Tips For Coping With Holiday Stress
Hardly anyone wants to talk about it: that nagging little sense of dread in the back of your mind that began with the first holiday TV commercial way back in early November. No sooner did we polish off the last slice of pumpkin pie nestled in the back of the refrigerator, than we’re waking up at 3 a.m. in a panic over a neglected RSVP, an outfit we forgot to drop at the dry-cleaners or three missing addresses on our sprawling mailing list.
We tell ourselves this year will be different. We vow to live in the moment. We promise we’ll remember the reason for this season. Instead, we’ve morphed into a sad version of Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day.”
Try these three tips to redirect misplaced energy back to a peaceful center.
The American Heart Association suggests a good place to help begin to deal with stress is through positive self-talk. As stress increases, so does the negative dialogue in our heads. The first step is recognizing the behavior.
For example, if you catch yourself muttering or saying things in your mind such as, “I’m a terrible cook” or “I’m such a slob! There’s no possible way I’ll get my house cleaned up enough to invite friends over during the holidays,” you are not speaking with kindness or treating yourself with respect. Think instead how you would respond to and encourage close friends (or even strangers!) who were saying things like that out loud to you. Most of us would immediately reassure others that they would absolutely be OK and that they were certainly not the “losers” they thought they were.
Try rephrasing self-talk to have a positive tone such as: “I’ve made this recipe several times before, and everyone said it was delicious;” “I’ve always gotten everything cleaned up just in time, and people really enjoyed coming over;” and “I can do this. I know I’ll handle things fine if I just take it all one step at a time.” Word-by-word, the transition away from constant, negative banter and towards positivity will calm your soul.
Practice this skill while looking in the mirror. Call yourself by your favorite, cheerful nickname. Look into your own eyes, and smile as you speak aloud.
Another way to cope with holiday stress is to set aside time away once a day. If you feel yourself spinning out of control while standing in line or about to have a tantrum while trolling for a parking spot, you’ll need to act immediately. Go directly to the nearest quiet place you can find. Sit. Stay…
Most smartphones have a timer. Take three very slow, deep breaths and set yours for 10 minutes. Find a comfortable position with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap — even better, lie down. Close your eyes.
Visualize that you are resting in a peaceful place. The location you imagine can be anywhere: under an umbrella at the beach, floating on a raft in a crystal-clear pool, walking with your dog in the woods, or riding on a ski lift high above the mountain trees with fresh cool air tingling your face.
As you keep this scene at the forefront of your mind, place your hands on each side of your rib cage. Inhale and exhale fully, focusing on feeling each long breath move at a slow, steady pace. When your 10-minute timer goes off, take three more deep breaths. Open your eyes and say aloud one very nice, encouraging thing to yourself. Return to your activities, but keep the door of your mind open to revisit your peaceful place at a moment’s notice.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with reflecting on holiday traditions that brought you joy in the past. However, try not to get carried away by the fantasy. What you think you remember about those times might be a highly romanticized account and quite different than what actually happened. Our selective memories are incredibly powerful, complex and subjective. In actuality, they may be much farther from the truth than we realize.
Real-life was never meant to be perfect. It’s impossible to keep traditions exactly the same from year to year. Families expand and shrink. Friends relocate. People pass in and out of our lives just as they are destined to do. Choose a few traditions to hold onto that make you especially happy, and then open your heart to creating brand-new ones with people you love.
Maybe it’s time to let go of the stress and expense of sending countless holiday cards. Instead, spend the money you would have used on printing and stamps on meeting at a restaurant for a festive breakfast or lunch with local friends. Block out one or two hours in the evening that might have been spent signing all those cards and use that time to make some “old-fashioned” phone calls to a few far-away family members.
When holiday cards begin to roll in from friends, look carefully at each one and stop to give thanks for the sender rather than feeling guilty about not sending yours. Go a step further and send each person a quick thank you text or a social media message about how his or her note made your day.
“Four ways to deal with stress,” The American Heart Association, June 2014
“Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping,” Mayo Clinic, October 2014
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