I’d like to talk to you about holiday stress in hopes I’ll follow my own advice.
I have fond memories of the holidays growing up, but one thing that really stuck with me is just how totally stressed out and busy some of my relatives would get. In particular, a couple weeks before Christmas, my stepmother would be up every night till 2 or 3 AM obsessively cleaning, baking, decorating, and shopping. It puzzled me, even as a boy, why it was all necessary.
Now, as an adult, I understand. I have long held onto the fantasy of the Norman Rockwell New England Christmas of Perfection (NRNECP). The whole extended family gathering at my house, piles of gifts, fantastic food, everybody in good cheer. But dang, putting all of that together can be a lot of work. And I have a job!
Chronic Stress Sucks
Stress, worry, anxiety, overwhelm – we all feel these things at different points in our lives. There are two things going on: 1. Certain levels of hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine are released in high amounts. 2. Your sympathetic nervous system is activated. We all know how this feels.
These can be useful responses as they when related to the flight, fight, freeze response that kept our ancestors safe from sabre-toothed tigers. Some small level of arousal is necessary to do things like performing athletic tasks well.
However, when stress becomes chronic, it can have a terrible impact on your physical and mental health. That means feeling under threat (which is what stress is) for longer than it would normally take to escape from a tiger can do bad things to you. If you want to worry about your worry – check out some of the physical effects of excessive worry on WebMD.
Managing Stress During the Holidays
Here are some ways that you, and I, can manage and reduce undo stress on the holidays. If you have some other great suggestions, drop them into the comments.
Be More Self-Aware and Kind To Yourself
This one is a difficult one for me and others. By self-awareness, I don’t mean to become Buddha-like, unless that’s your thing. Merely check in with and respect how you’re feeling. Figure out what’s causing you anxiety and see if you can lessen the impact. Take on less.
Be kind to yourself. You deserve to enjoy the holidays too. Don’t drive yourself batty for the perceived benefit of others. When you say you enjoy doing all that baking and cleaning, do you mean it? If not, do less.
Set Reasonable Expectations
Again, hard for me. Remember my NRNECP? So maybe Christmas dinner won’t include 47 appetizers, a Turducken, pheasant, and Baked Alaska. Maybe 25 different kinds of Christmas cookies are too much.
As a dad and I know I get into trouble when it comes to the kids. I want them to have everything, every experience I had growing up, and more. I want them to get every gift they want and a puppy and a pony. But honestly, is it necessary? How much more joy do they get from the 100th gift compared to the 3rd? How much is my stress trying to pay off the holiday credit cards rubbing off on them.
Plan Down Time
Take a break. Really. You deserve it.
For busy folks, you need to plan it. Put it in your schedule. Do something or nothing that recharges your batteries. Go to yoga class, meditate, get a massage.
Side note – one of the reasons massage feels so awesome is that it releases oxytocin, a de-stressing hormone. If you’re looking to buy me a perfect gift for giving you all of this wonderful advice a gift certificate from M.E. Massage therapy would do it.
I know, everything must be done exactly right, and you’re the only person who could do it. Let it go, you’ll be OK.
By now I’m assuming you’ve pared down your task list and have a list of essentials. If you haven’t – do it. Who can you ask to pitch in? You don’t have to do everything. I will say that my wife and I make a good team at getting things done though my kids are messy little tornados.
You don’t have to make all the pies do you? Could Aunt Bertha bring a few. Maybe you could support a charity and purchase a couple of pies from a fundraising sale. Or maybe just buy from a local business – help your sanity and the economy. You get the drift.
Lighten the load.
Meditate, Meditate, Meditate
Seriously people – I’ve been in the stores and on the roads with you during the holidays. You need to knock it back a few notches. And those shots of your Uncle Lou’s “special” eggnog aren’t cutting it.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I am a huge fan of meditation for everyone. There is a metric crap-ton of research on the benefits of regular meditation practice. Some of it by the fancy folks at Harvard University.
Meditation helps you mediate stress and even creates new brain structures that let you mediate stress when you aren’t meditating. Try it, you’ll like it.
If you’re just starting out – don’t go for an hour a day. Try a few minutes at a time. Don’t know how? Go to our friend Mr. Google and ask him. You’ll probably find thirty million different methods, a couple of which might be beneficial good for you. If you want my recommendation – go for a form of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness probably has the most supporting academic research.
Remember to enjoy yourself. Be healthy and responsible, but let loose – have some fun. Be sure you are enjoying the holidays.
You are important, and you deserve it.