Reducing stress of the holidays
If the holiday season is a time of rest and relaxation for you, read no further. For most of us, however, this season brings a fair amount of stress. What’s meant to be a time of connection and restoration can turn into never-ending to-do-lists, travel hassles, and familial tensions. We might experience the stress of loss, grief, and sadness for loved ones not with us. Without our normal routines to fall back upon, there may be little to buffer these complex “seasonal” experiences.
Good and bad stress
Of course, not all stress is bad. What generates discomfort over the holidays also brings new perspective and attention to our relationships and lives. In fact, there is a word for moderate stress that can actually be beneficial – eustress. Yet when our routines and tempers get thrown too far off balance, eustress can turn to distress.
How often do we really examine our holiday season needs? How well do we cultivate self-care and self-compassion while we move through the season?
If your answers to the above questions are “not often and very little” perhaps consider investing some time in these five steps:
1. Get clear on what you want and need out of the holiday season. Sometimes we don’t clearly see where our needs fit into the holiday plans we make. Think hard about what you want to prioritize this year and how you would like to feel at the end of the season.
2. Consider what “doing enough” means to you. We tend to overspend, overindulge, and over-do most everything during the holidays. Think about what could be different this year and what you can let go of.
3. Practice gratitude. Can you make a regular habit of noticing and acknowledging what is going right instead of what is going wrong? Perhaps each night you can scan your day for three good things that happened. Consistently practicing gratitude allows us to pay attention to and appreciate the ordinary, mundane specialness of our lives.
4. Create breathing space. When we race around or spend intense periods of time with family members, we inevitably need some breathing room. Give yourself permission to create that space. You can take short walks, listen to music, and even hide out in the bathroom to just take a few intentional deep breaths.
5. Acknowledge and befriend what you are feeling. When difficult emotions arise, it can be helpful to name the feelings and bring some self-compassion to the moment. This does not mean wallowing in your emotions but rather creating space by acknowledging and befriending what’s actually going on.
This holiday season, see if you can lower the stress by taking better care of yourself. This may require reprioritizing, doing less, practicing gratitude, taking breathing space, and befriending what you encounter. You might find you have more to give once you’ve taken care of yourself.
Sue Schneider is Family & Consumer Science & Community Development Agent with CSU Extension in Larimer County.