07 Dec How to Battle Holiday Stress, Part 1: Use Mindfulness to Achieve Calm
From crowded shopping malls (or online shipping delays) to awkward office parties (via Zoom, in some cases), ’tis the season for stress.
No holiday event will ever go perfectly smoothly. Though the holiday season has its stressors, they can also be a source of joy and reflection. Here’s how to regain your focus so you can enjoy yourself during this holiday season and into the new year.
This post—and all of the forthcoming posts in this mini-series—is packed full of helpful PHMP Online Knowledgebase archives links. So if there are certain topics you’d like to explore, click away, learn more!
Ready or not, stress is likely to pop up at some point during the season. But knowing when a wave is about to hit can prepare you for the worst.
Holidays naturally ramp up emotions. Add those heightened emotions with families that have individual behavior patterns that are repeated year after year (after year!), and it can feel like a clumsy, tired dance.
Identify your own stress triggers. Does party planning make you crazy? Does organizing transportation to and from the gathering make your hair fall out? Try to see if you can trade off those responsibilities with someone else.
But remember to be mindful of the stressors other people are facing. Unburdening yourself of anxiety-riddled responsibilities can feel great—but not if you’re dumping those tasks on someone who also cannot handle the pressure.
So divvy up tasks according to comfort level. That way, you won’t feel like you’re tackling the holidays alone—and everyone will get along better
Be in the Moment
Despite the craziness, there’s still plenty of joy to be had during the holidays. Appreciating the good around you can lift your spirits in the moment—and even give the most difficult years (or two years … or however many years have passed since the arrival of COVID-19—who can remember?) a positive spin that will last for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022.
Mindfulness strategies are important, and plentiful.
- Make a list of all the things you are currently grateful for
- Take a moment. Sit down. (No seriously, have a seat—relax!) Notice what you see, smell, feel, and hear.
- Push all the negative stuff out of your mind and focus only on what you appreciate the most in this scene.
- Write these things down. Yes, with an old-school pencil or pen and paper (or if you can’t help being modernist, in a notes app on your phone).
- Now you have documented proof of the good things. If the scene gets chaotic or your family starts getting on your nerves, you can easily slip away for a moment and look at that list.
Mind Your Vices
If you’re tempted to turn to vices like smoking, drinking, and gobbling down sugary foods, keep in mind that these habits can make you feel worse in the long run. And if you do choose to have a few drinks at parties, set reasonable limits beforehand.
- Find reliable companions to act as emotional supports
- Discuss your stress with trusted friends; be open about sharing
- Know that you’re not alone
- Pair up with a buddy who has similar goals to avoid smoking, drinking, and overeating and hold each other accountable
And if you arm yourself with the tools for a healthy holiday, you’ll feel more confident going into stressful situations.
The more you feel like you are in control and are prepared to face unknown challenges, the less you’ll feel the need to escape.
Remember to Breathe
It might sound improbable, but in the midst of a holiday crisis, it’s possible to forget to breathe. Proper breathing techniques have the power to center you and bring you back into the moment.
Breathwork can create the pause between stimulus (i.e. a plate of appetizers knocked over by a running child) and automatic reaction (scolding, raised voice, general frustration) so you can choose a response instead of a reaction.
If you feel a spark of panic coming on…
- Breathe slowly and deeply
- Count backwards from an arbitrary number if you find it helpful
- Steal a spare moment for yourself and try stretching or sitting quietly in a dimly-lit room
Set Realistic Expectations
Many holidays—especially Christmas—are idealized in the media. TV commercials that depict impossibly happy families in ludicrously tidy homes are meant to give you a sense of comfort (before you buy whatever it is they’re selling) but can often have the opposite effect.
Why isn’t my family close and warm and loving like that? And how do they get the sink to sparkle that way—I feel like if I stare at it too long it’ll be like looking directly into a solar eclipse!
But remember: outside of the imaginations of some company’s marketing department, nobody is really experiencing a perfect holiday. There are always ups and downs.
The Holiday Fantasy—and the fact that real-life human beings are unlikely to ever achieve it—is a leading cause of holiday depression. But don’t let it get to you.
All that stuff is phony.
Actual human relationships and life is general is complicated and imperfect—and that’s what makes them unique and meaningful.
Besides, who needs to be blinded by a kitchen sink anyway?
Stay tuned for next week’s installment of the
How to Battle Holiday Stress mini-series!