By Julie Dymon, Military Spouse

Lights flashing, strangers rushing, parents cooking and cleaning, kids screaming…the real-life holiday scene is enough to stress anyone out just thinking about it. But the holidays don’t have to be like that. Whether you are CONUS or OCONUS, PCSing or unpacked, here are five hacks to help you minimize stress and reclaim your family’s holiday.

Reduce Holiday Stress

  1. Assess your situation.

 Will you be stationed overseas, PCSing or deployed during the holidays and away from family and friends?

  • Invite local friends/acquaintances to celebrate with you.
  • Keep it simple and do a potluck dinner. There’s no need to do it all on your own.
  • Say no when people ask you to do things you know will cause you stress.
  • Share the work load. Delegate decorating, activity planning and get help cleaning.
  1. Ask for support.

We all need support and we are stronger together. Reach out when you need a little extra help.

  • Call on a peer specialist from the DoD BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center to gain an objective perspective on your holiday stressors from a fellow Veteran or military spouse. All calls are free and confidential, and you’ll come away feeling heard, with a plan and great resource to help you with that plan.
  • Check out PCSgrades for your PCS needs. There are some great articles about PCSing during the holidays and can help you with all phases of your PCS. It’s a free service, too with a cash back rebate!
  1. Set a budget.

And stick to it. Check out Military OneSource for budget tips.

  • Make handmade gifts. Each gift is unique and made with love.
  • Agree to limit the dollar amount of each gift when buying for a large family.
  • Start a gift exchange: Everyone in the group buys for a different person.
  • Enjoy each other’s company and do a “white elephant gift exchange.”
  1. Give something back.

Time and effort are just as valuable (if not more so) than money. Helping others will make you feel good and can even help shed holiday stress.

  • Make it a family tradition to work together to help your local food bank, homeless shelter, animal shelter or other worthy cause.
  • Fund-raise together for the charity, if you can’t match the charity schedule.
  • Donate money if time isn’t something you can spare.
  1. Keep some traditions and introduce new ones.

 Having both keeps things familiar and fresh.

  • Chat with distant family and friends using live video. You could even open gifts or share dinner while virtually connected.
  • Invite each guest (if friends and acquaintances) to share their favorite tradition (food, song, dance, activity, etc.) so everyone can have a familiar and new experience.

Remember, people aren’t perfect and life is messy. It’s OK when things don’t work out like you planned. Just take a breath, try not to stress, roll with whatever happens. Find a way to laugh about it and ask for help when you need it. Enjoy this holiday season of old traditions and new, but mostly enjoy the people you spend your time with — they are the stuff of good memories.

PCSgrades.com is a review platform for military  and veteran families. Leave a review of your prior duty station and read the reviews of where you are PCSing to. Home is where the military sends us and together we can make a difference!

Author: Julie Dymon is a writer and editor for The Bowen Group where she works on the DoD BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center contract team. She’s also a freelance writer, editor and blogger. As a military spouse, her favorite duty station was NAS Sigonella in Sicily, Italy. Find more of Julie’s military-life experiences, tips and encouragement on the Military OneSource Blog Brigade. Once their kids are through college, Julie and her husband (a retired Senior Chief with 22 years of service) will embark on their long list of space-A travel and car trip adventures.