Ever look forward to returning to the office for a “break” after the holidays? While the holidays are meant to be seasons of celebration and gratitude, they often end up creating unwanted stress for executives. We work hard year-round, so this year, take back your time off by honoring what feels great to you. The most effective way to keep the holidays fun is to toss out the “shoulds” that guilt us into pleasing everyone else. Instead, rethink what’s important with these simple hacks for your holiday. Heck, even hardcore traditionalists may find new ways to have more joy and less stress.

We are already more distracted today than at any time in history. We check our mobile devices every 6 minutes and see 10,000 ads every 24 hours, pressuring us to do or buy more than we need.  The World Health Organization recently classified “burnout” as an official syndrome because it has become so prolific. But there’s hope! Once we become mindful of external stressors—especially societal and family paradigms—we can invest our time wisely during the holidays.

Take back your holidays by smashing these three seasonal shoulds.

The dinner. Everyone knows the dinner should be huge and include traditional meats. Don’t forget to make everyone’s favorite dish. Serve it up with the finest china and be sure to overindulge in the deluge of desserts. Preparing the “perfect” meal requires days of planning. On dinner day, many family members are busy preparing, rather than enjoying time interacting with others. Challenge this tradition with the following tips.

  • Delegate the side dishes. Ask each person attending dinner to contribute a dish that is special to them in some way. Not only will it keep you from spending so much time in the kitchen, but it makes for a fun conversation starter at the table.
  • Pick up the meal elsewhere. Kroger, Honey Baked Ham, and Cracker Barrel have generously helped take the stress out of my holiday dinners by providing part or all of the meal. Order in advance and pickup your meal as it comes out of the oven. Transfer it into your own bakeware for a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Use disposable dishes to save time on cleanup. But be sure to recycle!

The location.  It’s not the same if we’re not at Grandma’s house, Mom’s place, or at least in our hometown. All attempts should be made to drive, fly, or train should be made to make it “home” every holiday. While visiting friends and relatives is important, try these solutions to reduce stress and get some valuable rest and relaxation.

  • Go every-other year. Start small by negotiating a year in your local community alternated with going back home for the holiday.
  • Try a new destination. My sons and I live thousands of miles apart. It makes our time together rare and valuable. Instead of having them fly home, we choose a destination we would all like to visit. Our new holiday tradition has become diving and enjoying whatever local fare is served where we are visiting.
  • Stay home. I have friends who will spend every Christmas driving to New York, then driving or flying to Florida to keep tradition. They’re exhausted and glad to return to work each year. There’s nothing wrong with staying home. Go see a movie, take a hike, discover indoor climbing, book a massage, or try a new restaurant each night. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking time for yourself and your own family.

The date. Christmas dinner only counts if it’s on the 25th of December. Midnight Christmas Service should be attended by everyone on Christmas Eve. Presents should not be opened until after breakfast on Christmas morning. Breaking tradition will ruin the holidays! Or, maybe not.

  • People, not calendar dates, are the most important part of seasonal gatherings. With families living far apart and many shared-parent holidays, creating our own day to celebrate can alleviate stress. Enjoy Christmas any day in December. Your kids learn that holidays are about spending time with loved ones instead of a precise date. If it helps, remember that Jesus’ birthday was not actually on the day we observe Christmas. It occurs at this time because early Christians integrated their celebration into an existing ancient Roman winter solstice tradition. 
  • Open gifts when it makes sense. If everyone can get together the week before or after, then by all means, drop the guilt about opening gifts. The tradition of gifts comes from a celebration of abundance and gratitude. That may be done any day of the year.
  • Try the 7 PM service. Got small children who need to be in bed? Tired from a day of cooking and cleaning or traveling? One step towards claiming some time (and sleep) back is to attend an earlier service. Most religious institutions offer an evening alternative to midnight service for the Christmas holiday, so give it a try.

The important thing is to give yourself permission to enjoy your holidays in exactly the way you want. So stop “shouldding” on yourself and enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation.  

Tabitha Scott is a keynote speaker on finding personal and organizational potential. Formerly CEO of Cole Scott Group and Military Assistance Company, and SVP of Innovation & Sustainability at global companies Balfour Beatty Investments and Lend Lease Americas, Scott leverages years of successful experience with innovation, strategic diversity, and strategy. She is also a credentialed Certified Energy Manager, Blockchain Certified, and has numerous certifications in human biofield practices.  Scott is an international advisor and speaker on energy, change management, and innovation, with several published works.