Strung Out Like Holiday Lights: 12 Tips to Stop Stressing and Start Enjoying the Holidays

The holiday season is full swing now, the office parties are being booked, the holiday cards written and the lights are strung. Feeling more burnt out than last year’s mini-lights?  Balancing your personal needs and professional responsibilities all while meeting family demands challenges the most focused, calm and organized person. For most people the holidays includes too much time fighting traffic, spending way too much on our credit cards, entertaining relatives and clients and pretending to be thrilled when we receive yet another “unfortunate holiday sweater”.  For those who do not ordinarily feel stressed under the pressure of events or deadlines, the holidays can still play havoc with our lives.  Good cheer can quickly turn into too much do and feel more like a time of obligation than a time of celebration. So what can we do? The good news is you don’t have to let stress or outside pressures ruin your holidays. Plan for stress just like you plan ahead for any calamity you want to avoid.

Try to pinpoint what you are anxious about, what gets under your skin. Are you feeling stressed because you’re not going to be able to fulfill your children’s gift requests? Are you chaffing over the weight gain that seems to be a part of the season? Are you and your spouse wrangling over holiday expenses? Are you feeling left out because your friends are enjoying the season and you’re not?  Are you responding to invitations from a place of joy or from duty?  Are you wondering how to keep your boundaries and mind intact, when you cannot avoid someone who pushes your buttons?

Use these 12 tips to make a plan stop stressing (or griping about) the holidays and start enjoying them. These tied and true tips for will help keep your spirits up and your blood pressure down amid all the hullaballoo and stress.

  1.  Magical realism, use it wisely. Carefully examine your thoughts and expectations for the holiday season. Try not to drive yourself crazy planning the “perfect party “ or finding “the perfect gift”. There is no perfect holiday, but there are magical memories and magical moment yet to be shared.   Those lovely fantasies that play out in, books the movies, and on TV are just that fantasies. Go ahead and make your holiday as beautiful as you want, but remember at the core of each of those fantasies is a theme of sharing, fellowship and connection that transcends any decorating triumph.
  2.  Be gentle with yourself and others. There is no perfection in when family dynamics are involved.  Families have many configurations these days and it can be confusing. For separated families, the question is” Which parent or grandparents will we be with for Christmas, for New Years?” Another common issue is when a gathering becomes an arena for sibling rivalry, along with a desire for long-standing recognition and approval. And if you find that you cannot resist trying to change the attitude and behavior of the parent (sibling or child) that “makes you crazy,” patterns which have resisted influence attempts for decades…you might just want to leave. Family is complicated, and messy and wonderful. The holidays’ heighten each of these things. The best strategy is often to be as realistic and compassionate with yourself and others.
  3.  Say No. Prioritize the social, business and other events on your calendar. There is no hard and fast rule that all the celebrating and well wishing must be done before Dec. 31. You can bring over into the New Year if you wish. My husband and I have our personal Christmas celebration at the New Year, after all the traveling to visit family is done, the cookies made, and the New year’s ball drops we save a little of the magic of the season for us.
  4.  Gratitude and giving back. Doing something for someone else, like collecting coats for people in need, volunteering your time and talents at a nursing facility can help keep things in perspective. That can be just thing when the holidays start to rub you the wrong way and heck might just set the tone for how you operate in the year to come.
  5.  Take a time out. If your buttons are pushed, step away, firmly, politely. You can say something along the lines of: “I am not able to continue this conversation right now, so I am going to excuse myself.” If you have never done this before, it becomes easier after the first time.
  6.  Hydrate, and not just with adult beverages.  A stiff glass of eggnog can be a good way to toast the holiday, but don’t go overboard. Too much alcohol will only add to your stress.  Plus, the change in weather and the drier indoor air impact hydration so to does the amount of sugar we eat.  Dehydration can make you cranky and frankly ill. So drink your fill of water each and every. Try adding one more glass to your normal intake.
  7.  Timing. Decide ahead of time how long you will spend at an event. It is much easier to maintain boundaries after you have set them.
  8.  Be impeccable with your word, meaning take the time to think before your speak. Taken from Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, this can be a real lifesaver. Speak with integrity.  Will you regret what you say later? Use the power of your words in the direction of affections, truth and respect.
  9.  Simplify. Easier said than done, I know, but try. Cut down on the number of gifts exchanged and instead try to create some experiences and memories. When it comes to kids and families this can be a bit challenging, but one of best gifts my sister and her family received was a “game night”: a board game and two types of popcorn.
  10.  Quality over quantity. The delights of the holiday food are tempting. The cakes! The cookies! The Hot Toddies! Deciding to enjoy the bounty of the season is fine, you can also decide ahead of time how much to indulge and stick too it, making the indulgence even more delicious.
  11.  Remember you are only responsible for yourself, your actions and reactions. You are not responsible someone else’s actions or reactions.
  12.  Frolic and play. Exercise is a great stress reliever.  Instead of watching Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life, for the 57th time, grab your kids, favorite cousins, or neighbors and go for a brisk walk. Walking will burn off calories and it is good for your heart. And heart is what this season is about at its core.

Deirdre M. Danahar, MSW, MPH, LCSW, is a personal coach and consultant for people with executive level responsibilities and entrepreneurial spirits.  She owns InMotion Consulting and Coaching, LLC, based in Jackson, MS.


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