When Maggie Rogers thinks about the holidays, she's filled with dread. "I'd love to get together and see my family, but it's just so complicated," says Rogers, a New York-based stay-at-home mom of two preschoolers. "We're all spread out geographically, and there's really no one good place to have everyone gather." Rogers asked her family to have smaller, separate get-togethers on other days, but it's important to her parents that everyone gets together for the main event. "I just wish we could forget the actual day per se, and just catch up whenever we can," she explains. "The holiday never turns out perfectly, anyway."
Rogers is far from alone. Three-quarters of American adults say they experience moderate to extreme stress during the holiday season, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), which found that financial worries are the main reason people are losing sleep. "There are so many people out of work or afraid they're about to lose their jobs, that it's really weighing on people this year more than ever before," explains Kathleen Hall, Ph.D, founder of the Stress Institute. "But no matter what your individual stressors are, there are ways to get the season under control so that you can enjoy it." Here are the 8 ways we recommend you outsource this year's holiday stress.
And for more helpful tips, check out Care.com's Guide to Managing Stress.
- Outsource the Shopping: How to Use Technology to Save Money on Gifts
One of the best ways to cut down on the financial stress is to shop smartly so that you're getting the most for your money. "You really want to make your computer work for you," says Michelle Madhok, an online shopping expert and founder of momfinds.com.
"First, sign up for emails from your favorite stores, 'like' them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter in order to get special deals." Madhok suggests creating a separate Gmail account just for shopping, so you're not flooded with emails while you're at work.
"Next, download apps that will let you compare prices or alert you when an item goes on sale," she says. (Our top free picks are thefind, a shopping search engine, and Google Shopper, which alerts you to daily deals.) If you're trying to buy this season's hot item, download the app for the store you plan on purchasing it at, Madhok suggests. "Often, if web traffic makes it impossible to go through a store's website, you can probably get in through the store's app," she explains. Before you buy online, make sure to check out sites like Retailmenot.com and CouponCabin.com to make sure you're taking advantage of any available discounts.
"Finally, check out ShopRunner.com, a new web site that gives you two day shipping across a ton of stores for $79 a year, which is worth it if you buy about 10 items or more a year online," says Madhok. "You can also try it free for 30 days -- perfect for the holiday season."
- Outsource the Inner Calm: How to Find Peace Amid the Holiday Chaos
If, like Rogers, your worries are more about the crush of family than finances, there are ways to mitigate the stress, says Elizabeth R. Lombardo, Ph.D., and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. "The most important thing you can do is take care of yourself," she says. "If you're overwhelmed with visiting relatives or an overbearing mother-in-law, schedule a time to chat with your best friend or go for a walk with your spouse." If you exercise regularly, don't abandon your routine just because you've got guests or are visiting relatives yourself.
Can't get away at all? Incorporate some physical activity into the group plans. Get all the kids outside for an impromptu game of tag or put on some upbeat music for a dance party. "Doing something physical generally makes everyone happier," says Lombardo.
- Outsource the Alone Time: How to Get Some Time to Yourself
All that family bonding can be draining, especially if you're bunking in tight quarters. One upside to living in a smart phone-addicted world is that it makes a perfect excuse: Blame your boss for demanding an answer to an email and take 15 minutes to lock yourself in a room with a good book or trashy magazine "Even washing the dishes can be relaxing if it gives you a few moments of uninterrupted peace," says Lombardo. Grab your iPod, don some yellow gloves and wash away. Even better: Book a sitter and have a grown-up night out with your favorite sibling or date night with your spouse.
- Outsource the Dreaded Holiday Tasks: How to Pass Must-Do's to Someone Else
The key to surviving holiday stress is to identify what bothers you most and figure a way around it, says Hall. Can't stand addressing all those holiday cards? Send out an e-card or find a teenage computer whiz to print out envelopes for you. Responsible for gift shopping for your elderly parents? Ask a grandchild to help them shop online.
If there's a dreaded job you keep procrastinating -- untangling your holiday lights, for example --barter with your spouse, trading the chore for folding laundry or cleaning up after dinner. Better yet, ask your babysitter to help out while your kids are sleeping by wrapping presents or stamping envelopes. You can also post a quick job or errand on Care Gigs and hire someone to do this work for you.
- Outsource the Pressure: How to Let Go of Creating the Perfect Holiday
It's important to let go of expectations. "So many of us want to create magazine-worthy decors or dinners, or capture the perfect photo that we forget to enjoy the actual moment," Hall says. Instead of trying to make your living room or front lawn look like it was culled from Martha Stewart magazine, hand your kids some tinsel and ornaments and let them go crazy. Yes, we're saying you should let the kids decorate your house. "Often, when we relinquish our idea of perfection we not only enjoy the holidays more but we also create unique memories," Hall states.
- Outsource Your Sadness: How to Cope When Loved Ones Aren't There
The holidays can be extra difficult when you're dealing with an absent loved one. "If you're missing someone who is away in the military, or simply can't make it home, find time to connect on the phone or through Skype," says Lombardo. "Arrange a call when it's time to unwrap gifts or have dessert -- it'll help make the person feel like he's part of the action."
If, however, you are missing someone who has passed away, it can help to share remembrances of that person. "It's okay to be sad and to miss someone," acknowledges Lombardo. "But you have to accept that grief and find support from friends and family members to carry on."
- Outsource your Pet Care Anxiety: How to Make Sure Your Furry Friends are Well Cared For
Invitations to visit family often don't extend to your pet, but kennels can be booked far in advance and often don't feel quite like home to your "Furbaby." Having a trusted caretaker come to your home, feed Fido and take him for long playful walks sounds like a gift in itself.
"Knowing my dog is sleeping in his favorite bed with his favorite toys relieves so much anxiety when my family travels," says Jane Price, Marketing Director at Care.com, who found her Standard Poodle just wouldn't eat when boarded at a kennel. Price even hires dog care when hosting a houseful of guests. "I don't always have time to give my dog the exercise he needs," she explains. "I'll often hire someone to come and take him to a dog park for an hour so that he's tired and less in the way of my guests."
- Outsource Your Happiness: How to Keep a Level Head
One of the best ways to de-stress the holidays is have a special treat waiting for you on the other side. "Book a massage or mani-pedi for the day after you get back," says Lombardo. "Anytime you feel stressed just take a deep breath and imagine what's waiting for you as soon as the presents are unwrapped, the guests are gone and your routine goes back to normal."
And if you need to de-stress in a hurry, Lombardo suggests writing down five things you're grateful for. "Focusing on the positive aspects of your life will give you a quick fix of happiness that'll combat dealing with even the worst relatives," she says.
Ultimately, Maggie Rogers and her husband decided to opt-out of the big family holiday get-together in favor of a quiet dinner at home. "It was just too expensive and too hectic to fly all four of us to my parents' house," she explains. "I'm really looking forward to some great quality time with my husband and kids, and we'll catch up with the rest of my family another time."