How to Enjoy Christmas When You’re Overwhelmed

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These practical tips will teach you how to enjoy Christmas when you’re overwhelmed and do MORE than survive. Yes, you CAN be content despite the stress!

how to enjoy Christmas even when you're overwhelmed

Right now I’m guessing if you’re reading this post one of these three things applies to you. Maybe even all three.

You’re broke.

You’re heartbroken.

You’re overwhelmed.

See if you can relate to these thoughts.

You promised yourself you wouldn’t do it this year.

You know what I’m talking about. Scroll through Pinterest and Instagram.

The perfect homes with beautiful Christmas decorations styled in ways that make even Better Homes and Gardens jealous.

Christmas home tour with red and aqua accents in the drop zone

But you did it anyway, in those two free minutes you had while waiting to pick up the kids at school. Or maybe while you were taking your elderly parents to yet another drs. appointment.

It’s supposed to be the merriest time of the year and yet there’s barely enough money to pay the bills much less strive for unobtainable perfection.

And somehow you wonder why you just can’t muster up that happy feeling this year. Someone you loved broke your heart or maybe the most important person in your life is gone and you can’t face the thought of Christmas without them. 

Every holiday song makes you cry and you hide in the bathroom at work so no one sees you weep in silence.

Maybe your busy to do list has you running from every volunteer coordinator at school and church because the responsibility of bringing one more potluck dish or festive cookie or cupcake and you.will.lose.your.mind.

There are presents to buy and wrap and family meals to be prepare (and all the stress of dysfunctional relationships to dread and avoid if at all possible!)

A living room filled with furniture and a fireplace


Or run away and hide.

How did you get to this place?

Let me reassure you you’re not alone.

For many years this seemed to be the story of my life.

In the middle of raising my adopted kids with attachment disorder and early trauma, Christmas was most often a time of acting out and great drama.

For what should be the happiest time of the year triggered my kids feelings of worthlessness and shame. The only way they knew how to deal with those “big feelings” was to take it out on the ones who loved them the most.

A close up of a flower

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To be brutally honest, one year our oldest adopted daughter (who was living in a residential treatment facility at the time) made false accusations against us. We were being investigated by social services and law enforcement during that particular joyous holiday season. (We were cleared but unfortunately our relationship with our daughter deteriorated from there.)

During that same time, my dad had back surgery and went into rehab. My mom was taken to the hospital where we discovered she had congestive heart failure. She then moved next door to dad at the same rehab facility.

My brother and I had just a few short days to find them a nursing home because they never went back to live in their own home.

Stress. Anxiety. Grief.

It was not the jolliest of Christmases. 

white washed wooden letters with noel on them and greenery and berries

I was overwhelmed as I tried to hold it together homeschooling my four children at home while running back and forth trying to meet the needs of my elderly parents.

Gumby was my middle name and stretched thin was an understatement. 

That was the year I discovered a secret I want to share with you. Christmas doesn’t have to look the same every year.

I gave myself the freedom to leave tubs of Christmas decor untouched, and simplicity and traditions became keywords in my vocabulary.

rustic ornaments in metal basket with greenery

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Then there was the Christmas two years ago when we decided to take down a wall between our living room and kitchen and totally gut the room TWO WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS instead of waiting until after the holiday.

This wouldn’t be so terrible except for the fact my marriage was falling apart and the stress and tension between my husband and I made life unbearable. He was in between jobs and was home all.the.time. 

I cried a lot and prayed even more. We survived and God is still working a restoration story in our marriage. Yet even through all that chaos there were still traditions we clung to and memories we made. 

Sometimes I think we have to let go of our dreams and accept reality in order to be present right where we are for the people we love.

Since I’m guessing you might be a recovering perfectionist/people pleaser/over achiever like me I have some tips I think will help you survive Christmas and maybe even embrace real and lasting change.

(And because I march to the beat of my own drummer, these pictures are this year’s Christmas home tour. Gotta do things my own way!)

How to Enjoy Christmas When You’re Overwhelmed 

Tip 1. Why are you doing what you’re doing?

This may sound like a vague question, but I want you to really think about it. 

Why are you decorating every corner of your house when you only have enough money for a tree and a simple mantel?

A view of a living room

Chalkboard banner from wood slices

Are you filling your life with things and activities or worse yet, isolating yourself from those you love because of the grief in your heart?

Why are you volunteering for when IT’S OKAY TO SAY NO during difficult seasons.

