Need some help to solve holiday overwhelm? We’ve got 5 steps you can take right now to help get your holiday stress under control. Because when you’re overwhelmed, your dog feels it, too.

Do you ever get the feeling the holidays are YOURS to make? Like everyone looks to you to create all these magical moments full of dancing sugarplums and roast turkeys? I totally get that feeling at the holidays. While I’m busy planning and preparing the yuletide, it feels like sometimes Chloe gets the short end of the stick.

Missed walks. Forgotten activities. Overlooked opportunities.

Oftentimes our family and friends don’t really understand how much our dogs mean to us. A full calendar of parties and events sounds fun –  and well-meaning friends want you to be a part of the festivities. But you have four paws at home waiting for a game of fetch. It’s overwhelming to try and make time for all the people you love and the dog you love, too.

I have a particular memory that stands out.

Relatives had invited us to a Christmas outing and then to their house for dinner and early gift-exchange. This meant we would be away from our dog, Duncan, for more hours than normal. I was a stay-at-home mom and he wasn’t used to being without his people for such a long time.

We went to the party, but as the evening went along, I began to feel more and more anxious. I hoped Duncan was okay and didn’t need to potty and wasn’t pacing the floor awaiting our return. Finally, I borrowed their phone (okay – this was back in the day) to call our house and leave a message on our answering machine just so my dog could hear my voice! “Hi Duncan!! We’ll be home soon!”

My relatives thought I was nuts.

Crazy dog mom? I don’t care – my dog is important to me.

Maybe you’ve looked back in regret after the holidays. It’s easy to get distracted and realize you didn’t make time for those Hallmark moments – a trip to a Christmas tree farm with your pup or an impromptu caroling party with your dog along for a nice walk.

Couple with their dog standing next to a Nutcracker and Christmas tree at Dickens of a Christmas festival in Franklin, TN

The 5 steps to solve holiday overwhelm?

It all begins with planning. Planning creates more time, reduces stress and gives you an easy step-by-step roadmap to follow when the days grow shorter and the celebrations grow brighter.

Let me walk you through how I do it…

Decide (1)

“The first secret of getting what you want is knowing what you want.”

Not just to get what you want, but to solve holiday overwhelm, too.

Every year before the start of the holiday season I set aside some time for myself. Pen and paper in hand, cup of tea to the side. I take about 20 minutes to review the past holidays to remember what worked and what didn’t. I ask myself:

  • What things did I do with Chloe that made a perfect holiday memory for us?
  • What events did we attend that she really enjoyed?
  • Were there things we wanted to do, but didn’t? Why? Did we run out of time, too busy with other things, missed adding them to the calendar?
  • Did she get enough exercise? Did we put off walks because of busyness?
  • How about our holiday gatherings? Did she enjoy the guests or would she rather have had some down-time away from the activities?

Next, I jump into the fun part: researching upcoming dog-friendly events and activities about town. Whether we definitely plan to attend or not, I jot them down on my calendar if they sound fun. That way, when I round up the rest of the family to plan our holiday calendar, the dog-friendly events can be added in. No more missing out!

Budget (2)

It’s the second secret to solve holiday overwhelm.

Alright, I can already see some of you wincing at that word. Budgeting is not the sexiest part of the holidays. But trust me; the stress of being over-budget in the New Year will completely wipe out any magical memories you made. Talk about overwhelm! Tough love here.

Dog-related expenses may take you by surprise during the holidays. They did me.

Several years back, my youngest daughters and I had a totally last-minute chance to drive to Camp Lejeune to visit my son right after Christmas. Ooh-rah, going to hug my Marine!! It was an extra expense during the holidays, but with a super quick trip, budget-friendly town, packing lunches for the way, eating with relatives for the remainder of the time –it should’ve practically cost us the price of gas!

Duncan, our collie extraordinaire at the time, was not going with us. And… I neglected to budget in all the extra expense of boarding, vet-check, grooming, etc.  Duncan’s holiday vacation at boarding cost us more than our trip altogether!! Another overwhelming moment we didn’t need.

So – plan you budget accordingly, especially if you have travel on the calendar.

Get-Ready List (3)

Once I know how I want to spend time with Chloe and what our budget looks like for the season, I can start making a get-ready list. The third secret to solving holiday overwhelm is simple. We all know WHAT to do; it’s knowing WHEN to do it. Once you get the timeline, everything falls into place.

In the past, this is where I have fallen into the pit of overwhelm. But now my mantra is “when eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.”

Instead of my mind spinning in all different directions trying to decide what to take action on, I take a moment to do a brain-dump.

