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The holidays are joyful, colorful, flavorful… and sometimes, very, very stressful. As much as we moms love creating big beautiful memories for our families, sometimes the pressure of all the big things can make for a stress-filled season for us.

Every year, I tell myself things will be different — that I’ll relax and actually enjoy the magic I work so hard to create. But every year, whether it’s a difficult family situation, a schedule that’s just too full, or kids being overloaded on sugar and melting down, somehow I always find myself stressed and overwhelmed when December rolls around. If you, like me, do not actually want to be a grumpy elf, here are five tools I’ve found helpful to ease stress and regain perspective.

Practice generosity

Pay it forward in whatever small, unexpected ways you can. Leave sugar cookies for the mailman, send a coworker a Starbucks gift card, compliment someone who drives you crazy, buy warm wool socks for the unhoused man who sits by your T stop, babysit for your friend’s kids so she can have a date night. Anytime I’m stressed, focusing on bringing joy to someone else always brings me a little bit more joy and perspective.

Practice gratitude

As you’re gritting your teeth, getting through the crazy logistics of whatever you have going on, sputter out a list of things you’re grateful for. Do it on paper, or do it out loud, or do it with your kids — but pick a large number, and see if you can list that many things that you’re thankful for. It might not change your present circumstances, but it will refocus you on something other than what’s hard or stressful.

Take a time out

Not everything has to be big and beautiful and extravagant. Our kids don’t need that either. So put aside the holiday mom guilt. Set an “ordinary” day and let yourself off the hook from being in holiday mode. Schedule a spa visit or a pedicure or even just an “appointment” with one of your besties to walk around the park. Schedule in time that is unrushed and not full, even if on just one day, and protect it like it was an actual appointment or commitment.

Write it out

During the holidays, it is easy to feel like everything is urgent. Like everything is big and festive and important. But that’s just not true. When you feel stressed and overwhelmed, write out what you need to do. Next to each item, note, “Is this something I have to do?” and “Is this something I have to do?” Take five minutes each day to make a plan. Rank your list, from most impactful and important to “nice but non-essential.” Give yourself permission to drop some non-essentials.

Eat your frog

The phrase from Mark Twain (made famous by Brian Tracy in his book by the same name) simply means to identify your one most important task of the day, and do that first. Starting with the most important leads to feeling productive, even if you don’t clear your entire to-do list. It also gives you the freedom to drop things if you run out of time — because you’ve already taken care of the essentials.

Whatever your holiday season looks like, remember this: You are magical. You are worthy of rest and well-being. You do not have to do everything alone. And you, too, get to have joy!

Kristen D
Kristen is Southern by birth but has called Boston home since 2008. Unlike most Boston natives, she still really loves the snow and cold. She and her husband have two energetic and kind sons (2013, 2014) and a sassy baby girl (2016). Kristen jokes that she has a Master's degree in laundry and a PhD in conflict resolution — which she uses far more than her actual physics and politics degrees. After seven years as a stay-at-home mom, Kristen went back to work full-time in 2021, and has found that incredibly life-giving while also an additional "juggle." In her "spare" time, she runs her own business (Murph&Moose), serves on multiple school committees, and runs half marathons. Her passion is seeing moms feel comfortable in their own skin and less alone in the chaos that is motherhood. Loves: gardening, languages, coffee, running, time with her girlfriends, and the rare moments of silence when all three children are (finally) in bed. Dislikes: daylight saving time, non-washable markers, and noisy neighbors who disrupt her rare moments of silence.