some things to outsource, particularly tasks you find less joyful. For me, that’s hiring a cleaning service before I entertain. But, fortunately, whether it’s ordering out for your holiday meal or paying someone to put up your Christmas lights, these days there’s a service for just about everything.
If money is a limiting factor, get creative and trade tasks with a friend. If you love gift wrapping but hate holiday baking, offer to wrap a friend’s presents if they bring you a tray of goodies you can use at your next gathering. While this may not save you much time, at least you’ll be spending it doing something you enjoy.
7. Practicing self-care
The stress that comes from the mental load of the holidays can wreak havoc on both our physical and mental well-being. In the midst of all the magic you’re creating for others, be sure to make space for yourself. Move your body regularly, get enough sleep, and set boundaries where needed.
You’re not required to socialize with anyone who makes you uncomfortable, even if they’re family. You’re allowed to take breaks, leave tasks undone, and RSVP no—whatever it takes to preserve your sense of joy and serenity.
While sometimes it feels like the holidays are made up of approximately one million individual tasks, at the end of the day, they’re composed of memories—our own as well as those of our loved ones. We deserve to experience every ounce of the joy we create for others, even if that means not getting to everything on our to-do list.