I get a piece of paper and write down (can you see the emphasis on writing things down?) all the things that need to happen BEFORE the holidays arrive. It doesn’t matter what order I write them at this point. I just need to get them out of my head and onto the paper. Keep in mind, these are the dog-specific things.

  • What dog-friendly events will we be attending?
  • Will we need to book boarding or pet care?
  • Does Chloe need a grooming or bath?
  • Do we need to look for a pet-friendly Airbnb or hotel for travel?
  • Does her bedding/accessories need to be cleaned?
  • Do we have any dog sports/training/classes coming up?
  • Do we schedule a pet holiday portrait session?
  • Do I need supplies for any DIY gifts for Chloe or friends?
  • Do I have extra treats/food/chews on-hand when we are busy?
  • Does she need any Christmas accessories (bandanas, leash, sweater?)
  • Are there any dog gifts that need to be ordered?

Of course, I’m going to need to repeat this brain-dump with our family’s holiday to-do list. But it’s much easier to integrate Chloe’s list with ours if I have written it down first. That way, nothing is forgotten.

Prioritizing is the next step.

I’m always amazed at all the things I WANT to do. And it’s easy to get sidetracked just doing the busy work. Busy work makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. But getting sidetracked with the little stuff makes the difference in having time for the things that really matter.

Taking a look at my brain-dump, I go through each item and prioritize it. Is it something I absolutely MUST do to make this holiday a memorable one? Or is it something I feel I SHOULD do?

I circle the MUST DOs and make sure those receive the most attention. The SHOULD DOs get filter into ‘things to work on if we have extra time.’

Take Action (4)

Finally, I’m ready to make a Master Plan. Or maybe I should say I’m ready to eat the elephant! Nothing dramatic; it’s simply a week-to-week to-do list to get ready for the holidays.

You can see our list in the Go Dog Nashville Holiday Planning Guide.

Holiday planning guide on a desk with coffee, glasses and pencils.

Here’s the fourth secret to solve holiday overwhelm – you have to write it down. And then do it.

If my goals are written on paper and chunked into bite-sized tusks…I mean tasks! then I can easily accomplish them with no overwhelm.

For Chloe’s part of the list, I ask myself:

  • Are there MUST DOs needed to be scheduled or ordered in advance? Then I do those early in the month and check them off the list.
  • How can I break a big task into smaller, actionable steps? I’ll do a few of the steps each week and check them off the list.
  • What things can I do a little at a time, like:
    • ~Preparing her meals in advance
    • ~Purchasing a few gifts each week
    • ~Cleaning her crate, car, etc.
    • ~Making chew treats ahead

Committing these tasks to paper gives me a concrete, step-by-step guide and a no-excuses way to hold myself accountable.

You could use a digital app if you like. Do what works best for you. But there’s something about the physical act of writing what you intend to do on paper that really amps up the accomplishing part.

I have a daily planner and I use it, well…daily!

And I’ve discovered with the crazy-busy days leading up to Christmas, it’s important for me to even block out time for walks and training sessions with Chloe. It helps me stay accountable to her – and to myself.

Have you ever found yourself thinking, let me just finish this one thing, then I’ll take the dog for a walk? And then that one thing leads to another until your regular 30 minute walk with the dog is reduced to a quick trot around the block and back.

Set a timer to remind yourself to stop, take a break and be with your dog.

Reflect (5)

Unless you did this last year, you really won’t be able to use it now. But starting with this holiday season, you’ll be prepared. Less overwhelm.

After the holiday lights are dimmed and the New Year has arrived, I always set aside another 20 minutes to myself. Pen and paper in hand, cup of tea to the side. I take time to reflect back on the holidays and make some heartfelt notes.

Slippered feet by a fireplace with a steaming cup of coffee.
  • What are the memories that stick out in my mind?
  • What did we do that was new and that we want to do again?
  • What did we miss, what didn’t work and how can we do better next year?

I’m always sure to make a note in my calendar dated for October of the next year concerning holiday items we need to replace, not only for the home but for Chloe (“Christmas bandana is too small; get new one.”) If I noticed something we could try next time around (“It would be fun to have a gift exchange with IG friends.”) or I want to remember something crucial (“Chloe’s tummy did NOT like those Christmas dog treats.”) I jot those down, too.

These little helpful reminders set me up for being on top of the game next season. And being on top of the game, means I’ve already taken steps to solve holiday overwhelm.

I got this.

You do too!

Do you have any holiday overwhelm tips to share? Add them to the comments below – I’d love to hear what works for you!

Repin this to your favorite Pinterest board and keep these steps handy.

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