Savvy Blog

Although the holiday season is supposed to bring joy and harmony to all, the many expectations that lay behind the seasonal events can cause many of us to feel overwhelmed by the tasks, deadlines and activities rushing at us. And if you’re in charge of hosting, entertaining and preparing a range of holiday season events, the pressure soon mounts up.

If the holiday season has you all tied up in knots, toss the guilt for not keeping up with all the expectations and start taking care of yourself so as to manage that stress and find ways to truly enjoy the holiday season.

Steps

  1. Notice the signs that you’re in need of stress relief. If you’re trying to soldier on in the face of all too much happening at this time of the year, it’s important to recognize the signs so that you’re able to heed them. While it is possible to live with stress, it’s how you handle it that matters and stifling your angst and frustrations beneath doing more and more will only end up imploding when you’re least able to deal with it. Some of the signs to watch for include:
    • Exhaustion that can’t be fixed with a night’s proper sleep. This is result of the lack of sleep mounting up over several months and finally hitting you with a whammy. You know that sewing Santa costumes, piping icing on your kids’ cupcakes for their end-of-year parties and finalizing the figures in a multitude of reports till the wee small hours of the morning has consequences but you don’t seem to be able to stop!
    • Irritability. Everything irritates you, from the never-ending in-tray that seems mysteriously larger than at any other time of the year to the messy Christmas list your youngest has shoved in your face menacingly before leaving the house. Unfortunately, this means you’ve forgotten to see the charm of your life, and you’ve started imagining that work’s getting harder and your kids more demanding, forgetting the joys and only seeing the irritants. Big warning bells!
    • Lack of resilience. Your boss criticizes one small detail in the paper you’ve spent months getting ready so it can free you up for the holiday break. You fall apart, sobbing and she looks at you like you’re from outer space. She’s almost on the right track…
    • Poor memory. You’ve lost the list of Kris Kringle names somewhere, you’ve misplaced an entire year’s worth of figures somewhere in the computer files and you can’t find your Santa costume from last year. Loss of memory might be infuriating but it’s also protective; it’s a suggestion to slow down big time.
    • Lack of energy. You can’t face the thought of having to make Christmas dinner or buy Hanukkah gifts; or decorating for Kwanzaa makes you want to go into a tailspin. All because you just feel as if you have no energy left to do all these festive extras.
    • Negative feelings. You’re already planning to be disappointed by Christmas dinner or the New Year’s party. Every other year has been a washout, so this one will be too. Oh, why even try? you start to wonder. This is negative thinking and it needs to be tackled before you fulfill your worries.
    • Feeling down, feeling the blues or depressed. An inability to shake off the blues is a warning sign that stressors are getting to you. This is one step removed from negative feelings, which will also accompany feeling down but may also involved feeling like giving up or even suicidal thoughts. You need immediate help.
  2. Give yourself a break. This time of year can fluster even the most un-flustered unless they’ve managed to purchase a plane ticket taking them overseas for the entire holiday season. If you’re responsible for the majority of holiday season preparations, entertainment and hosting, you’re under a lot of pressure and despite the fun moments being injected into the holiday season, if a lot of the preparation for the celebratory events falls to you and you’re also juggling work, raising children, meeting deadlines, finishing off projects and the like, then it’s likely that you’re overloaded. And if you’ve forgotten to take care of your own needs amid this, it’s not surprising that you’re feeling stressed. Some of the things you might benefit from include:
    • Blocking out several hours every few days for rest. This is “you” time and it does not involve flipping through magazines planning Christmas lunch or New Year’s Eve cocktails. This is time to shut your eyes, put the feet up and relax. Watch something you enjoy, read a book or write poems. Do anything other than what’s expected of you.
    • Treating yourself to a massage or a spa visit. Amid all the chaos, seek some serenity.
    • Taking time out to chat with a friend or two. Share your ideas for making it through the holiday season with greater ease. You might even help one another with babysitting arrangements or sharing tasks.
    • Visit your place of worship or spiritual spot more often than usual. Take time to pray, reflect, think, meditate or just be in a state of silence and peace. Allow the peacefulness to wash over you and to help you stay psyched up about the spirit of the season.
  3. Restore your sleep. It may be the holiday season but that’s no reason for feeling like you’re a Grand Prix driver minus the fuel. And it’s a vicious cycle––the more you don’t sleep enough, the more sleep you need eventually and the tireder you get but the more wired up you become until you’re buzzing around without an ounce of energy left. For people with a lot on their calendars, it can seem like sleeping less is the answer to getting that To Do list crossed off. In the short term, this can be a work, but if you find that you have troubles getting to sleep (or you’re suddenly sleeping too much), this is a sign your body is under too much stress.
    • Start going to bed at the time that will ensure 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. If things aren’t done, they can be done tomorrow or not at all. Trying to juggle the lot will eventually collapse on you and mistakes will be made. It’s far better to be rested and in control of all your faculties.
  4. Eat well. It’s easier to tuck into holiday season fare and to put aside your usual concentration on nutrition but this is going to devastate your energy levels if done daily over the holiday season. Too many sugary, fatty and unhealthy snacks can take the place of healthier food, depleting much-needed nutrients that can help you manage stress better. While it’s fine to indulge on occasion during the holiday season, avoid using access to a lot of unhealthy treats as an excuse to forgo eating well. Changing the way you eat as a reaction to the stressors of the holiday season might seem like a way to make you feel better, but this can lead to weight gain, which can cause more stress. Eat three healthy meals a day and keep most of your snacks healthy, indulging just occasionally on some of the tastier nibbles around.
    • Eating less? Some people respond to stress by stopping eating altogether. This is hard on the body as well and also depletes you of much-needed energy. Indeed, you might take in so few calories that you cannot maintain your energy during the day, which is not helpful to your health.