Christmas is indeed supposed to be a time of joy but only YOU can decide when enough is enough.

It’s enough to decorate simply so you don’t break your budget.

It’s okay to set aside moments to grieve and moments to celebrate and remember those you’ve loved and lost.

Saying no can be one of the most freeing things you’ll ever do.

Tip 2. Which traditions should you keep and which ones should you let go?

The Walden family is BIG on traditions. So big that each spouse-to-be that marries into the family has to agree that Thanksgiving is a non-negotiable holiday. 

Christmas tree with red and aqua accents

There are so many traditions on that day that it would require another post but our blessing jar gives you an idea.

As our kids grew up one of the annual birthday traditions was two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts waiting for the birthday boy or girl. Of course, they didn’t get to eat all of them but they got their special one and the rest of us were happy to help them celebrate!

The Krispy Kreme donut tradition has gone by the wayside now that we only have one kid left at home, and mom and dad do NOT need donuts in the house! It was sweet while it lasted but times change.

We also now have two grandsons, and I love watching our daughter and son-in-law create new traditions for their own sweet family. 

Traditions are there to serve you, not bind and imprison you. If your family needs to talk about some of yours, be brave enough to get the conversation started and listen to the hearts of those you love.

rustic ornaments on wooden tray with natural elements

Tip 3. Let go of perfection

So many of us are plugged into social media and bombarded by messages of perfect homes and families.

rustic Christmas home with red and aqua accents in the living room

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It ain’t real, folks.

You get to choose who you follow and what feeds your soul. Use that unfollow or mute button if the pictures and posts filling your feed make you feel less than. 

Or better yet, take a social media break! You might be surprised just how addicted you are. Trust me. It’s not just our kids. 

(On a side note, the Moment app is a great way to monitor your family’s device usage and help you see which apps you’re using most. Unfortunately, it’s only available for iPhone right now.)

Or maybe for you, it’s letting go of the idea that families should get along for JUST THIS ONE DAY.

Sometimes realizing no family is perfect and embracing imperfections actually gives each of us freedom to be our quirky, God-given selves.

red and blue ornaments on stand with greenery

The latest mantra that I’m working on in my relationships is, “that’s just who he/she is right now.” It’s amazing how that little phrase can bring acceptance. 

Understand I certainly advocate for boundary setting and working on relationship stress throughout the year. However, accepting that all your family “issues” won’t be fixed during one holiday can allow your heart and mind to relax.

In conclusion, Christmas is just one day out of the year. It’s the blessed day of our Savior’s birth, a time when most of us gather with family and friends to celebrate.

Don’t let stress and anxiety steal your joy or the true meaning of the day.

Breathe. Remember who you are and Whose you are, a dearly loved daughter of the King. 

Just know I appreciate you each and every day of the year!

Merry Christmas pillow with red plaid and aqua accent pillows

Which of these tips on how to enjoy Christmas when you’re overwhelmed hit you right where you’re at today? I’d love to know your plan for making the most of the holiday this year!

Resources I recommend:

(I’ve included some affiliate links for your convenience.  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.)

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown As a “recovering” perfectionist, I love this book!

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist I haven’t read this book yet but I’ve heard it’s wonderful!

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler This may seem like a strange book to recommend in a Christmas post but it’s a great read about priorities and not losing yourself in the midst of seasons of sacrifice and overwhelm.

Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff by Myquillyn Smith I had to include this one! So good when you’re overwhelmed by your home!

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered by Lysa Terkeurst This is one I’m currently reading and is so good for all of us who live with broken hearts but want peace in our hearts and lives.

Stretched Too Thin: How Working Moms Can Lose the Guilt, Work Smarter and Thrive by Jessica N. Turner I bought this book for my daughter who is a work-at-home/entrepreneur mom of two little ones. Such wisdom for this stage of life!

The Grief Recovery Handbook I highly recommend this book as a resource if you’ve experienced loss of any kind. You can also find more information and/or connect with a grief specialist in your area here.

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  1. Absolutely true, I’ve had lots of Christmases and each of them had something go off the rails and each of them was perfect. The best Christmas I had all year. Nothing is an emergency when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Nothing will “spoil” your day, unless you allow it to.

    1. Hi, Mary. Thanks so much! I’m glad the post was helpful. Christmas is definitely a time when stress and overwhelm can take over! Have a wonderful Christmas!