holiday stress top 3 ways to avoid it

Holiday Stress Getting You Down?

Are you getting bogged down by holiday stress? I have a confession to make – holidays stress me out if I’m not careful. What is designed to be a time of joy, spending time with friends and family, and recuperating from a busy year can quickly morph into the Holiday Monster that seems to mimic the energizer bunny and just keep going, and going, and going…

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way. The holidays can still be what what they were designed to be: a time of great joy and connecting with others. For some, however, the holidays can also be a time of sadness for those who have lost loved ones, or perhaps don’t have family or friends nearby. Or difficult for those who are struggling with their own mental, physical, or emotional health issues that don’t take a break just because Santa’s coming to town.

So, I give you my Top 3 ways to avoid holiday stress and the impending burnout.

1. Accept the busyness of the season.

Sometimes we imagine the holiday season to be a blissful, paradise of tranquility that can only be seen in a Thomas Kinkade painting. This is amplified when you add children’s programs at school, children’s programs at church, holiday parties at work places (which is often multiple for many families), holiday parties with friends, family get togethers – you get the idea. If you’ve been reading and saying, “Yes,” to each of these events, it’s no wonder you feel frazzled and tired. It really is a lot to take in – and a lot to do in a short period of time.

We have a choice. We can give in to the holiday stress and become frazzled, anxious, upset, and even bitter; or, we can choose what Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy calls Radical Acceptance and accept that despite all of our best intentions, the holidays are often extremely busy, that this is our reality, and stop fighting against this fact.

2. Choose to be present, and choose what to be present for.

When we feel overwhelmed, we often dissociate. I’m not talking dissociation in the sense of losing all sense of reality (although it may feel like that sometimes), but more along the lines of hanging out at the food table far too long, drinking far too much eggnog, staring blankly at the wall, or looking at our phones/tablets constantly – all in an effort to avoid connecting with how overwhelmed we are, and further, having to connect with someone else while we’re in this state. So how do we choose to be present in the midst of feeling overwhelmed?

Breathe. There, I said it. If you actually pay attention to your breathing patterns you’ll likely notice that as soon as your stress levels rise, you stop breathing properly. Our brain needs oxygen to survive, and if we deprive it of this, it has a hard time thinking and processing leading us to feel even more overwhelmed. If you’re overwhelmed, take a moment and breathe. Notice the air passing through your mouth or nose, into your lungs, and focus on that and nothing else. Even one minute of doing this can be enough to bring you back to the present, and being present in the moment.
Part of having the ability to be present, means choosing what to be present for. We can’t do it all, even though we may feel we can, or even want to. If we want to be present while we’re with others, sometimes it means choosing not to go to certain events, or participate in certain activities so that we don’t become overwhelmed and can actually enjoy what we’re doing and who we’re with. Surprisingly, if we choose not to attend a function or two the earth does not stop spinning on its axis.

3. Be mindful of the true meaning of the holidays.

It’s easy to lose sight of what we are celebrating and get caught up in the holiday stress and mayhem. Regardless of what you are celebrating, it pays to focus on the original intent of the celebration as a reminder of why we are doing what we are doing. In Judaism, Hanukkah, in general terms, celebrates the rededication of the temple after years of oppression – a triumph of light over darkness; Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, a symbol of peace for Christians; and Kwanzaa celebrates African-American life and culture and all three involve lots of good food, and gift-giving.

By being mindful of the true meaning of the holidays, we can help ourselves focus on why we celebrate, and why we participate in all the events that we do each holiday season. And, if we play our cards right, we may just enjoy ourselves, spend time with loved ones, celebrate another year passing and a New Year coming. From all of us at Alongside You, we wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season, and only the best in the coming New Year.

– Andrew for the team at Alongside You