While the holidays can be a joyous time of year, they can often increase stress for many people. How do we enjoy a meaningful holiday season, rather than trying to meet other people’s or society’s expectations?
How do we cope with missing people and holiday rituals from past years that are no longer in our lives? How can we find peace during this season that is so often anything but peaceful?
What do the holidays mean to you?
What have been some of your most cherished holiday memories from past holiday seasons?
What are you most thankful for?
What would you most like to remember, looking back on this holiday season?
In what small way can you move forward to creating such memories? In what ways are you already doing so?
Dr. Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests defining a mission for your holidays. You can either establish your mission on your own or with your family members or friends. Take some time to envision your holidays and what’s most important to you.
Be kind and helpful to others.
How can you be of service and make someone’s life a little easier and more joyful? With whom can you share a laugh? To whom can you provide some companionship? Who can you encourage? For instance, if you see someone who looks ill at ease at a holiday party, be friendly and engage them in some light conversation. People usually want connection, although many of us aren’t always sure how to go about making this happen. Be the one to make the first move.
Honor traditions that continue to be enjoyable for you and your loved ones.
Do you get a kick out of driving around at night and seeing the holiday lights? Do you enjoy caroling? Do you find solace in attending a religious service? Do you relish gathering around your fireplace drinking hot apple cider or eggnog, or hanging Christmas stockings? Do your best to maintain such customs.
Establish a new tradition this year.
In addition to keeping the best of the old, usher in some new activities. Help out at a homeless shelter. Invite new friends to a holiday meal. Take a road trip to a different part of the country. Shake things up.
However, do recognize your personal rhythms and preferences. Don’t go so far out of your comfort zone that you end up elevating your stress level.
- If you’re an introvert, make sure to set aside sufficient time to be alone. While extroverts tend to gain energy from socializing, people who are more introverted need time by themselves to recharge.
- Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, practice effective stress management by taking at least a few minutes each day to sit quietly and to recalibrate your body, mind, and emotions. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and release your hold on your thoughts. Allow yourself to just be. Restore your sense of inner calm. Remember that you are a human being, not a human doing.
- If parties tend to overwhelm you, try speaking one-on-one at such gatherings, attending smaller get-togethers, or reminding yourself that you can leave early if you’re really uncomfortable. Chances are that once you become engaged in conversation and focus on showing interest in someone else, your anxiety will ease and you’ll enjoy yourself.
- If you’re a morning lark, be flexible and enjoy a few late nights, but in general stick with your usual schedule.
- If you’re sensitive to caffeine, alcohol, or sugar, take care not to overdo these substances, even if other people are indulging and seem to having a jolly old time. Know what works best for you, and to thine own self be true.
- Eat moderately. No need to let one instance of excessive intake cause you to blow it all. Get back on track.
- Get sufficient rest. Seven to eight hours of sleep a night is a healthy amount for most people.
Decide what’s really important and what’s not by checking your holiday mission statement.
Is spending time with family a priority? How about hosting your usual holiday dinner, even though it seems like so much work at the time? Where do eating candied yams, pecan pie, and gingerbread factor in? Delegate your time and energy appropriately. Let go of those activities that aren’t in sync with your overall intent for the holidays.
Ask for help.
Know your limits and what you can and cannot accomplish. Review your to-do list and realistically estimate how long each task will take. Let others share the responsibilities, such as shopping, decorating, or cooking for a holiday party. Many family members and friends will be happy to help – in fact, they may feel honored to be included in the preparations.
Keep your sense of humor.
Recognize that not all will go according to plan.
The roasted turkey may turn out a bit dry, or you may not have enough time to cook every last item for a holiday dinner. No worries – choosing prepared foods rather than going the homemade route can allow you more time to relax with your friends.
You may get caught in a snow storm and miss out on a party. Your mother-in-law may criticize your interior decorating choices. It may take 30 minutes just to find a parking spot at the shopping mall.
No matter how many gifts you buy, cards you send, lists you make, or goodies you bake, there will be items on your to-do list you won’t get to. The point is not to scurry about but to enjoy the season.
Focus on people and relationships.
Holidays are a time for being together. Relax, sit down, and enjoy time with those people who are important and truly matter to you. Be with people who support and care about you. If people’s feathers become ruffled, try to be the peacekeeper. Ask yourself what’s more important – disrupting a holiday event or reestablishing harmony? Accept family members and friends as they are.
Plan to develop and nurture some new relationships, or to repair some broken fences. Call a friend or relative you haven’t spoken with for a long while, and brighten their day. Remember that the holidays can be a tough time for many people, and speaking with you could alleviate others’ anxiety or depression.
Look for one good thing in every person you meet. Consider what you can contribute to each event. Make your genuine and compassionate presence your present this holiday season – and then keep it up in the New Year.