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Managing Holiday Stress

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

What’s the first feeling that comes to your mind when I say holidays? Is it joy, love, peace, stress, anxiety, or sadness? I’m betting that stress would be a common response. But what if you could change that? What if your number one answer was joy or peace? That was my dream for so many years - to feel anything other than chaos during the holidays. Typically, our calendars used to packed full and we were running here and there with all the Christmas happenings. There were parties at work or school, family gatherings, dance recitals or voice and piano recitals. There were goodies to be baked and delivered. GIfts to buy. More and more to do’s meant more stress and exhaustion. This year is different. There are fewer gatherings, people are without jobs, we wait in line to shop at different stores and it’s a struggle to make sure the children are online doing their school work. We have civil unrest, election uncertainty and a pandemic that surely has caused an increase in uneasiness. Here’s some good news - no matter what is going on in our lives, we have the ability to feel peace and find the joy in and around us. This is how you do it.

1. Manage your thoughts. What are your prevailing feelings this time of year? Pick two of them using one word for each. What are your thoughts around those two feelings? Here’s an example. I used to feel stressed and overwhelmed this time of year because I was thinking about how much I have to do and how I never have enough time to do it all. Maybe you are feeling anxiety when thinking about everything surrounding the pandemic. Or maybe you are feeling sad because you don’t get to go on your long planned vacation. Whatever you are feeling, it’s important to know that our feelings come from our thoughts not the other way around. What we think creates what we feel. Learning to be aware and managing our thoughts changes everything. This was the missing piece for me to feel better. All the stuff in my mind around Christmas was creating my feelings of overwhelm, not my endless list of things to do. We can choose our thoughts! We can manage what we want to think by noticing all our thoughts (writing them down is powerful) and practice the ones that we want to keep. We can put reminders on our phone or put notes around the house. This has changed everything for me and I can feel joy and peace no matter what may be happening around me. It’s amazing how different you will feel when you manage your thoughts and choose ones that cheer you on.

2. Schedule your time. Do a thought dump - get all the things out on paper so you can see everything you think you need to do. It’s interesting how we want to do it all but we can’t. Why? Because there isn’t enough time to do everything. I call it “do the math”. Look at your list at the beginning of each week and chose which things are most important and put them on your calendar. Let the rest of the things on your list go, delegate or add it to next weeks list. I used to get so frustrated because I could never get all the stuff done on my list. That’s because I wasn’t motivated to put it on a schedule. I didn’t want a schedule to control me. I have found that it’s quite the opposite. My unscheduled list was controlling me and keeping me overwhelmed. Scheduling frees one to do whatever they want each day and it’s a game changer to see how many things on the list actually fit on the calendar.. Know that you are in charge of your time and you get to choose how you use that time and what goes on the schedule. Understanding this keeps you feeling motivated and the result is that you get things done and have less stress. My schedule isn’t perfect but I tell myself I’m figuring things out and I keep scheduling to maintain my focus and I can enjoy each day.

3. Be grateful. Write down at least three things that you’re grateful for every day. Expressing gratitude actually makes your brain work better and your brain finds evidence of what you are thinking! Pondering on what we are grateful for creates positive feelings. Research has demonstrated that people who express gratitude on a regular basis are healthier, more optimistic, make more progress toward their goals, have a greater sense of well-being, and are more helpful to others. Gratitude helps us feel joy and gives us a greater perspective on what we do have. It helps us move forward with hope. I do this every night before I go to bed.

4. Deep breathe. Try square breathing, it’s fun and so easy. Take a deep breath and count to four. Hold for a count of four. Breath out for a count of four and then hold for a count of four. Try this for a minute and repeat as needed. Deep breathing helps many people feel calmer and helps reduce negative emotions. It can help you relax, reset and refocus your thoughts.

Taking time to check in with yourself to mange your thoughts, schedule your time, write down things for which you’re grateful and do some deep breathing will for sure lower your stress and give you feelings of peace and joy. You can have silent nights where all is calm and you are looking forward to each new day.

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