Of the many spiritual or cultural holidays that are celebrated at this time of year, most are in some way a reflection of overcoming the toils and injustices of life to reconnect with positive human values and emotions. It is all too easy though, for the time, energy, and preparation of the traditions with which we mark this re-connection to reinforce the toil instead of the celebration. Here are a few ideas to keep the stress from taking over:
1. Pick a Priority - decide which tradition of the holiday reflects the value to which you want to give the most time and energy and apply short cuts to the rest. Is it most important for you to:
• decorate your space so it reflects the spirit of the holiday in which you can reflect or relax—if not, keep the décor minimal and dust less
• reach out to family, friends, or strangers that may not receive as regular attention throughout the year—if not, send a card or email on some other occasion
• share the experience of special foods—if not, plan simpler meals and use pre-prepared, deli, or catered portions when you can
• explore your creativity by creating crafts—if not, challenge the right side of your brain through music or puzzles
• plan playful or sentimental activities that reinforce family bonds—if not, don’t feel guilty about indulging in quiet time
• engage in service to the community—if not, look at donations or volunteer at another time of year
• express your appreciation others by finding thoughtful gifts—if not, do give cards, give a certificate for a gift of service, make one gift everyone can share, etc.
• engage in spiritual reflection or meditation—
• if not, let others know not to have unrealistic expectations of you and request the time and space for what you need
2. Take a team approach—negotiate the priorities and budgets as a couple and family before the season begins. If you are alone, seek out a friend to share common tasks. Once the priorities are determined, divide the tasks or decide who has the leadership role for each part. Don’t be afraid to revise traditions that no longer work for everyone. If you can’t agree, compromise by finding a part you can minimize and a part you want to retain.
3. Don’t let disasters get you down—remember the things that go wrong usually make the best family stories and conversation starters later on. Perfectionism breeds stress.
4. Take a holiday from the holiday—spread out your tasks so you are not consumed with preparations all day—it loses the fun. Keep time for exercise, even if you have to shorten the routine, keep some nutrition in your diet even if you get it through snacks rather than regular meals and get adequate rest even by taking naps or short rests throughout the day if bedtime has been a little late. Take some time to do something relaxing and non-holiday related. Indulge but set a limit and balance it with other healthy activities to compensate.
5. Apply the HALT principle—being Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, or Tired makes us vulnerable to more relationship conflict. If tension arises, resolving one of these driving issues can go a long way to reducing the problem.
6. The word “no” can be a gift—the season that emphasizes caring for others can be a danger zone if you are prone to people pleasing and worrying about others’ judgments. However, a party is no fun if everyone there is overextended and anxious. By saying no to an event, a treat or a child’s unrealistic gift expectations, you are not only taking care of yourself but modelling for others it is okay for them to do the same.
7. Make your gift speak the right love language—in his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary D. Chapman explain that individuals have preferences to give and receive love through different means—Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, and Physical. If your traditions involve the exchange of gifts, take the stress out of finding the perfect one by considering the recipient’s style—would they be happier with that hard to find item you purchased, reading a nice letter of appreciation, finding a big red bow on the basket of laundry you just folded when that’s not your job, or receiving a home-made certificate for a massage?
8. Honor loneliness and grief—not everyone has a happy experience at this time of year. If you are alone and lonely, reach out to the many service events that involve others and push yourself introduce yourself. Loneliness can happen when you are surrounded by others, though. If so, try to identify the thoughts or beliefs that are interfering with making connections. If nothing else, there are many unwanted pets at the Humane Society that would welcome a visit and some attention when everyone else is busy. If the holidays are reminders of a significant loss, engage with an act of remembrance.
9. Have a strategy for difficult relatives and friends—everyone has someone in their lives that is more challenging to relate to than others. If the season means prolonged exposure to such person(s) pre-plan a break, arrange a signal with someone else you trust that you need some back-up, or arrange an alternative event. Have some general assertive responses planned that acknowledge the other person’s position but asserts your own.
10. Keep equality and respect at the forefront—any good driver will tell you that keeping your eyes on where you need to go is the most effective route to get there. Conflicts are bound to arise but placing a priority on respecting yourself and others and finding a mutually satisfying solution means you will most quickly work through them with fewer hard feelings.
11. Laugh—at least once a day seek out some humor. It floods our body with better chemicals than drugs, burns up more stressful energy than exercise, and stretches muscles we don’t use enough. Just be mindful you are not laughing at someone else’s expense.
12. Practice gratitude—most things in life have more than one meaning. Try to seek out the bright side of disappointments and frustrations. Remember that persistence takes just as much courage as bravery and is a more frequently demanded skill. Looking for some piece to appreciate in our self and others makes it more likely to experience it. Appreciating what we have instead of what we are missing makes it a whole lot simpler.
No matter what you are celebrating this season and how you are marking it, I wish you hope, acceptance, love and fulfillment.