How to enjoy Christmas and avoid burn out

With most of the Christkindlmarkts already open in Vienna, it's time to start thinking about Christmas, if you haven't already. Marriage and Family Therapist Helen Rudinsky has advice on how to survive the festive season.

How to enjoy Christmas and avoid burn out
Photo: Manfred Werner/Wikimedia

Even though not everyone celebrates Christmas, the coming weeks here in Austria will be dominated by it. So if you live here, it's good to remember that you can make choices that reflect your values and desires so this holiday season is a very special time for you.

Especially as expats, being away from our home country, family and friends, we need to be proactive to make the holiday season meaningful for us.

Christmas can be a wonderful time, but sadly for many it is a time of stress and disappointment. Here are some pointers to help you live your life during the holiday season with a sense of calmness and joy.

If you follow these guidelines you will be better able to avoid the clutter, excess and burn out common during the holiday season.

Most people want and need Christmas to be simpler, easier and less expensive.  Usually Christmas is more satisfying if each event, gift and person can be enjoyed and appreciated in a meaningful way.

Why not spend a few minutes thinking about what is important to you? What are your feelings, desires and values and how do you want to plan this holiday season? Talk with family members, friends and others close to you about what you and they want from this holiday season.

No matter how busy things get, you can make a commitment to become aware of what fills you with joy and what saps your energy.

Your goal should be to make Christmas meaningful, fun and enjoyable, and eliminate activities that you, your family and friends don't like. If you spend a few minutes with your loved ones discussing your priorities, there should be no room for things you find too commercialized, irritating or empty.

Here are some questions to ask each other:

  • What are the things you like about Christmas?
  • Are you comfortable with the amount of money you usually spend?
  • Are you happy with the place of the gifts in your celebration?
  • Are you happy with the amount of socializing that takes place?
  • How do you want to celebrate the religious meaning of Christmas?
  • What things add meaning and depth?
  • What things are superfluous and irritating?
  • What has worked well for you, your partner, friends, and family members?
  • What has been a source of conflict between you, your partner, friends, and family members?
  • If you could pick three favourite activities – excluding opening presents and eating – what would they be?
  • What are activities you have done in the past that you don't want to do any more?
  • What are activities your friends or other families do that you want to start doing?
  • Do you like the way all the various Christmas activities are paced?

What you learn can help make this season more fun and satisfying for everyone close to you. Planning ahead can help you create a more relaxed and joyous season.

You may have to stand against the tide and say no to certain activities and people, but this year you can have a Christmas that is calm, joyous and meaningful.

Helen Rudinsky is a Marriage and Family Therapist serving couples, individuals and children in Vienna's expat community.



Why Christmas should mean more than gifts

Most people want Christmas to be more than gift opening. They want it to be a time to express the values that are most important to them. Marriage and Family Therapist Helen Rudinsky has advice on how to celebrate the holiday with family and friends in meaningful ways.

Why Christmas should mean more than gifts
Photo: Jennifer C./Flickr

Unfortunately, many of us have been taught by our consumer-oriented culture to think of Christmas as a time to give and get presents. Presents are the easy way out. But what do people really want and need at this time of the year?

Most people: Your friends, family members, and especially children need a relaxed and loving time with each other. Ironically, this is exactly what many people miss out on during this time.

Ask any child whether he would rather have exhausted, irritable parents and grandparents or ones who are responsive, happy, well rested and available to spend quality time with them, and you will see what I mean.

Reduce spending

Many of us need to simplify our lives during the holiday season. This may mean not baking six types of Christmas cookies this year, or not attending all three Christmas concerts.

Ask yourself does this activity add something of value to your enjoyment of the season or is it just using up time, energy and money with no positive return?

Other questions to ask are: What do I really get out of this activity? Does it teach me something? Does this activity resonate with my values or is it just a distraction?

A significant way to simplify the holidays is to cut back on spending and gift buying. Children and others need realistic expectations about gifts. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles need to have an idea of what is enough – and firmly let the children on their list know that ahead of time.

If a child is voicing a desire for something you cannot afford or you do not approve of, let him/her know not to expect it and why.  Many families set price limits on gifts, or give gifts only to smaller children.

For extended families, sometimes a gift for the whole family is more manageable than gifts for every cousin, aunt and uncle. If you don't have a gift giving budget and strategy already, now is a good time to put one together.

Try to focus on the pleasure of giving by talking with family members about ways you can give to others. Maybe preparing a plate of cookies for the man who begs in front of Hofer would be a fun activity. Or cleaning out the closet and bringing toys to refugees might be meaningful for your family.

It is important to have an evenly paced holiday season. Try to avoid a big build up to opening presents. If there is too much emphasis on presents, it can lead to serious over stimulation followed by a sense of let down and depression.

If Christmas is nothing more than a frantic build up to present-opening, people end up asking: Is that all there is?  

For expats especially, it is important to establish strong family holiday traditions. Even if we spend Christmas in a different country every few years, our holiday traditions can provide us with a sense of continuity and togetherness.

Think about activities that inspire joy, express important values, bring people together and deepen your faith and spirituality. These are most likely meaningful traditions that you will want to keep from year to year.

Maybe writing a holiday newsletter together, making an “I am thankful” advent calendar, buying or making a new Christmas tree ornament each year, sponsoring a family in need, are Christmas traditions you might find enjoyable.

Counteract the commercialization of Christmas by planning a celebration that each of your family members and friends can participate in. Have a Christmas that is interactive and expresses what is important to you with those in your circle.  

You will have more fun, be more relaxed, save money and will spare yourself and others close to you the emptiness of overconsumption.

Helen Rudinsky is a Marriage and Family Therapist serving couples, individuals and children in Vienna's expat community.