‘Tis the Season to be Jolly!
Christmas, St. Lucia Day, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, St. Nicholas Eve, New Year’s Eve, December Solstice, Boxing Day, St.Stephens Day, St. Ambrose Day, and we can’t forget December 15th – National Cupcake Day!
So, this is a time of joy, family, and good will to all…right? For lots of folks, it is. Many of us, however, find this season stressful. We expect good tidings of great joy, but end up feeling stretched to the max and unfulfilled. The holiday we remember from our childhood just isn’t there.
- Are you struggling to complete shoulds?
- Do you feel guilty because others are loving the holidays and you aren’t?
- Are you overindulging, overscheduling, overspending, and still feeling unsatisfied?
- Do you feel emptier at the end of the holidays than you did at the beginning?
Holiday Stress Habits
If you answered yes to these, you are probably trapped in some negative holiday stress habits. Now some stress is good for you and pleasurable. It can fire you up; give you energy, supply zest and excitement. Too much stress, however, can wear you down, sapping your energy.
What about last year? Make a list of the positive things you enjoyed such as caroling, midnight church services, Chanukah get-togethers, and reunions with friends and family you rarely see.
Now make a list of the other side of the coin. What wore you out? Was it last-minute gift shopping, lack of sleep, planning an open house for 50 and having 75 folks arrive, dealing with Great-Aunt Grizzelda?
To some extent, the same events can provide both good and bad stress. Your open house was a raging success, but you were really worried about running out of food. You loved seeing the rest of your family, but if you had to hear Great-Auntie say one more time, “Well, in my day it was better,” you might actually do her harm.
Popular wisdom says that negative stress is simply the way we are reacting to circumstances. You might freak out with 25 extra people while others find it stimulating. You might love baking 30 kinds of cookies for the party while your sister buys them at the bakery. Take a quick look at a couple of stressors lots of folks find difficult and make a plan to avoid having to hide in the attic with the cocktail shaker.
The Santa Claus Trap, often known as the “I’ve got too many people to buy gifts for and not enough time or money to do it.”
Make a list of the folks with whom you truly want to exchange gifts. Be honest with yourself. To pick on Auntie Grizzelda again, if you are stressing out buying her old-lady notepaper just to have her disparage your choice; take her off the list. Contact your friends and see if they are enjoying gift giving with your group or dreading the cost and effort. You might decide to give each other time and get together after the holidays for a celebration of absolutely nothing.
Once you’ve made an accurate list of those you really want to gift with something special develop a budget and stick to it. Many are great at the budgeting part… sticking to it is another story. Promise yourself you will be tough and won’t overspend. Plan a post-holiday reward for yourself when you succeed.
Budget and list in hand either hit the local stores or the internet. Today with free shipping readily available it is tempting to stay home and click away your shopping duties. Remember the sights and sounds of your community at the holidays. It might be worth scheduling a day to enjoy the bustle, street singing, and bell-ringing and to pick up some unique gifts at the same time.
The Activity Trap. We aren’t always good at checking our calendars before we say no and find ourselves due at a party, a dance recital, a kid’s sports event, and a date with our spouse all at the same time. On the other hand, some folks find themselves with little to do and miss the interaction with others. Again, make a list of what you need to do and what you really want to be part of. Don’t say yes without time for thought. Do you really want to go to your kid’s coach’s wife’s tea? Are you looking forward to the all high school Holiday Concert where you will sit in the same auditorium seat for four hours?
If you are over scheduled get out a pencil and delete those things that you don’t want to do. If you don’t have enough contact with others, call the Salvation Army, your local soup kitchen, the local volunteer coordinator, your mosque, church, or synagogue, or check in with your neighbor who lost her husband this year and schedule some time helping others. Nothing feels better!
The Tradition Trap. Okay, I admit it, this is my personal stressor. I want to do everything that I’ve been part of all my life, and I’m a grandmother! I want to provide the kind of environment my stay-at-home mom did. I want to have all the same decorations I had growing up. I want my kids and their kids to show up when I want them, not when it works for them because, “We always went to church together. It won’t be Christmas without everyone being there.”
Choose the traditions that really mean something to you. Accept the fact that you work full time and can’t bake sixty different kinds of cookies, have three open houses, decorate the synagogue, decorate your home, and still be alive when it is over. Traditions are great as long as they contribute to the enjoyment of the season. If they don’t, be brutal; toss them out. Find new and interesting ways of celebrating. Enjoy the process of learning something new.
