The economic struggles and crisis in confidence have lasted far too long. And the hardships are particularly evident during the holiday season. If you're feeling stretched by the financial pressure and facing tough buying decisions, the responsibilities of the holidays may even be getting you down. These are challenging times.
This year, why not let go of the idea of a perfect Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanzaa?
Even though it's important to honor the tradition of giving, the accumulation of material things can't hold a candle to the gift that matters most. Bringing cheer to others is a great way to cheer you up as well. And you can do it without breaking the bank. Try not to add more pressure to your life - follow these practical tips to keep stress in check as you focus on more joy and less stuff:
Give the gift of connection. Put more heart in your relationships. Arrange a regular weekly date with your parents. Invite them to lunch, a museum or the movies. Send a card to an old friend with whom you've lost contact. Enclose a recent family photo, your email address and a promise to keep in touch. Drive an elderly neighbor to the grocery store, a doctor's appointment or the library.
Give to a worthy cause. Get the family or a group of friends together and spend a few hours helping out at a homeless shelter. Pass forward gifts you've never used or some hardly used toys and clothes. Buy a small gift for a homeless person you pass by regularly and make eye contact when you give it. Put a big smile on your face and help cook Christmas dinner at a soup kitchen. Make a donation to Aunt Mary's favorite charity; every gift counts no matter how much you spend.
Give of yourself. Enjoy time with your friends by inviting them over for an evening of fun. Organize a potluck and have them bring their signature dish. Cut down on expenses by exchanging memories instead of presents. Or express yourself and create some of your holiday gift items. Make a coupon book filled with orders for good deeds. Add a personal touch by baking and decorating cookies with the kids. Show others you care with an IOU to babysit so they can have a much needed night out.
Give to yourself. Take some down time over the holidays and get comfortable with you. For a couple of hours each day, try not to focus on your problems. Curl up with a great book from the library, watch the ballgame with your teens or take your grandkids to the park. Enjoy peace of mind by paying down your debts. Hold back from buying lots of gifts or taking the family on an expensive outing. Decide together how to spend a fun and relaxing day. Your family will understand and grow from the experience.
The holidays don't always have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting.
You create more stress if you stick only to old routines and traditions. As you lay the groundwork for change in your gift giving rituals, you'll see it doesn't have to cost anything but time. And when money is tight and life is challenging, it's really connection and support that mean the most. Take heart as you give a little that feels like a lot. And in these hard times, that's a good lesson for all of us.