“Holiday stress is not something you get, it’s something you create.” I wrote this little gem on Facebook eight years ago. Unlike other things I sometimes read from years ago, this time I actually agree with my younger self — wholeheartedly.

I believe that, along with the incredible challenges we have faced over the last year and a half, we have also been provided with some clarity; clarity in what matters and what we should prioritize. After years and years of holiday stress rinse and repeat, we had an opportunity to streamline and to simplify. I know, for me, I’m not ready to go back to the way things were. How about you?

Today marks the first episode in our series The Grown-Ass Woman’s Guide to Thriving Through the Holidays. Therapist Melody Murray is back with her brilliant take on how we all can find peace, self love and sanity through this holiday season.

So let’s dive into that holiday chaos, shall we? We know we don’t want to go back to it, right? But before we can make a commitment to skip the stress this year, we first need to know why we insist on creating it. “I think it’s the pressure that’s put on us to be all things, to do all things; and then we just run with it, unfortunately,” Melody told me on the latest episode of The Grown-Ass Woman’s Guide.  “A lot of it is self-inflicted, some of it is just competition between women — all of that shit needs to go.”

But she says it only takes one voice to start a chain of change. “Like with all things, I think whenever someone stands up and has a different opinion, and then other people say, ‘I believe that too, I think that way too,’ it gives permission for everyone else to do something differently. So that’s what I really wish would happen more, where people will be really vocal about what they’re doing that’s against the grain.”

What if you and I right now, in this moment, decided not only are we not going to doing the things that just don’t work for us, but we’re going to share that with others? I’m in if you are. But if you’re not quite there, that’s okay. You’re not alone.

I recently asked the Grown-Ass Women over 40 community What is in the way of you enjoying the holidays feeling your most confident, grown-ass self?

I feel like I get super stressed around the holidays. And Christmas was my mom’s favorite holiday, so since she passed, it is more of a sad day for me than a happy one (which I feel guilty about.) ALSO, I feel like I get gifts for everyone in the family but I’m often overlooked. So … there’s a lot I’m grappling with! — Julie

I asked Melody what kind of advice she’d give Julie. “The holidays come with so many expectations and so many memories attached to them that sometimes we take on the pressure of trying to recreate things from the past,” Melody shared. “And that is impossible. Julie, do exactly what you want to do. Know that even though this was your mom’s favorite holiday, you can decide that this holiday means, whatever you want it to be. You can create new memories associated with this holiday so you can bring the joy back, because I doubt your mom would want you to be sad during the holidays. She would want you to enjoy it.”

Melody also shared her thoughts on guilt. “Guilt is wasted energy. Guilt buys you nothing. So I say redefine the holiday, redefine what it means to you.”

And when it comes to gift giving?

I feel that Christmas is for children; and so you could make a stand and say, ‘I’m only going to buy things for 17 and below,’ you can make that stand and everyone will understand; because if you are an adult, you should be able to buy whatever it is that you want. There are so many dumb gifts that people buy, things that you just don’t need, because you feel like you need to give someone something. But that doesn’t help anybody. You’re helping to keep clutter going and then you’re spinning your wheels, spending your money on something the other person can most likely live without. So maybe make that stand.

And as far as being the last on everyone else’s list, Melody can relate. “I’ve been down that road before, giving gifts to people and going, ‘wait a minute. what about me?’ I have a brother who I absolutely love, but he’s very self-centered and he doesn’t recognize anything that’s happening in anyone else’s life, but his own. When you know that you’re being overlooked by people, pay attention to that. Don’t buy that person a gift again. Sometimes you can’t lead by example. Sometimes people just don’t give a shit and you’ve got to pay attention to that so you’re not constantly frustrated.

Then there’s Kathie.

I want to reinvent my Christmas traditions completely but I can’t figure out what that could look like. I think I’d be happy to forego all gift giving, greatly simplify the decorating, and postpone gatherings till after the holidays – why add to already burdened schedules? With split and blended families, my two adult kids each have 4 families they make the rounds to. And my BFs kids have 3. I just feel like I’ve lost connection with the holiday.

Melody believes Kathie is onto something. “I think that kernel of an idea, absolutely run with it. There’s something inside of you that’s telling you to just pare it all down and simplify everything. Trust yourself. Remember, it doesn’t have to be any particular way other than the way that you want it to be. And it’s going to evolve year after year. You can take yourself off of somebody’s schedule to release yourself from any stress, and release them from any stress. Just pick another day to get together.

While the advice is for Kathie, I think we all need to hear this one from Melody. “You get to decide what this time means. You get to decide if it’s a frustrating, stressful time, or if it’s relaxing and just hugs and watching movies and matching pajamas. You get to decide.”

Up next… Melanie.

All the self induced pressure: bake the cookies, send the cards, do all the shopping, all the wrapping. The meal planning, shopping, prep, cleanup; should we use the fancy china or paper plates and does anyone even care? What should I wear? And are shoes required? And so much more. Oh my God, I’m overwhelmed just typing this. I wish we could go away for the holidays. Skip the tree and the gifts. Just eat good food and enjoy each other LOW KEY. I’m know this mess is NOT the true meaning of Christmas.

“Trust yourself, go away, go out of town and have that great meal and wear flip flops and do exactly what is in your heart to do,” Melanie advises. “When it comes to the list of all these things that we put upon ourselves to prepare, you’ve got to ditch the list. Because a great way to think about it is no one knows what they’re not getting.”

Wait a minute. Let’s sit with that one a minute. No one knows what they’re not getting. 

“So you put all that pressure on yourself to create this experience, but you’re driving yourself crazy. They may not even notice this gesture that you make; and if it’s not there, they’re not gonna miss it. Strike a whole bunch of things off your list.”

Whenever there’s that feeling of overwhelm and anxiety, Melody suggests writing down everything that is swirling in your head. Just get it all down. And then we’re going to file each of those tasks into four segments.

Melody’s 4Ds

  1. DO  Do all the self care things, the massages and the walks and the gym and the wine with your girlfriends, all that beautiful, amazing, relaxing stuff. Also do the things that you have a hardcore deadline on. So if you’ve got a deadline for something within 48 hours, do those things.
  2. DELEGATE Who else can do what you feel you have to do? Who else can host that party? Who else can do this pickup, who else can run these errands? Figure out who else can do this thing that you feel that you have to do. DELEGATE.
  3. DELAY Whenever we’ve got these to-do lists, we have a tendency to make them more timely than they are. Our brain will register it as if it is all imminent. We have to do it all right here, right now. Look at your list and see what can be done next week, next month, or next year. Delay, delay, delay, delay.
  4. DUMP What don’t you have to do? I don’t want to buy these people gifts. I don’t feel like dressing up. Dump stuff, dump events, dump people, dump some responsibilities, dump it. It’s not feeding you, and if you know it’s not going to bring you a chuckle or a wonderful feeling, dump it. We are still in a pandemic, milk that to your advantage. 

I believe we’ve got the opportunity to do things differently. I think we discovered last year specifically that some of the things that we doing no longer worked for us, even though they may have at one point, and so to go back to those now that’s crazy. Continuing the behavior is one thing, but going back to it is another thing. Melody agrees.

“When we have that irritation, the aggravation, the frustration; when you notice there’s something you’re supposed to do and you feel like crap about it, pay attention to yourself. Your body is telling you something. It’s your job to listen.”

And if your family doesn’t like it? Tell ’em Melody said so.