It’s the most wonderful time of the year. I can hear the music of that familiar Christmas tune just typing those words. Lights twinkle and magic is in the air. We celebrate the miraculous wonder of a baby coming to earth to save us from sin. We give gifts with generosity and make delightful treats that only come out once a year. But what if the magic and the hustle of this most wonderful time induces feelings of panic and sorrow? How do you embrace the season when you’re struggling?

I’ve always had physical manifestations of my stress. Since my husband died, my TMJ issues and stomach trouble have been joined by mini-panic attacks. Lovely. When I first started having trouble breathing a year after he died, my doctor’s office did a full work-up to find the cause. After clearing my heart and my lungs, a physician’s assistant diagnosed panic attacks. Now I take meds to help alleviate them but sometimes they still show up.

This morning one started before I even got out of bed. As I bustled kids out the door and headed to the grocery store, it got a little worse. I’m fortunate that mine don’t feel like a heart attack and that I can push through them. But they are disquieting and discouraging.

When you want with all your heart to get excited about all the things that make Christmas fun and magical, realizing you must make time to pause and let some of the expectations go can be sad. My son comes home from college this weekend. Part of me wants to go all out and have a zillion things baked to greet him like a head of state. But I also want to be sane when he gets here.

Maybe this Christmas sanity wins over perfection. Maybe this year you decide what’s nonnegotiable and what really is fine to skip. Maybe this year have a heart-to-heart with your family about how they can help make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year. Moms tend to lead the charge for the “perfect” Christmas. What if you settled for less-than-perfect and let the kids handle details too?

We have a cool, wooden Christmas countdown stand that the kids love. When we first got it, I went all out filling each door with a family activity. Things like “Call Grandma in Florida to sing a carol” or “Make cookies” waited on tiny slips of paper behind each one. The thought of that just makes me tired this year, to be honest. So you know what? I told the kids if they wanted things behind those doors, go for it. Two of them have taken it on with gusto. Sometimes we have to move an activity over a few doors to fit the calendar but they are having fun and I’m not stressed.

If it just wouldn’t be Christmas without (fill in the blank), then start your planning there and see if something else can be shelved for another year. Just because you have always done it doesn’t mean it can’t be set aside for a while or let go of if it’s not really that special to everyone. Choosing to focus on the people in your life and finding meaningful things to include could lift some of the anxiety this time of year can bring.

Christ didn’t come so I could be exhausted trying to celebrate his birth. He came to bring peace on earth.

May you find the right blend of festive and focused, perfect (or close enough) and peaceful, holy and homey this year. May it truly be, for you and yours, the most wonderful time of the year.

(photo credit: broken ornament pic courtesy of on



  1. Jeannie December 13, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Yes! Yes! Yes!
    We just had an adjusting expectations conversation last night with our family with college girl on video call! It went great and I am feeling calmer, albeit there is much yet to do! But a modified plan is being solidified.

    • Jenn Buell December 13, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      That’s awesome! And I loved that you included the kid who is coming home.