I was pleased to be asked to present three workshops on Managing Holiday Stress for a local company recently and thought I’d share some of the tips from that presentation with you.
If you are at all like me, you want to prepare and orchestrate the warmest, nicest holiday experience you can. This can lead to unrealistic expectations for your own “performance”. Trying to have the “Hallmark” holiday with all the decorations just so, homemade food, beautifully wrapped gifts, and a perfectly clean house for guests can put tremendous stress on you. Prioritize your tasks and be realistic about your energy levels. (ha ha, I have company arriving tomorrow and have given up the need to scrub the grout..)
1. Ask for help, don’t assume others will volunteer. For instance, with guests, be aware that they likely have different traditions around holidays. For instance, their family stays out of the kitchen when mom or the designated chef is at work, so it wouldn’t occur to them to offer to help you cook. You don’t want to become a martyr (or be perceived as one) by doing it all and then begin to resent having company, or doing the tasks you’ve taken on.
2. Be flexible, weather, travel conditions, emergencies etc. may come up and dash your plans. Instead of getting stressed over it, consider having a backup plan. No plan? Then just do your best to go with the flow rather than trying to make things turn out a certain way.
3. Hold your boundaries, allow yourself to just say “NO”. If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t take on more obligations. What can you let go of to give yourself more time and energy? (Note to self: I give myself permission to skip hand writing notes in holiday cards this year. I am not staying up half the night this year to get cards in the mail in time.)
4. Let go of outmoded “traditions”. Does your family have holiday traditions that may no longer be relevant but you continue them anyway? I love the story about the gathered generations of women preparing a holiday ham. One cuts both ends of the ham before placing it in the roasting pan. The youngest says “Mom, why did you cut off both ends of the ham?” She answers, “because that is the way your grandmother always prepares it.” The little girl then went to her grandmother and asked the same question. Her grandmother’s response; “I had to because my pan was too small”. (In my example, it was a big deal to make loads of holiday treats, participate in cookie exchanges, and engage my kids in the process. Now, as a gluten free empty-nester, it doesn’t make sense to do all that baking.)
Create Peace and Joy
1. Do something for others. Consider being a bell ringer for a couple of hours or volunteer to distribute food or toys for a non-profit. Put your personal holiday stress in perspective by helping those less fortunate.
2. Take care of yourself. If you have an exercise routine, keep it up. Nothing releases stress in the body better than exercise. Watch what you eat and drink and try not to overindulge. If you need a break from people, take it. (One workshop participant who was hosting extended family in her home, said she retreated to her closet a couple of times a day for a 15 minute meditation break.)
3. Have fun experiences. Play board games, go for walks, drive around and see holiday lights, do some interactive activities with others. If there are children around, engage with them. Nothing brings joy like a little person’s laughter.
4. Don’t take yourself or your opinions too seriously. Allow other people to “be right”. Avoid confrontations with others. The old adage “count to 10 before you respond” is still good advice. I find it beneficial to take 3 or 4 deep slow breaths when tensions arise. It relaxes the body, forces more oxygen to your brain, and enables you to make a more conscious choice in responding in challenging conversations or situations.
Wishing you all the peace, love, joy and wonder of the season —Dee