potluckIs this really “the most wonderful time of the year?” That depends. Certainly all the tinsel, decorations and office parties CAN be fun. But there are still deadlines as well as trying to get everything done in less time so we CAN have off for the holiday with our loved ones. Stress is inevitable, but I have several ideas that can help:

1. Make sure your boss’s expectations are realistic. When I was a reporter it would amaze my editor when I’d tell him how unlikely I was to get a hold of people during the last few weeks of December. So while we all have certain tasks that have to get done, any manager needs to recognize what can realistically get done. Many things can wait until after the holidays.

2. Do something at the office, but recognize it needn’t be big. Due to tighter budgets and liability concerns, many workplaces have done away with big office parties. Other businesses hold them in January after the holidays. Neither approach is bad, but it’s been my experience that any office needs to do something. A small white elephant exchange (say a $10 limit) is one idea that works. Make the exchange between employees who wouldn’t normally interact with each other as opposed to the colleague that Jim or Sue is chummy with all the time anyway. Potluck lunches in which everyone brings a dish to pass also promote camaraderie. Yes you’re busy, but you need to MAKE the time or your workplace will seem like you’re working for Scrooge, and a glum atmosphere like that isn’t good for anyone’s morale or productivity!

Aside from the workplace, a German academic claims that Yuletide leaves more or less everyone depressed, unless they are highly religious Christians. Michael Mutz of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen poured over European Social Survey data from 11 countries including Britain, Ireland and Spain to find that many people are choked by the consumer culture which has now engulfed Christmas.

I think Mutz’s statement about being depressed overstates things a little, but it’s certainly true that the commercials never stop coming, and between all the ads, parties, trees and hustle and bustle, you’re made to feel like there’s something wrong with you if you’re not this super happy, cheery person this time of year. “Get in the Christmas spirit!” someone may tell you. It’s no wonder that the Yuletide season is left wanting for many. But what to do? I have a few suggestions for reclaiming our sanity and actually enjoying the holiday season.

* Dial it down. Many people’s expectations are too high, so it’s no wonder so many suffer a letdown. WREATHAs it’s been said, what is the point in spending money on things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, and to impress people we don’t know? Spend LESS and enjoy what YOU DO give and receive more. Something more heartfelt than materialistic is often a good start. My wife, for instance, is an avid scrapbooker, and she gave her folks and two siblings a personalized scrapbook several years ago. It was something that meant a lot more than a gift that would have been quickly forgotten, especially now that her mom is gone. Quick: What did you get last year for Christmas? See what I mean? It’s not about the “stuff.”

* Enjoy the reason for the season. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, SLOW DOWN and take time to just “be.” In a fast-paced society in which too many of us are go, go, go 24/7, taking time to pray, meditate or even just letting your mind wander and think of treasured Christmases past, can help you remember the things that are truly important like family, friends and your health.

All in all, count your blessings, don’t take your loved ones for granted, and learn to enjoy the simple things, and that includes less lavish gifts at home and realistic expectations at the office. That’s my take anyway. What’s yours?