While the holidays can be a joyous time of year, they can also increase stress for many people. How do we determine what’s really important to us during this season and make these items a priority, rather than trying to meet other people’s or society’s expectations?
How do we cope with missing people and holiday rituals from past years that are no longer in our lives?
How can we find peace during this season that is often anything but peaceful?
To begin with, it can be helpful to consider what some of your most cherished memories have been from past holiday seasons. My guess is that crowded shopping mall parking lots, harried preparation for holiday parties, and frayed nerves don’t spring to mind.
Perhaps you renewed contact with an old friend or family members, made some new acquaintances at a holiday event, or took the time to tell loved ones how much they mean to you.
Maybe you spent time luxuriating by a warm fireplace with a hot cup of tea, watching the snow fall outside the window.
Or possibly you enjoyed singing holiday carols at a party, at a religious service, or at a retirement home.
One common thread in a meaningful holiday season is our connection with others. Here are some suggestions to minimize the “other stuff”:
1) Make lists. Get out your calendar as you schedule activities. This way you can see when you’re beginning to overbook yourself.
2) Enlist help. Get your partner to help with shopping or other tasks. Have a baking party so that everyone can help with the decorating while you have a chance to enjoy each other.
3) Say NO! It’s okay to decline invitations or decide to relinquish some of your past holiday traditions. Saying yes when you’d like to say can engender resentment and anxiety, rather than kindling holiday cheer. You don’t have to do or be everything to everyone. Think quality, not quantity.
4) Eat healthfully. I know — are you kidding? But really, it’s possible. If you want to stay healthy and be able to manage stress during the holiday season, eating healthfully is key. We’re not talking about perfection here (which would be stressful in its own right) but about moderation. Minimizing sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can go a long way in balancing your moods and energy level. At holiday celebrations, focus on the people rather than on the food and drink.
5) Find time to exercise. Regular exercise is a great stress reliever. According to your needs, you can either use exercise as a chance to grab some alone time, or as a social occasion if you enlist a friend to accompany you. You needn’t wait until you can go to the gym for an hour or two — stepping outside for a 15-minute walk can do wonders for your body and mind.
6) Don’t overspend. Make a budget and stick to it. Who wants the anxiety of having bills pile up after the holidays? Plus, remember that friends and family desire your time and attention more than your gifts. Truly, your presence is your present. Also, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the season without breaking the bank — you can take a walk (see #5, above) or a drive and admire the holiday lights and decorations. You can join a caroling group. Go window-shopping without buying. Attend a Christmas-tree decorating party.
7) Reach out to others. Focus on people. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious, or other social events. Volunteer to help others. Plan to nurture relationships during this period. It bears repeating — holidays are a time for being together. Pick out one or two acquaintances or friends, and make it a point to build stronger relationships.
8) Celebrate the holidays throughout the year. There’s no need to feel as if you have to cram all of your celebrating into several specific days. Did you know that somewhere in the world there’s a holiday every day of the year? Did you know that September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, for instance? Or that March 24 is National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day? I kid you not. Every day can be a reason to celebrate.
9) And finally… Enjoy the moment. Appreciate and live in the present. After all, if you spend the majority of the season planning for parties, get-togethers, and shopping, then your focus will be on the future rather than living in the now — so you’ll miss the holidays, in effect. Be in the moment with the people you love. If you can’t be with certain people, you can hold their hand in your heart, being grateful for times spent with them in the past. Have a good laugh. Maintaining a sense of humor can help by connecting you with others and putting your stressors in perspective.