Magazines and TV specials paint a certain picture of the holidays: We hustle and bustle up until Christmas, but then we get to spend time relaxing with friends and family.
It sounds nice, but for many of us, “relaxing” and “family” don’t go together. Parents of young children, for instance, don’t get a break from constant vigilance. Up late visiting with guests? Great—but the kids will still wake up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. A roaring fire in the fireplace is no longer a nice backdrop to reading a good book. It’s a hazard for a toddler who has no sense and is drawn like a moth to the flames.
Even if you don’t have young children, you might spend the holidays helping to take care of other relatives. Or you might be faced with personality clashes, and a revival of toxic sibling dynamics. Or maybe you’re just an introvert and dealing with a houseful of people day after day feels draining.
In any case, “relaxing” might not be the right word for the holidays. That’s just life—but there are still ways to keep your sanity, and make time for your own pursuits. From my years of researching women's time diaries, I've gathered some insights on how the busiest women keep it together, especially at the holidays!
01. Get the rhythm right.
Having a rough schedule for the day lets everyone know what’s expected of them, and can help you build in downtime. When my family has had lots of young kids visiting, for instance, we plan an activity—science museum, children’s museum, aquarium, etc.—every morning. Everyone knows to get up and get ready for this. People come home at lunch, eat, and then there’s nap time for the littlest ones, and screen time for the bigger kids. Adults are free to nap, read, and generally do their own thing until nap time ends. Then it’s time for another low-key excursion: a walk, a trip to the park if it’s not too cold, even an errand. Come home to make dinner, and then the day is over. Knowing you’ll get an hour to read in the afternoon can make the rest of the day far more doable. Of course, mid-day isn’t the only option for solo time. You can also…
02. Use your mornings.
With lots of people around, it can be hard to slip off to the gym mid-day. But you can keep on track with your exercise goals by getting them done first thing. Go for a run before everyone gets up. If you’ve got little kids who wake at the crack of dawn, offer to take the early shift (say, 6–7 a.m.) with the understanding that your partner then covers the next hour. Or hand the kids off to other relatives during this time. You can say it’s their present to you. You don’t need another sweater!
03. Don’t make it all or nothing.
Maybe some members of your family like to stay up late talking. Maybe you really don’t want to stay up late talking. You can put in an appearance for some amount of time—maybe an hour?—and then slip off. This is more complicated if you’re hosting, but you can potentially trade off late nights with your spouse, or even designate another relative as the “closer” for an evening (turning off lights, etc.)
04. Use bits of time.
Sometimes getting solo time is about being prepared to seize it. Load the Kindle app, and a good e-book, on your phone. When your toddler becomes engrossed in a 22-minute episode of Dora the Explorer, or your relatives start playing a card game that doesn’t involve you, you can whip out the phone and read. Or sneak into the next room to call a friend and see how she’s faring with the holidays.
05. Build in a break.
Amanda Stochl, who works in education, tells me that “because I have two weeks off, I will plan to go in to work one day to get focused time on a few projects, making my return a little less busy.” If you’re on vacation with your kids, you might hire a sitter one night; ski resorts and beach resorts sometimes have kids clubs you can use for a few hours. If you need to get away from a house full of people, offer to run an errand. No one says you have to race to get home with the milk—or even that you have to go to the closest store! And while wandering around the supermarket not be most people’s idea of a vacation, sometimes we have to take our relaxation where we can find it.
You don't have to let burnout and busyness get the better of you this time of year—or ever. The trick is found in keeping a schedule and building in time for the things you know you want and need no matter what. A little pre-planning makes this special time that much easier to enjoy!