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Surviving The Worst-Case Scenario: Holiday Edition

How planning for the worst could make this your best holiday season ever.

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Christmas Stress

Now that we're in the midst of the holiday season, you're probably somewhere between "a little anxious" and "ready to lose my mind!" on the stress scale. Let's take a moment and ask where this stress comes from. How much of it arises from what’s on your endless to-do list? And how much of it is due to the pressure you put on yourself to check off every single item?

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Each year we have a mental checklist of the things that we must do. We trudge onward, no matter how stressed we feel, ensuring that each item gets done. But what if you can't buy all the presents you want to buy? What if only some of the Christmas lights are hung on the house?  What if you can't make those homemade pies? Will the holiday season suddenly lose all meaning? What would actually happen if one of these responsibilities slips through the cracks?

Often the fear of falling short is worse than what would happen if you actually did. It may be beneficial to think more positively and believe that you will accomplish everything on your to-do list. However, I suggest that it might be best to imagine a worst-case scenario and explore how it would actually feel  if this frightful thing occurred.

Answer the following questions to discover whether you’re stressing yourself out unnecessarily. (I’ve included sample answers to help guide your responses.)

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1. Describe a worst-case scenario that is causing you stress this holiday season.
Every year I bake three homemade pies for my family holiday celebration. This year I just don't have the time to do this and I'll need to buy pies at the store. We'll still have pies but they won't be made from my own recipes.

2. How does it feel? What are the consequences of this scenario?
I feel upset with myself. My family will wonder why we don't have the usual homemade pies. My kids might be disappointed. The pies won't taste as good.

3. What are your true top priorities for the holiday? Will this scenario jeopardize these priorities?
My top priorities are spending quality time with my family and making sure that everyone gets along. Although I'd prefer to bake my pies and everyone would enjoy them, it probably won't drastically affect the time we spend together as a family.

4. Imagine looking back on this scenario many years from now. Will this be a major negative experience that you or your family will remember?
Probably not, especially if I make sure that I bake the pies next year.

By answering these questions and forcing yourself to carefully consider your worst-case holiday scenarios, you can determine whether you are stressed about something that will dramatically affect your holiday season or whether your concern is relatively unimportant. At first, all of the items on your to-do list will seem equally essential. However, you may discover that some deserve your time and attention while others will have no notable impact on the quality of your holiday season.

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It's tempting to take on a huge list of holiday responsibilities each year. Unfortunately, we tend to assume that our holiday will be ruined if just one of these responsibilities goes unfulfilled. Take a clear, rational look at your responsibilities and determine how much each one really matters. Most of the time, you'll find that letting them go won't affect the quality of the time you enjoy with your family or compromise any other top holiday priorities. Take the plunge and picture the worst-case scenario; you'll often be pleasantly surprised at what you see.

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