Stress Less About the Holidays!

  • When I was a small child, the holidays "magically" materialized on their given date.  There were homemade apple and pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving. Christmas morning brought presents wrapped with gorgeous bows and tags neatly displayed under the tree.  I awoke on Easter morning knowing that there would be beautifully colored eggs hidden all around my grandmother's house.  It went without saying that there would be a scrumptious meal at all holidays.

     

    Now I have two small children of my own.  On Christmas Eve last year I was up at 12:30 AM, exhausted and still had a pile of unwrapped presents.  I had missed Christmas Eve at Church, a service that I love to attend. There were a big pile of dishes in the sink from the evening meal, and the thought of waking up to them was really depressing!  The last number of years of holidays have made me truly wonder how my grandmother pulled off all those Disney -like holiday celebrations.

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    Well, I know.  She planned. She organized.  She shopped early, wrapped early. She stayed up most of the night the eve before the holiday. She put all her energy into making the holidays special for her family.  From my child's mind perspective she seems to have enjoyed it.  As an adult, however, I wonder.  Was she stressed? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Depressed?

     

    I don't know about my Grandmother, but many, many of the rest of us find the holidays to be overwhelming, anxiety producing, and downright depressing.  That's a tragedy, because the point of the holidays, which is to celebrate a meaningful event from the past, often at best gets minimized and at worst gets completely lost.

     

    So I challenge you all, from this point forward, to make plans to minimize your holiday stress and anxiety and maximize your celebration, enjoyment, and relaxation. 

    Most articles at this time of year will give you simple "tips" for handling holiday stress.  I'm going to take a slightly different approach and try to give you some exercises to try to help you think about handling the holidays with a slightly different perspective.  Lets talk about three stressful holiday topics:  Meals, People, and Things to Do.

     

    The Meals

    Depending on the person and the circumstances, the experience of cooking a holiday meal can range from a relaxing and enjoyable experience to an overwhelming, stressful and exhausting one! So, what should you do this holiday season?  Answer the following questions as honestly as you can:

    1. How much do I enjoy cooking?  You can rate your answer on a scale of 0-10, where 0 means "absolutely not at all," and a 10 means "it's one of my favorite activities!"  Write your rank here:  _________
    2. Now, think of one or two helpers that could be available to help you cook.  How much would you enjoy cooking with this person(s).  Re-rank your answer here: _______________
    3. How stressed do I get when cooking this type of meal (0 means not at all, 10 is extremely stressed)? _____________

    O.K., so if your answer to #1  or #2 is an "8" or above and your answer to question #3 is a "6" or below, here's my interpretation:  Cooking the holiday meal for you is highly enjoyable and your stress level is either moderate (5-6) or low (anything under 5).   Does that sound accurate?  If so, ask yourself, "Is this what I want to do?" If the answer is "yes," then go for it!

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    If your answer to question #1 or #2 is a "4" or below, cooking is not that enjoyable for you right now, so consider another plan!

     

    If you answer to question #3 is a 7 or above, your stress level or feeling of being overwhelmed is too high, so perhaps you should consider another plan!

    So, what other plan?  Rate how appealing these alternatives seem to you from 0-10. A 0 is not at all appealing, a 10 is "what a fantastic idea."

     

    Let's go out to eat for the holiday meal____________

    Let's go to ___________'s house for the meal ______________

    Let's get some take out for the holiday meal_______

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    Let's make a really simple meal with just 4 items (example: Turkey, potatoes, asparagus, purchased pie) _____________

     

    Which one did you rank the highest?  Are you willing to do that?  These ideas may spark some new, alternative ideas that I haven't mentioned.  For example, there have been about 3 Thanksgivings in the last 8-10 years or so where we have gone away for the holiday weekend. Those were just about the best time I've ever had at Thanksgiving!  There were several Christmas days where all we had was a purchased ham (Honey Baked), cheese and crackers, and cookies! It was perhaps not the best meal nutritionally, but it sure was tasty and easy!

