Giving: The Perfect Cure for Holiday Stress

Giving.ToDoDoes your recipe for stress include a heaping helping of Thanksgiving, with a dash of Christmas and a pinch of New Year’s added in? Special occasions and big expectations team up to create extra long to-do lists and headaches this time of year (at least they do for me!). Over the years, I have discovered a sure-fire cure for dealing with stress when I feel overwhelmed and a little out of control — I do something nice for someone else.

You may think that it adds to my stress, but actually it takes my mind off my own issues for a bit. As the holidays march closer, I can already feel some stress setting in. From trying to get the perfect photo for the perfect holiday cards (why can’t two kids smile at the same time!?) to figuring out how to give kids a memorable but not too memorable Christmas, it all makes my pulse begin to race. If you are like me, the passing of Halloween takes us full steam into two months of extra work.

It’s scientifically proven that as your stress level grows, one of the best ways to counteract that is to do something nice for someone. As Compassion magazine (yes, it’s a real thing!) puts it: “One reason compassion makes us happy is by broadening our perspective beyond ourselves. We know from research on anxiety and depression that these tense and unhappy states are highly self-focused…When you do something for someone else, however, that state of self-focus immediately dissolves.”

So, in the spirit of taking the focus off ourselves, here are some suggestions for sharing your time, talent or treasure. The key to success with any of these suggestions is making sure you aren’t adding it to everything else on your to do list. Look critically at your list, cross off the things that don’t bring you joy, and add something that gives back in its place.

  • There are lots of opportunities at Thanksgiving to provide meals to those who need them. Check out the Salvation Army’s site to get started (plus find lots of other ways to help for the holidays).
  • Know someone who doesn’t have family close? Invite them to your Thanksgiving.
  • You could also visit a nursing home and of course, fire stations and police stations are always great stops. Stop in at the office of your kids’ school and ask if they know of any families that might need help making the holiday special for their kids.
  • Church of the Resurrection in Leawood has new opportunities each week to help alleviate poverty in Kansas City from now until Christmas. Opportunities currently include serving Thanksgiving dinners, packing food backpacks for kids or providing new bedding and household items to families getting on their feet.
  • A giving opportunity I have enjoyed is one you have to be ready for because things move fast. The non-profit started by blogger Glennon Doyle Melton ( called Together Rising, hosts a yearly Holiday Hands where families sign up to get some help with Christmas and a week later, folks like me can select a family to help out. The first year I participateed, I selected a family with adopted children, since I was still waiting for my own kids’ adoption to be completed. It hasn’t been updated for 2015 yet, so check back in a couple of weeks.
  • If you want to provide gifts closer to home, check out the KVC Kansas holiday program and be a Holiday Hero to ensure every kid in foster care has a happy holiday. This is a great activity for an office or group of co-workers or a neighborhood to do together.
  • One things my kids and I have done with big hauls of candy (like the kind one gets on Halloween), is to hand out candy to the people who are working. We have done it at the zoo, and the workers love getting treats. If you are traveling at the holidays, you can give treats to airport staff. We keep a bag of Dum Dum suckers in the car so the kids can give them to people we meet, usually people at the drive thru when mom gets her big soda.

And finally, for me the holy grail of giving would be a Kindness Advent like the one the Kelly family at Pitter Patter Art does each year. The family’s main Christmas activity is 25 acts of kindness, ranging from delivering treats to bank employees to paying for someone’s Santa pictures to doing someone’s yard work.

What ideas do you have for fighting stress with some giving?

To read more from this series, click here.

Michelle is the lucky mom to a young son and daughter, both adopted from Haiti. A KC-native, Michelle left for college in Iowa and then headed to Africa to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. She ended up in Washington DC, traveling to places like Botwsana and Nigeria for a company that improves the lives of people in developing countries. After earning her master's degree in PR and Corporate Communications from Georgetown (Hoya Saxa!), she moved home to KC to raise her kids near family. Still working for the same company, just from her Overland Park basement now, the best part of her day is picking up her kids from pre-school and hearing them holler "mom."