Holiday Sanity Savers

by Ann Douglas

Feeling stressed just thinking about all the things that you need to accomplish over the next few weeks? You're certainly in good company. The holidays are a major source of stress for many people -- and for good reason, too. There's so much to do during the holiday season: there are cookie to bake, presents to wrap, and cards to pop in the mail. Add to that all the holiday social obligations -- office parties, school concerts, neighborhood skating parties, and dinners with family members and friends-and you've got the perfect recipe for frazzled nerves!

While there's no easy way to eliminate all the stress of the holiday season, there's plenty you can do to make the holidays a lot saner. Here are a few tips.

Shopping stressbusters

  • Shop online whenever possible. A growing number of retailers are setting up shop in cyberspace. Visit a Canadian search engine such as or and you'll be surprised and delighted by the variety of goods that you can purchase without ever leaving your home. One of my favorites sites is Mastermind (an online toy store that features a smorgasbord of top-quality toys).

  • Catalogue shopping is another option if you don't want to spend hours fighting the crowds in the toy stores. The Grand River Toy Company (1-800-567-5600) publishes an annual catalogue that's filled with unique gift ideas for children of all ages.

  • Buy the same gift for as many people as possible on your list. If you find a gift book that would be perfect for all of your favourite women friends, pick up a half-dozen copies. (Hey, there's no rule that says that each and every gift you give has to be unique!)

  • Use your shopping time efficiently. Carry a business-card sized list of gift ideas in your wallet as well as a list of gifts you've already purchased. There's no point wasting time and money buying twice as many gifts as you need.

Holiday shortcuts

  • Don't play Martha Stewart unless you want to. If you don't have time to do a lot of holiday baking, buy "homemade" cookies from the local bakery.

  • If the holidays wouldn't be the holidays without the smell of fresh-baked cookies, look for ways to reduce the amount of time that you spend in the kitchen. Rather than making twelve different types of cookies, make twelve dozen of the same type. Then organize a cookie swap with a group of neighbors or friends from work.

  • Focus on the holiday traditions that matter most to your family (like decorating the tree together) and pass on the ones that don't (like making a gingerbread house and then listening to the kids cry as the walls collapse!)

Seasonal stressbusters

  • Keep your child's age and temperament in mind when you're planning your holiday schedule. An easy-going baby who sleeps all the time may not be affected in the least by a late night out at a party, but a two-year-old who is used to going to bed at 7:00 p.m. may be thrown complete off track if she's up past her bedtime. If you know that your child isn't up to any late-night socializing, either leave her at home with a babysitter or stay at home with her yourself and send your regrets.

  • Don't schedule too many special events in a row. If you hit the Santa Claus parade in the morning and the company children's party in the afternoon, your child will be too exhausted and cranky to have fun. It's better to miss out on a few holiday events than to end up with an exhausted child on your hands. Remember, it's quality -- not quantity -- that counts.

  • Try to ensure that your child has the opportunity for some quiet time despite all the holiday chaos. If you know you're in for a busy afternoon or evening, spend some time reading stories to her or watching a video with her in the morning. Similarly, if you've had a busy day, spend some quiet time together in the evening so that you can help her to unwind.

  • Remember that children need to be active. A toddler who is confined to the car for a three hour drive to Grandma's house can't be expected to walk in the door and sit quietly at the dinner table for the next hour. Either break up the car trip with a stopover at a park or arrive early enough at Grandma's to go for a walk around the block before it's time to sit down for dinner.

  • Keep an eye out for signs that your child is experiencing holiday burnout. If your child seems to be unusually tired, cranky, teary, or boisterous, it could be because she's overtired.

  • When the holidays are over, gradually ease your child back into her normal routines. Your child may be hit with a bad case of post-holiday letdown syndrome if the fun comes to a grinding halt all at once!

  • Keep your own holiday schedule under control, too. You won't have the patience required to cope with the stress of the holidays and the demands of a young child if you allow yourself to become exhausted. (Hint: If you don't take care of your own needs, the halls won't be the only thing you feel like decking!) Bottom line? Don't be afraid to drastically limit your holiday commitments while your children are young: there will be plenty of time to hit the party circuit when they get a little older.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site,

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to republish granted to