Yesterday, Blue Acorn received 4 same-day inquiries seeking tips for handling holiday stress. These questions came from individuals who are already experiencing (or witnessing others) feeling the stress of this joyous season.
Hold it! Slow down and re-read the irony of that last sentence. If you missed it, that could be a symptom that you are on “autopilot” and your stress levels are higher than you think. When stressed, we get distracted by multiple thoughts, experience less sleep, move too fast, or overlook the obvious. We aren’t able to give our undivided attention to our family, friends, co-workers…and most of all ourselves. As we become sloppy in how we conduct ourselves and our life, this becomes the breeding ground for stress and its damaging effects. That means there’s a higher chance of miscommunicating, misinterpreting, and misunderstanding. In essence, we stop living from “thrive” mode in order to function in “survive” mode. That’s when human beings become human doings. Now, add Christmas and a pinch of perfectionism to the mix of life’s demands and, voilà, we have the perfect recipe for holiday stress and overload.
Think about it: as the holidays approach, we give more of ourselves to others, thereby increasing our commitments physically, financially, and emotionally—like socializing, baking, entertaining, decorating, shopping, eating, wrapping, drinking, caroling, buying… Literally, people are seen running from one store/event/task to another. No wonder we often hear people say, “Bah-Humbug!” as the activities mount up.
So why ‘stress ourselves out’ in the first place, especially at Christmas? What inside of us is driven by the traditional Hallmark images we create for ourselves?
When our sons were younger, the ‘Mom in me’ wanted to create memorable holiday magic with beautifully wrapped packages; stockings ‘hung by the chimney with care’; homemade Snickerdoodle on Christmas morn followed by an enormous turkey dinner complete with several sides, and don’t forget those freshly baked cookies set out for Santa! Those were just a few of the traditions we established, adding others frequently. M-y g-o-o-d-n-e-s-s! Talk about heaping undue stress upon myself in order to create oooh’s and aaah’s for our little ones.
I used to start my holiday ‘chore list’ (not to be confused with my holiday ‘gift list’) in early November in order to keep up with the momentum. Does this sound like anyone you know—just maybe with a different list?
My need to do things had replaced the genuine enjoyment in my heart.
That is, until 10 years ago, when I found myself racing around decorating our tree because it hadn’t been done. Seriously? Forget about the fun our family generally had decorating our tree together. My inner “autopilot” had seized me and finally I recognized this. My need to do things had replaced the genuine enjoyment in my heart.
Immediately, I put down the ornament box. I deliberately paused long enough to affirm a different truth about the experience: “At this very moment, I have a choice about how I want to show up.” As my ‘internal fog’ was lifting, I compassionately reflected about what had brought me real joy. I realized that I had ‘bought into’ unnecessary, false perceptions about the true meaning of Christmas. It took me several minutes and consciously stepping away from so many distractions, and that’s when I “owned this awareness:” The only stress I had been feeling I had created within myself! There was no need to blame commercialism, societal expectations, my partner, or myself—that wouldn’t help at all. It was about returning to my values/priorities. I reminded myself why I did all that I did, which was/is for more meaningful connections, inner joy, love and contentment.
I STARTED ASKING MYSELF, “WILL THIS BRING ME JOY?”
Now…how could I do this Christmas differently? This could be fun! What could I cross off my lengthy “to do” list? Perhaps I’d choose not to: spend countless hours setting up an elaborate winter village (complete with artificial snow, tiny ice skaters and hundreds of white lights); bake 8 million cookies (to give away), or wrap every single stocking stuffer (really, I did that). I started asking myself, “Will this bring me joy?” My shoulders dropped with every releasing thought! Maybe I’d sit on the couch sipping something hot, while listening to Nat King Cole. This year I’d allow myself to be mesmerized by the fresh snowfall. Yes indeed, I’d celebrate my new attitude for a guilt-free holiday spirit by putting me on my own Christmas wish list!
Yes, the razzle dazzle of the holidays can be charming—even intoxicating! Probably, you have the best of intentions not to overcommit or overdo it. Yet, it happens to all of us. Remember, stress can be very insidious. Consciously slow down during this busy holiday season please. Frequently, go inward to check your stress levels, unrealistic expectations and hidden motivations. Ask yourself if your thinking could pass the ‘Good Neighbor Test?’ (i.e., “Would I expect my neighbor [or anyone else] to do all this?”) If your answer is “No,” then it’s important you recognize you’re operating from an unreasonable double standard. It’s also one thing to have these realizations versus putting them into practice.
Stop and check…are you suffering from being on “autopilot?” Or, you may have just fooled yourself with the ole’ razzle dazzle…
(Portions of this article in bold-italics encourage specific steps for managing stress.)