by Danielle Rice
Ah, the joyful holiday season: the lights, the decorations, the parties, the guests, the shopping, the cleaning…the STRESS! While holiday season activities can make for great memories, they can also be stress-inducing. Here are some tips to help you stay calm and enjoy the holiday season more.
Adjust your expectations. The difference between our expectations and reality can, if we let it, make our life less joyful. If you plan to win the annual neighborhood decorating contest even though you don’t have the time, money, or interest to do a full-blown holiday light display, then you might be setting yourself up for stress and disappointment. Or if you’re hoping that this will be the year when you finally buy that perfect gift for your impossible-to-please Great Aunt Mabel, you may be putting yourself in a no-win situation, which will only frustrate you. The good news is that while we can’t control our families or friends – or many other factors — we can control our expectations. This season, give yourself some room to set the bar a little lower. Expect a little less from yourself (and of others), and just enjoy what does get accomplished.
Make time for your own needs. It’s when life is most stressful that we really need to take care of ourselves, and also the time when we are most likely to sacrifice our own needs for other demands. However, if you’re stressed, overwhelmed, and resentful, you’re probably not being as productive as possible, and you’re not making anyone else’s life more pleasant, either! Schedule time for yourself to relax in a hot bubble bath, take a walk, have coffee with a friend or do whatever else makes you feel happy. Block out this time on your calendar, just like you would any other commitment, and then stick with it. Remember, saying no to others is always an option.
Just breathe. Really, it’s that simple. Slow down, stop, and get yourself centered. Taking even a moment or two to consciously think about your breath and take a break from all the activity can be beneficial, says Marianne Clyde, a family therapist in Warrenton. Even better, she says, is to take a few minutes to meditate. “If you can find 5 or 10 minutes to slow down enough to connect with your thoughts, it can help you be more conscious and calm throughout the rest of the day and feel more in control even though there is a lot going on.”
Focus on the present. I’m not talking about the bought-at-a-store kind of present (or even the lovingly handmade kind of present), but rather the here-I-am-now kind of present. Whether you’re baking, writing a holiday card, or visiting with family, focus on being present and enjoying the experience in the moment. “Instead of worrying about the future or anguishing over the past, remain in present time being fully immersed in whatever you are doing,” recommends Clyde.
“Being mindful of the moment helps you reduce stress and feel more at peace and can have lasting benefits beyond the holiday season.”
Consider your priorities. You can’t do everything. You know that. And expecting to do everything in the few short weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is insane. Consider what’s most important to you during this time of year. Is it spending time with family? Make your travel plans early, or send out a letter of greeting so that you can connect with your kin. Is it showing appreciation for your friends and neighbors? Schedule an open house or potluck, or just make a conscious effort to smile and say hello, or to stop by a friend’s house with some home-baked goodies. Is it important for you to give back and help others in need? Make sure you schedule time to volunteer, donate to a food bank, or clean out your closets and make charitable donations. Prioritize whatever it is that feels like an expression of your values this holiday season.
Don’t be pressured into taking on more than you are comfortable with or making your holiday fit someone else’s concept of what a holiday should be. It’s your life, your family, your time – make memories that matter to you, and stay stress-free while doing so.
Danielle Rice is the founder and publisher of Piedmont Family Magazine.