It’s no secret that the holiday season can be more stressful than enjoyable for many people. The rise in popularity of Blue Christmas Gatherings are proof enough. These special gatherings are offered by Christian houses of worship as well as community and social organizations, and provide the chance for people to acknowledge and honor their feelings of loss, grief, anger, regret, or pain during the holiday season. The gatherings are also for those who suffer from the pressures of living up to expectations or who have economic or health challenges. You don’t have to belong the faith community to attend. (Search for “blue Christmas gathering” in your area.)
Whether you’re inclined to attend or not, no doubt you will feel some pressure this time of year. The joys of gift-giving quickly fade when you and thousands of your closest friends descend on the malls in a buying blitz. And it’s not just the stress of fighting for the last “Frozen” toy on the shelf, or having to choose which sweater Aunt Belle would like best (the one with a flashing reindeer nose or the one with the sequin Christmas tree?). We have parties to attend or host, goodies to make and gorge on, school concerts to suffer through, and the office white elephant give-away to avoid.
Finding life balance is tricky enough even outside the holiday season. If you think there are never enough hours in the day to do everything you “need” to do, remember, the balancing act is up to you. This is the self-care I’ve been writing about for a couple of months.
In the meantime, here are some tips for managing four of the most common holiday stressors.
Holidays are supposed to be a time for joy and peace, for gathering around the Yule log and forgetting the family feud. Unfortunately, you can’t expect everyone to have achieved the same Zen consciousness you have. Certain people may know how to push your buttons, but instead of reacting in kind, respond with kindness. A genuine smile, a well-timed sometimes “you’re right,” or even putting a gentle hand on that person’s shoulder before walking away in silence is the most peaceful response (and can be satisfyingly unsettling to that most annoying of persons, who was expecting you to react!). Get the most out of your holiday by practicing this technique year-round. Warning: Rendering others speechless with this method can be addictive. Even if your family is unlike most others and enjoys perfect harmony (for example, you’re all from Venus or all from Mars and therefore live in communication nirvana), sometimes things just don’t go as planned. When frustration rises, stop, take five deep breaths, and accept that although you can’t change what’s happened or what’s been said, you can change how you respond.
When applied in the right circumstances, one of the most stress-reducing words in the English language is “no.” Using it wisely and compassionately could add years to your life—which means more holiday seasons to enjoy! Practice these phrases while looking in the mirror:
- No thank you. I appreciate your invitation to be the lead elf in the community play, but my therapist advises against pretending to be something I’m not.
- No thank you. I’m flattered you thought of me to bake 50 dozen cookies for the office party, but the local Fire Chief has confiscated my oven.
- No thank you. You’re so kind to ask for the use of my baby as the infant Jesus in the church’s four productions of the Nativity, but I fear his irritable bowel syndrome might cause problems.
If this power-packed, two-letter word is difficult for you, at least say no to guilt. Giving of your time and energy should come from desire, not feeling obligated.
Just because Santa brings toys for everyone doesn’t mean you have to follow in his sled tracks. Really, how many people do you need to buy gifts for, if anybody? It’s not on you to boost the U.S. economy; you can still help by spending at your local charity shop. Or why not seek pleasure in the gift of presence rather than presents? Spending quality time with loved ones doesn’t have to cost a dime. If you want to give gifts, you can find plenty for just a few dollars, or tap your inner creative and make your own. Holidays are also the perfect time for dipping into the regift pile you’ve been hoarding since last year (including birthdays). Just make sure you don’t regift the same item to the very person who gave it to you (pro tip: keep a spreadsheet). Whatever you do, make a budget and stick to it. Also, if someone tells you not to buy them a gift, don’t. If you suspect they didn’t actually mean it, tough. That’ll teach them to be disingenuous.
Santa is a tough act to follow. Not only does he bring everyone gifts, he scarfs cookies and eggnog at countless houses along his delivery route and still manages to be jolly without suffering from dieter’s regret or sugar shock! His secret: he eats a healthy snack before going to the party so he’s not tempted to eat everything on the plate. Why do you think the goodies you set out for him have only a bite or two taken out of them? Yes, Santa is a little plump but that’s only because he has to carb load for that straight 24-hour shift. Unless you’re running an around-the-world marathon, try these tricks: Drink a glass of water before eating to reduce the urge to splurge. Have one glass of water between every drink of alcohol, hot chocolate, eggnog, or other calorie-laden tipple. Add 10 minutes to every workout between December 1 and January 15. Envision that plate of fudge being licked by a slobbering reindeer.
Relax and enjoy
Most of us falsely believe that taking time for self-care is a luxury. It’s not, unless you prefer to be stressed and careless with your own well-being. When you take time to care for yourself, you can better cope with challenging people; increase your capacity for giving out of pure desire (and for wielding a guilt-free “no” when necessary); become more creative in how and what you give without going into debt; and feel so good about yourself you might even opt for the vegan cookie over the chocolate fountain.
So especially during the holidays, get plenty of rest, take time to slow down and breathe deeply, and imbibe small moments of joy that the season was meant to evoke. Then when it’s all over, treat yourself to a retreat!