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Holiday Stress

As we all know, the Holidays are here along with the added stress they can bring.  Why do we feel additional stress at this time of year? We like to blame outside things such as worsening traffic, crowded malls, and those never-ending TV commercials pushing us to spend more, more, more, stretching & straining our budgets beyond recognition.

However, one of the key culprits to increased holiday stress is actually your own memories.  When we think about the holidays, we tend to dwell on the past.  We think about everything that went wrong.  Or we romanticize past events, making them impossible to re-create.  We also anticipate or fear that we won’t find that “perfect gift”, throw that “perfect party”, or have everything ready in time before the in-laws or extended family arrive. 

It is important to carefully examine your thoughts and expectations as well as your perceptions.  Do you really need to out-perform what you perceived as Aunt Dorothy’s unbelievably perfect party last year?  What if that wonderful party that you perceived as perfection, was, from Aunt Dorothy’s perspective a disaster?  Did something she was aware of go wrong that you (and the other guests) never even noticed?   Remember while you are doing your planning, what you may perceive as being a near or even total disaster, will likely be perceived by others as a wonderful event.

 So, what are some of the tricks successful people use to manage their stress during the holidays?

First, ask yourself if your expectations for the holidays are realistic;

  • Make a list on a piece of paper of what you expect from yourself and your family during the holidays.  Within these expectations you may find things particular to you that can cause added holiday stress.
  • Next, write down what changes you can make to prevent or minimize stress.
  • Adopt the changes that will be most helpful to you.
  • Avoid holding on to unrealistic goals such as creating the “perfect” holiday atmosphere.
  • Remember to include your own needs on this list.

Another important way to reduce the negative effects of stress is to simply recognize when stress is becoming excessive.

Watch the attitude of your children.  They are great indicators of how you are doing.  If they are showing signs of increased stress, perhaps you are the one who needs to step back and take a break.

Periodically through your day take a quick inventory of where you are at that moment.  Take a deep breath and do a scan of your body and mind.  Note if you are experiencing any of the physical or emotional signs of stress. 

  • Look to see if you might be clenching your jaw/teeth and not realizing it.  What is the expression you feel on your face?  Is it tight or comfortable and relaxed? 
  • Scan your neck and back muscles.  Are they achy or tight? 
  • Maybe your stomach has been touchy. 
  • Are you irritable or having trouble focusing? 
  • There may be different specific signs that you personally experience when you are under stress.  Are they present?

This scan can be done quickly while you are on the road driving, walking somewhere, shifting gears between activities or projects, or even in the middle of a project or meeting.

So, What do you do with what you found?

  1. Remember to BREATHE! More importantly, breathe RIGHT!
    • Did you know there are different breathing styles?  Take a moment and watch your child breathe when he or she is relaxed.  What do you see?  Their tummy moves out and in.  That is the most natural and effective form of breathing.
    • As we grow and respond to life around us, many people shift to chest breathing.  That is especially true for women in this society.  We have been so trained to believe that our chests have to be up and out while our tummies are tucked in and flat that we have modified our breathing into a very unnatural form.
    • By allowing your tummy to expand when you breathe, your diaphragm gets to work the way it was designed, resulting in more efficient breathing and better oxygenation.  This then releases tension, allowing you to think more clearly and remain more relaxed.  You will just naturally begin to cope more effectively.
  2. Lower your expectations a bit.  Be a little easier on yourself.  Keep some of the fun in the PROCESS.  Be OK when one or more of the inevitable Murphy’s Law events occur.
  3. Acknowledge when life feels hectic.  Share this with your kids in a gentle way. Your little ones will be watching and learning from you.  By being open with them, you will be showing them how to develop effective coping skills.
  4. Make a point to relax and take care of your self. Even a 10-minute break will have positive results.
  5. Overestimate — rather than underestimate — your time.  Automatically assume it will take you longer to do any and all tasks during the holidays.  If you get done early, you get another chance for a breather or you can move ahead comfortably with the next task.
  6. Set your gift budget & stick to it.
  7.  Don’t over-commit.  Learn to say “NO” and remember that “NO” is a complete sentence.
  8. Don’t over-commit.  Learn to say “NO” and remember that “NO” is a complete sentence.
  9. Smile!  This is a beautiful time of the year.  Take a moment to look around and enjoy it.

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