  5. Watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol is often relied upon to ease stress and one or two drinks a few times a week might be ideal for this purpose. More than this can increase your stress, cause you to put on weight and can cloud your judgment, making things seem more negative and overwhelming than they actually are. For events such as New Year’s Eve, let yourself have a glass or two of the very best wine or sparkling drinks instead of drinking to get drunk. You deserve the far better experience.
  6. Stop imagining that the holiday season is about being “perfect”. A lot of stress, especially for those responsible for making the meals, welcoming family home, buying and wrapping gifts, decorating for the season, etc. comes from trying to match the perfection shown in magazine and TV images. Too many photos and advertisements showing perfect houses with never-ending happy people all dressed in perfectly ironed white clothing can put you into overdrive if you try to keep up. Perfection in images is an art form aimed at marketing, not a reality aimed at daily life and the static nature of the perfect holiday images beamed out to you must be remembered––remind yourself that after that camera shutter clicked or the videographer turned off the filming, all went to chaos, but you just don’t get to see that.
    • By all means strive to have some media-suggested elements you like form a part of your day but don’t expect perfection. Your polar bear cookies might be misshapen, your chicken overcooked and your house looking like a cross between Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year all because you’re still catching up but it’s the thoughts that count and of those, you’ve given plenty.
    • This is where delegation is vital (see below); delegation means shared responsibility for how everything turns out.
  7. Acknowledge feelings you have about the season. Not everyone enjoys the holiday season but it’s rare that anyone dares say such a thing. For most, the reality is that there are the ideals behind the holiday season and there are the realities and rarely do they align perfectly and there will always be some things that aren’t to everyone’s liking. If you can acknowledge your worries, concerns and feelings about the season, you are better placed to deal with them in advance and to set limits on what you will––and won’t––tolerate. Most of all, don’t force yourself to feel happy, buoyant and carefree when you don’t feel this way. It will only backfire and cause more stress. You’re entitled to dislike aspects of the holiday season without stressing over them.
    • Acknowledging feelings doesn’t mean complaining or whining. These activities simply reinforce stressful feelings because you’re stuck seeing the unfairness or unpleasantness of the situation as one deserving of amplifying through grumbling. Rather than giving anything you’re not enjoying such power, simply acknowledge that some things are not enjoyable and simply pass over them or set limits on being part of them, without beating yourself up over it.
  8. Delegate. Delegation is an antidote to resentment and exhaustion, both of which add to the feelings of stress. Stock up on this antidote and make good use of it. Task others with fulfilling all of the things that need doing. The more you offload, the lighter the stress load and the more involved everyone else becomes. This includes work and home; take a half hour and work out what work tasks can you delegate, what cooking duties can you delegate, what gift purchasing tasks can you delegate. Then, set about asking the relevant people to do their part. You aren’t indispensable––match those who are best suited to achieving what needs doing and then… let go.
    • Things that can be delegated include meal preparation, gift selection for siblings, gift-wrapping,
    • Obviously, this still means that you’re responsible for planning and directing. But better that than doing it all.
  9. Stop doing trivial things that sap your time and make you feel more stressed. Stop sending out all those Christmas cards, reduce the list of gifts you’ll give this year, avoid playing Martha Stewart when decorating your house this year and forget the usual baking exchanges. If you feel as if anything you’re participating is about going through the motions or being seen to do the right thing, then you’re doing it for the wrong motivation and it’s best taken out of your To Do list.
    • Substitute. Instead of making that gingerbread house from scratch, buy the pre-made kit so that all you have to do is have the fun of decorating with your kids. Instead of making gifts from scratch, visit a community aid store that sells handmade items from people in developing countries who need your financial assistance to lead better lives.
  10. Accept that sometimes family isn’t going to get along, whatever the intent of the season. A common concern is feeling negative about being around certain family members at Christmas time, when it’s felt necessary to get along regardless of family hostilities or incompatibilities. Sometimes, in the trying to hard to get along, things blow up and make for an awful day. Negotiating difficult family relationships over the holiday season can cause a lot of stress, especially if you’re trying to be the peacemaker who doesn’t allow yourself to let off steam. Some ways around this include:
    • Not involving yourself in other people’s spats.
    • Engaging difficult people on neutral, accepting terms, not giving them reasons to argue and not joining their arguments when they try to start them.
    • Being understanding that some of the more difficult people are possibly stressed, anxious and even afraid themselves and that their difficult behavior is a manifestation of these underlying drivers.
    • Humoring difficult people without belittling them. Refusing to play their usual relationship games by remaining assertive and detached.
    • Not asking a family troublemaker to the seasonal event. Not everyone will have the courage to do this but for those who do, it speaks volumes. Another approach is to tell this person that if they can promise that they won’t misbehave as in previous years, they can count themselves re-invited but that if they do play up again, you won’t hesitate to ask them to leave immediately. Letting people get away with behavior that hurts others is more stressful long term than calling them on it.
  11. Concentrate on your achievements during the holiday season. There is a lot you could choose to be negative about. Why not flip this over to finding what there is worth feeling good about and to make this about recognizing your achievements instead of shortfalls, failings or misses? ‘Tis the season to be jolly and that includes being jolly about your own self and your own amazing abilities.
    • What do you enjoy about your life?
    • What things do you enjoy most about the holiday season?
    • What are the things that you’re doing this holiday season that you feel really good about?
    • Maybe you can replace one event at home with volunteering to help others instead. All you need to do is show up, accept directions and pitch in.

 

Savvy Kids is a monthly family magazine reflecting the unique style, interests and needs of central Arkansas families. In each issue of Savvy Kids, we feature health topics, information for special needs families, and highlight local heroes, arts programs and community events.
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