Kind of in the same vein, we often fall into The Life Script Trap. When the holidays roll around we fall into feelings and roles remembered from the past.
No matter how old we are, the holidays give us permission to be childlike. Festivities become magic and full of meaning as we bring the past up to the present, still enjoying the familiar sights and sounds of the past. Celebrate your heritage, but look out for the pitfalls that have caused problems in the past. Cherish those events you hold dear. Stay away from those that cause you pain.
The Magic Trap: expecting the perfect holidays. We expect to feel just as we did in the third grade when we got new skates, or on that first holiday with our first child. If we don’t feel the way we remember feeling we are disappointed. What are we missing that the feeling isn’t there? Try to limit your expectations of others. We can only control ourselves. Think about the things that enrich the holidays for you now, and experience them to the fullest.
As Nancy Loving Tubesing andDonald A Tubesing who wrote Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits said,
Your holiday preparation agenda resembles the space shuttle prelaunch checklist. Holiday trap or holiday treasure? It’s up to you!
You could put on your martyr’s cloak and try to fulfill your grandiose expectations in suffering silence. You could work your fingers to the bone cleaning and sewing and cooking and wrapping and writing and orchestrating and pleasing others.
OR you could take this opportunity to relinquish your stranglehold on the holidays, inviting others to share in the burden (and benefit) of getting ready.
OR you could assemble the clan for some values clarification, polling family members about what they really treasure about the holidays, and then making a plan that includes everyone.
OR you could decide that this is theyear for some kind of alternative celebration.Tubesing and Tubesing
What moves you to choose a holiday treasure instead of a holiday trap? Often it is your belief system – your views about yourself, the world, and what makes life worthwhile that is guiding your choice. If one of your values is the value of work above all else, no wonder you are running yourself ragged. If you really want to kick your holiday stress habits you will have to decide what is really important to you. Once you’ve figured that out, the rest is pretty easy.
Ask yourself three questions:
- What’s of major importance to me?
- How do I hope to accomplish it?
- If that doesn’t work, how else could I meet the need – or what would be a satisfactory substitute?
Take the time to make a list of what you need to make your holiday season meaningful. Be specific… just listing holiday joy doesn’t count. What do you need to feel that joy? Then look at what values those things encompass. You will recognize what will fill your holidays with what you need. (Not what Auntie Grizzelda needs! What you need.) Ask for what you need. Don’t expect your family and friends to intuit it. Tell them. If the answer is no, give yourself permission to find an acceptable substitute.
- Refuse to suffer. Do the “have tos” quickly and efficiently and get them out of the way.
- Keep the things you enjoy for yourself. If you love wrapping gifts, don’t farm that out to Cousin Bill.
- If you hate the whole Christmas Card thing don’t do it. Surprise folks you care about with a phone call. Not just an email or a text, but a chance to hear the joy in your voice when you reach them.
- Make positive contact with folks you didn’t know. At a party seek out those you haven’t met. At the church social find someone sitting alone and get to know them. Just chat with the clerk at the store in a pleasant and friendly way. You’ll make their day.
- If your list of friends and family is disturbingly short, look for others in the same boat. Reach out to the crisis shelter, local hospitals, a halfway house, homes for the elderly, etc.
- Make your gifts meaningful. Rather than just tickets to an event plan to go along and share the experience together.
- Write something special for those you love. Tell them how much they mean to you.
- Give to some of the charities that are trying to make others’ lives better.
- Don’t forget to give yourself something.
One thing especially important: Take time to laugh. Laugh at yourself, at silly things you see and hear, look for the humor in holiday dilemmas. Put the wrong color in the cookie dough? Make purple trees. Enjoy telling the story about how you did it to everyone eating them.
When all is said and done, pay attention to your spirit. Take the time to reflect. Listen to your core. Think about what you believe. What’s really important to you? Where did those values come from?
Light a candle every evening. Focus on the flickering flame and allow your thoughts and prayers to rise shimmering upwards into the silence.Tubesing and Tubesing
Focus on the flame and allow your thoughts and prayers for others to rise up into the silence. Sit in a chair for a few moments while your family and friends are busy around you. Cherish the sounds and smells and essence of your holiday.
Make a plan. Reflect on the Tubesing’s suggestions. Choose the things that resonate with you and yours.
Excerpted from Kicking your Holiday Stress Habits by Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD, and Donald A. Tubesing, MDiv, PhD.