     

    The People

    One of the most stressful aspects of holiday time is dealing with the people that we spend the day with!  Perhaps it's the only time of year that you see cousin Dick, who always drinks too much and gets obnoxious.  Maybe your mother-in-law is critical of your cooking.  Perhaps you end up driving 2 hours to grandmother's house and you would just rather stay home and watch a movie!

     

    Relating to difficult people is a topic for all year round, so I'll make it the subject of a number of future Share Posts.  However, for this article, I'd like you to take a minute and bring to mind the most difficult person that you have to deal with over the holidays.  What specifically about this person makes them difficult (i.e. they drink too much, they are critical, they always ask you when you are going to get married)?  Or perhaps it's not so much that people are difficult, but you are shy and don't know what to talk about around them, hence making the situation stressful.

     

    O.K., now read the following strategies for coping with difficult people and try to picture yourself following one or more of them:

     

    1. Give a friendly "hello" when you arrive and nice "goodbye" when you leave  to the difficult person and talk to other people the rest of the time.  Especially don't engage people who are intoxicated in conversation, especially controversial or emotional conversations.

     

    2. Make a lighthearted statement in response to every critical remark sent your way.  You might need to prepare a few generic statements ahead of time, such as "yep, that's just me, I guess there's no hope," or "I never did get the hang of (just fill in the blank) carving meat, parallel parking, sending Christmas cards."  The point of "agreeing" with the criticism in a lighthearted manner is that it generally stops most criticizers right in their tracks!

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    3.  If you are shy, find the "safest" person in the room and ask them a lot of questions about themselves, their job, their kids, etc.  If you show genuine interest in someone not only will they feel that you care about them, but the attention will be taken off of yourself.

     

    4. Remember that you do not live with the difficult person, nor are you responsible for them. Jim* used to be anxious at family gatherings because his nephew was constantly in some kind of trouble.  Jim felt like the need to "say" or "do" something to help his nephew.  Trouble was, there wasn't anything Jim could do to help his nephew.  Jim started saying to himself, "He's an adult, he makes his own choices. He's not my son. There's nothing I can do." By repeating these statements to himself at family gatherings, Jim was able to break the cycle of his thoughts, lessen the intensity of his emotions, and focus on other family members.

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    These are not magical cures for dealing with difficult people, they are merely meant as a starting point to help you develop a different perspective.  Can you picture yourself trying any of these with your difficult person? Which one(s)? How are you going to prepare yourself to try this approach?

     

    The Million Things You  "Need" to Do

    I must admit, this is an especially tough topic for me.  I always have more ideas and plans than are reasonable to make happen in reality. What really works for me (when I actually do it) is to divide things into three categories of priority:

     

    Essential (Our holiday just would not be meaningful without this)

    If I am honest, there are actually very few things on my "essential" list. Since I have small children, my list currently consists of a Christmas tree, and Advent Wreath, presents for the kids. 

     

    Very Special, but not Essential

    These are things that you like to have/do, but will not ruin your holiday if you do not have them. For me it would be other decorations, certain food items, and some specific events that we may or may not attend.  You might rank order these in order of importance, knowing that the things at the bottom of the list (such as my husband's delicious chocolate mousse) might get cut off.

     

    Nice, but We Can Really Do Without

    I indulge myself by writing down all my other ideas on this list.  Then I can think about them and decide if I really want to move them up the priority list or if they can be cut off.

     

    Keep in mind that your priorities may shift from year to year.  Last year, I never got around to sending any Christmas cards.  I was sad about it afterwards and made it an "Essential" for this year.  However, I'm still not decided if it's an "Essential" for every year yet, just this year.

     

    I have a friend who often says, "Who has time for that!" and is basically referring to lots of things such as sending Christmas cards.  However, we have the time for what we are committed to because it is our priority. Last year I was not committed to sending Christmas cards, this year I am (they are 98% completed as I write this). The important key is learn that you cannot be committed to everything, hence the need to prioritize.

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    I hope these ideas will be food for thought to help you have less stressful and more meaningful holidays!

     

    *All client names/details are changed to protect confidentiality

Published On: December 01, 2008