Stress Control 101: A Budget-Friendly Holiday Season

December 9, 2011

In recent weeks, I have noticed the numbers in the bank account drop significantly. The familiar feeling of “being broke” has crept back into my life and upset my Christmas merriment. Just yesterday, the husband and I discussed ways of reducing our debt and spending.

Money, and therefore money issues, is perhaps the largest contributing factor to modern-day stress. We work from dawn until dusk and sleep even less. The American Dream pushes us onward: attain what we want, whatever we want heedless of the cost.

Pannetone, Italian-style fruitcake. Wikipedia.

However, I am going to suggest that whatever we want may not be the best thing for us. Working has hard as Americans (you can broaden this to Westerners if you’d like) do places us in a bad predicament. Not only do our bodies not handle the imbalanced release of chemicals in our brains–due to quick-fix or fast-food meals, and sedentary lifestyle habits–our brains have difficult coping with the rush of information bombarding it.

I believe this is because we feel crappy. Around the holidays, the tension mounts. We get sick but still press on with our regular work schedule instead of taking a day or two off. We have a To-Do List a mile long. We enjoy, and consume in excess, all the wonderful foods the harvest brings us which, once full, makes us (me, anyway) feel like a stuffed turkey. Then there is the shopping. We shop till we drop, fighting crowds in the quest for the best bargain on Great Aunt Sue’s new pair of woolen socks.

With the financial community in crisis and the job market struggling, a lot of people are out of work. Stress levels have gone through the roof. Parents lay awake at night and wonder how they’re going to buy all their kids’ wishlist items, let alone pay their mortgage.

Yes, Christmas is the season of giving but perhaps we are giving the wrong things. It is always nice to watch others open the gifts you spent days scouring the city for; their joy brings contentment, fulfillment. Yet, in a time of economic shortcomings, perhaps we ought to consider the gifts of the hands and the heart. Most of us don’t remember the gift we got at our fifth Christmas. We recall grandpa snoozing in the corner, mouth open to catch any flies that had escaped the winter freeze. We don’t always recall who gave us the collector Barbie doll, or when. We remember how tasty the deviled eggs were, who came together, and the funny antics of our younger siblings between dinner and dessert.

Christmas wreath. Wikipedia.

In my family, I know that the best gifts are gifts that are hand-prepared. Every year, my grandmother wants my mom’s fruitcake. This year, I have come across recipes that I can make as treats and gifts. We don’t have a ton of money to spend on material things. Instead, the husband and my gift to the family is our presence.

Perhaps, then, consider your presence worthwhile, not because you bring packages but because you offer love. Most of our Christmas desires change from year-to-year, particularly children’s wishes. We grow and change as people. What does not change is the fact that we exist.

Instead of stressing out over lack of funds, be creative. Make your gifts–jam, cookies, sweetbreads, wreathes, the list goes on. Some of my favorite gifts are crocheted blankets. Don’t fret over time constraints. There are a million websites out there with easy, do-it-yourself instructions. (Martha Stewart Living anyone?) Trust your instincts. You truly know your friends and family best. Some of them may even have real needs for the things you undertake.

Remember: these are the holidays, times for coming together. The best gift you can possibly give is yourself. If, like me, all you have to offer is a travel-worn smile when you arrive, there will be joyful smiles and warm hugs waiting for you on the other side of that door.

 

If you have budget-friendly suggestions on how to lessen stress while enjoying the holidays, feel free to post suggestions! 

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