Is Your Stress Spoiling Your Holiday Experience?

Only 9 more days until December 25th and the stress level is rising. Cortisol is racing through your body, anger is way too likely to erupt into a scene, and burned cookies turn into a disaster equal to global warming. What can be done over the next few days so that the big day is one of joy and celebration and not one of apologizing to your loved ones because you lost your temper when the dog ate a roll of wrapping paper.

Here are some suggestions that may help.

In The Wellness Lifestyle Workbook by Ester Leutenberg and John Liptak PhD, they suggest the following tips for managing your stress.

1.         Seek to change the situation

How is that supposed to work, anyway? You can’t change the situation, the Holidays are coming in only nine days and you have to be ready. Try reframing the issue by saying, “The holidays will be here in nine days. I will complete the most important tasks before me and celebrate that I managed that. I will not fret about what cannot be accomplished.”

2.  Be more organized

Being more organized is a no-brainer. Make a prioritized list of what needs to be done. Put a couple of easy ones at the top so you get the satisfaction of crossing them off quickly. As you write it, remind yourself for example, that twenty different kinds of cookies are not necessary for a happy holiday.

3.  Ask someone to alter his or her behavior

Someone making you crazy? Constantly asking if you got this or that done and bemoaning the fact that you didn’t. Ask them to alter their behavior. Nicely. Don’t scream at them to back off right after they ask you the same question for the tenth time. When your temper is under control tell them that their constant questioning (read nagging) about what is and isn’t done only makes you crabby and slows you down.

4.  Exercise

Get out of the house for a run or go for a swim. If the weather is too bad go to the Y, the mall, or the gym and be in the moment while you are there. Think of how good it feels as the endorphins speed through your body. Notice how much better you feel when you get home after a few hours away.

5.  Engage in deep breathing, meditation, etc.

If you have tried meditation or guided imagery you already know how helpful it can be. If you are a newbie, find someone who will read you a relaxation script or purchase a relaxation CD. They are quite inexpensive and can be an amazing help. Remember, though, if you are trying this technique for the first time it might take a few attempts before it works easily. Here is a link to a good beginner’s relaxation script.

6.  Be assertive

How can being assertive help your stress levels? The thought of conflict makes many folks cringe. However, learning to say no is an important part of maintaining your mental health. Don’t say yes to something you don’t have time to do.

7.  Alter irrational beliefs

This is one of the best stress relievers. During the holidays many people try to replicate what they had as a child. Handmade gifts, tons of cookies and candies prepared to perfection, a huge dinner with all the relatives before the midnight service, a spotless house before the kids wake up in the morning, a gingerbread house that replicates the National Cathedral, or wrapping each stocking gift separately and writing a poem to go on each one. Most of us work full time.  Most of our mothers did not. It is irrational to expect to get the same amount of preparation done in the time we have. Rewrite your expectations of what the holidays should be keeping in mind your limited free time. Get rid of the traditions that are marginal to the enjoyment of your family and go with a plan that is actually possible.

8.  Withdraw from the situation

Withdrawing from the situation doesn’t have to be as drastic as it sounds. Perhaps you sing in your church choir. Maybe you always shovel the snow for your neighbor. It could be that you are the one who prepares the coffee and cookies for after the service. Someone else can do those things. Trust in the fact that as valuable as you are to the organizations you serve there are others who would relish the chance to try their expertise on what you do.

9.         Accept the stressor

You can, of course, simply accept the thing that is stressing you out. Saying to yourself I’m going to be a bit more stressed than usual because I have to finish 20 angel costumes by morning and then hitting the machine and doing it doesn’t really relieve the stress of the moment, but if you insist on doing the task you know is going to make you a bit crazy you can accept the stress that comes along with it. Understanding this will help you get through whatever it is with grace. Finishing the task will give you an immediate lift in spirits.

10.       Maintain good health by nurturing yourself

Don’t forget during this often frantic time of the year to take good care of yourself. You can’t avoid holiday stress if you are overtired, hungry, or have overindulged in your favorite treats. Don’t eat the whole fruitcake, don’t feel you have to finish that last Tom and Jerry,  remember to take your meds on time, and don’t cheat yourself of needed sleep. Limit your day and go to bed at least within an hour or so of the usual time. You will find that you get lots more done if you are fully awake and rested.

Leutenberg and Liptak suggest these coping strategies in The Wellness Life Style Workbook that will help manage your stress.

  • Changing old habits takes time. Do not attempt to change too much too soon or you might get frustrated.
  • Assess the types of support you will get from family and friends before choosing your coping strategies.
  • Remember that you cannot change or control everything. Focus on which you have control.
  • Do not expect a single coping strategy to “fix” the stressful situation.

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