I feel I am on firm ground in saying that the holiday season, from mid-November through to the beginning of January, sees us devote maybe 10% of our energy to family and togetherness and 90% to feeding an ever-increasing sense of panic. 

There just doesn’t seem to be enough time.

Not enough time to find that elusive, perfect something to wrap in paper and a bow as an expression of our love—never mind that we know that stuff doesn’t matter that much. Not enough time to get work done in the pre-holiday crunch, not enough time to see loved ones, to attend holiday parties, to go to the gym, to cook healthy meals, or any of the rest of the boring, routine activity that we secretly love more than we’d ever let on. 

Little wonder that more than 60% of people feel stressed about a lack of time around the holidays. It’s believed that the added pressure of the holidays, atop all the demands of the rest of life, contribute to turning the thoughts of many people darker as the calendar approaches the end of December.

What you can do

Retreating into a cozy place, in moderate doses, is probably a good idea. Everyone should take a little time to recharge, and that goes double when we’re busy. Besides, what are fuzzy blankets for if not to keep you warm while you settle down for a long winter’s nap?

There’s something to be said, though, for finding refuge in connection instead of in isolation, in taking some of that seemingly meager free time you find yourself with at the holidays and spending it not on yourself, but on helping others. Researchers have found that people who volunteer are more likely to feel efficient and competent than those who don’t, and to believe they have more time to spend.

Feeling overwhelmed during the holidays is normal. Ironically, giving what little free time you do have to help others will help you feel like you have more time and will make you happier!

There are limits—some people legitimately have too much going on to give any time away healthily—but others might be surprised by what a bit of volunteering can do for their apparent lack of time.

It helps that volunteering is so in keeping with the spirit of the holiday season. Around the holidays, there’s no end to ways that people can pitch in to make life a little better for someone whose holiday season is less than ideal. Hospitals, food and toy drives, shelters, and all kinds of charities need help around the holidays to bring smiles or basic comfort to those without.

For somebody who wants to start volunteering, reaching out to these kinds of organizations to offer a hand can be an ideal way to start. You can also find all kinds of charities near you at Charity Vault. December 5th is actually International Volunteer Day - what better time to get started?

Give your time to people you know

Chances are good that most of us have someone in our lives who, for one reason or another, is expecting an unhappy holiday season. Anything from a poor showing at school to a surprise breakup or the passing of a loved one is likely to leave a person with a bit of a hollow feeling around the holidays. Make time to see them, or even just have a check-in with them on the phone. On top of feeling like you have more time, research shows that in helping others, we help ourselves become happier, too.

So this holiday season, take the time to be present, to have meaningful conversations with others,  and to do some good in whatever way you can. Will it make the stress of the holiday season go away completely? Probably not. But as the days grow darker, I can’t think of much better than to devote a little extra energy to making life brighter, for others and for yourself.

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