8 ways to make the holidays less stressful

Nov 24, 2014

Turkey day is around the corner! ‘Tis the season for hot cider, mashed potatoes, two kinds of stuffing... and a heaping side of stress.

For freelancers, it might mean scrambling to visit far-off family, balancing ongoing projects with holiday obligations, or just explaining to Auntie Gloria for the billionth time that yes, you do have a real job. You even have health insurance!

Here are 8 ways to make the holidays less stressful, so you can cut out all the fuss and enjoy the season for what it is: good food, family, and friends.

1. Plan ahead!

I am never more grateful than when I discover a gift that my past-self has left for me -- toothbrush and toiletries neatly packed weeks in advance; lists of possible presents for relatives and friends. Planning ahead is great. Get your travel set as early as possible. If you’re supposed to cook something for a family dinner or potluck, get your ingredients in order and make preparations before the big day. If you’re throwing a party, get organizing in advance!

2. Keep a budget.

The holidays are full of activity, but that doesn’t mean you have to go overboard. Keep a budget and stick to it. Here’s what you’re spending on travel, here’s what you’re spending on restaurants, here’s what you’re spending on gifts. Write it down and don’t diverge! You can give great gifts without dropping a lot of cash -- and if your freelance gig happens to be something crafty, perhaps you don’t need to spend a cent.

3. No, you won’t do all the things...

Freelancers are often on call 24/7, expected to complete projects come hell or high water. Accept that not everything will get done -- at least, not while you’re on holiday. And that’s okay. But it’s no fun for anyone if all you do is whine about how little you’re getting done.

So designate blocks of time where you promise not to think about work. Play with your little nieces and nephews. Chat with your folks. Instead of stressing over the work you’re not doing, allow yourself time to not work.

4. But you can still work.

Let your friends and family know that you’re still working -- on call, as it were. Be clear about what is social time and what is work time, and don’t skimp on either. As above, designate blocks of time where you will work. Because you’ve already been good on your social commitments, when you eventually spirit yourself away with your laptop BFF, your absence will be understood.

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5. Stop checking your email!

I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Don’t. Check. Emails! There’s nothing worse than the friend or family member who’s constantly scrolling through her phone, waiting anxiously for an email. Whatever it is, it can’t be so important that it can’t wait for that designated work time. Turn off notifications on your phone and go off the grid for a bit. All that constant refreshing is just making you stressed out.

6. Stop comparing yourself, while you’re at it!

Yeah, you could have gotten your MBA at Harvard like cousin Walter and been a high-powered financial consultant on Wall Street… snooze. Put toxic comparisons on hold for the holidays. There’s no point fretting about how you stack up against your relatives or friends. Don’t let petty comments get to you: you’re great the way you are.

7. Rest and recharge.

Be sure to get some time each night to wind down the day, rest, and recharge. A few extra hours of good sleep is the difference between an unbearable day and a pleasant one. Though the holidays are all about festivity, high spirits, and lots and lots of people, make sure you get some quiet time to reflect and restore.

8. Practice self-care.

Family is important, but so are you! If something is making you uncomfortable, or if someone says something that makes you upset, take a moment to take care of yourself. Holidays hold the triple threat of food, family, and money -- all of which can be sore subjects. Self care can manifest in a number of different ways. It might be gracefully bowing out of game night with the kiddies, or perhaps a glass of red wine before the big dinner with the in-laws.

Remember, when you get down to it, the holidays aren’t about status or money or gifts. They’re about spending time with people you care about, and one of those people is -- surprise -- you! So take a deep breath, follow these tips, and get set for the holiday season.

Larissa Pham is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She has been known to quietly disappear during family get-togethers, but sometimes she just falls asleep on the couch.