3 Ways to Stress Less
During the Holidays
“I love the holidays,” someone said with a sigh the other day. “I just wish I could keep them stress free. Could someone please tell me how to not stress? I want to enjoy this time of year, to focus better on what’s important, and not get caught up in all the craziness.”
Can I get an Amen? It may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s certainly not stressless. Carols and cards wax lyrically about peace, comfort, and joy. And yet we find ourselves strung out and beset by all sorts of external and internal pressures.
What’s worse, these pressures are now starting earlier than ever. In the US, Christmas candy is out before we’ve even tucked into our Halloween stash. We’re ho-ho-ho-ing before Thanksgiving. For those of us with high expectations or goals for the season, this can be a recipe for disaster. For others who don’t like the holidays, it can be sheer torture.
So how do we manage the blitz of merchandising, competing demands, activities, and to-do lists swirling around for months? How do we keep it real, enjoy and stay true to what the holidays mean to us?
Here are some holiday stress tips that can keep you sane and focused.
“Think, Feel, Act” – A 3-Part Remedy
Three strategies can help you stay focused, balanced, and relaxed during the holidays. They’re based on a principle of CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy), which says our thoughts generate our feelings. And our feelings, in turn, influence our actions.
You can easily remember the three parts as think – feel – act.
Focusing on each area – thoughts, feelings, and actions – will help us think better, feel better, and live better during this (and every) season.
Here’s what the three steps look like applied to the holidays:
(1) Do regular mental check-ins.
What are you telling yourself about this time of year? What sort of expectations or beliefs do you have? Where’s your focus? Become aware of what you’re thinking. Develop mind control and learn how to control your thoughts.
Start by making sure your thoughts are accurate and helpful. Remember, as you think, so will you feel. Pay attention to where you place your focus.
If you don’t have one already, set an intention that’s aligned with what matters to you. This will help you be proactive rather than reactive.
Identify a realistic vision for the season and do daily self evaluations to make sure you’re on track. Keep your eye on whatever you decide is most important – for example, enjoying the moment, the reason for the season, connecting with yourself and others, to name a few.
Make a point of maintaining a positive outlook and a grateful attitude. Much has been written about the power of positive thinking. Try it and see for yourself. Think positive and happy thoughts. You’ll feel better almost instantly.
And check yourself for any distorted thinking. Particularly dangerous are perfectionistic “I must/ should __” statements (e.g., get the perfect present, attend every event, host the ideal party, be perfect)… all or nothing generalizations (e.g., that was a total success / failure)… and personalizations (e.g., “they seemed distant or distracted, they must hate me / my gift / my party”). If these common distortions rear their misery-inducing heads, revise them to something more accurate and helpful. For example, try good-enough thinking, shades of grey, and depersonalization.
(2) Keep your emotions balanced and healthy.
Tune into your emotional frequency regularly. Let feelings flow through and out of you without judging or arresting them. Stopped up emotional flow is like blocked water – let it go on too long and things become stagnant, arid, or flooded. It’s unhealthy and prevents you from living life fully.
Mindfulness techniques and mindfulness meditation are excellent ways to experience and release emotions. The process also lets your emotions illuminate and even heighten your experience of the present.
If you’re getting stressed or overwhelmed, these feelings will let you know so you can course-correct. If you’re feeling positive, including attracted or engaged, your emotions will deepen your enjoyment and point you towards what you want to do more of. You can also generate feelings of relaxation and well-being through guided meditations designed to produce these.
See for yourself by trying the 10 minute Peaceful Place meditation below:
Other ways to experience and release feelings include journaling or sharing them with someone you trust to be empathic and non-judgmental.
(3) Let your actions support your vision.
Your time, energy, and health are among your most precious resources. Guard them deliberately.
There are many distractions and potential commitments out there, especially at this time of year. Even if they’re worthy, they may not be ones you can manage if you want to stay centered and live into your intention for the holidays. You’ll likely need to prioritize; plan (the earlier, the better); communicate; and say no to avoid over-committing. And you’ll definitely need to take care of yourself by watching what you eat and drink, as well as getting enough exercise and sleep.
Nurturing yourself spiritually, spending time in nature or in solitude, giving to those less fortunate, doing activities you enjoy, having quality time with people you love – all can be excellent ways to focus on what matters most to you as well.
At the end of the day, you have a great deal of control over your experience(s). And it all starts with controlling your mind – how you think, where you place your focus, what your vision is.
From there, your emotions will follow. Your job is to filter out unnecessary ones with mind control, and let the rest do their job. Experience your feelings mindfully and they can alert you to what’s not working, as well as heighten your enjoyment of what is.
Finally, bring your actions in line with your vision and let your behavior support your goals. Used together, these skills will allow you to stay balanced and enjoy not only the holidays but life itself.
NOW TRY THIS:
Here’s a highly effective action step…
Identify a realistic vision for what you want your holiday to look like. Get clear on the payoffs for this vision. What will you gain when you’ve achieved this goal? What will life look like? Be as specific and detailed as possible. Use emotional language. For example, “I’ll enjoy the season doing things that are important to me with people I care about. I’ll feel the warmth, peace and fulfillment of living out what’s meaningful to me.”
Use this vision to help you establish focus and direction for your holiday season. Apply the steps above, and let me know how it goes for you! I’d love to hear about it (and yes, after the holidays is fine!).