by Gail Gilman
According to the American Psychological Association, stress is on the rise in America, with nearly half of Americans reporting that stress is having a negative impact on their personal and professional lives. Although the holidays can be a time of joy, they often bring with them additional stressors.
During the holidays we are often surrounded with images of people who are happy, in love and enjoying the whirlwind of their lives. In reality, however, this time of year can be difficult. When our lives don’t match the images we see around us or live up to our own ideals of family and friendship, it can be painful. And spreading all that good cheer, creating traditions and memories can be tiring and can exacerbate daily pressures and hassles.
The following tips are designed to help you find relaxation during this often-emotional time and to improve how you are thinking or feeling about the moment and the season.
- Find meaning in the season. Find or reconnect to a purpose, meaning or value during the season. Contributing can give a sense of meaning and make you feel good about yourself. Give something to someone else, do volunteer work or do a surprising, thoughtful thing.
- Anticipate obstacles to your sense of well-being. Take a few moments and remind yourself of circumstances that intensified your stress in past years. For example, looking back, you might notice you often feel lonely. Conversely, you may have a tendency to overschedule yourself. Or you might find a particular family gathering painful. Once you know you have identified a few of the more stressful moments of the holidays, you can plan how to approach them, possibly using some of the strategies below to get through them with less stress and emotional pain.
- Do only one thing in the moment. Doing just one thing can give you time to settle down in the midst of a frantic or chaotic day or week. Focus your entire attention on what you are doing now. Let go of the mental list-making, worrying, and party planning. Put your mind in the present and focus on physical sensations, such as walking. You can also do one thing in the moment right at home by focusing on tasks around the house, like washing dishes, listening to music or decorating.
- If you’re feeling down, do something opposite to how you feel. When your life isn’t perfect, the holidays can bring up sadness, regrets and other painful emotions. Change your mood by engaging in activities that are opposite to how you’re feeling. Read emotional books, listen to emotional music or go to emotional movies. Act with kindness and compassion toward those people who irritate you.
- Schedule some memorable activities into your holiday season. Research indicates that happiness increases with experiences, rather than things. Reconnect with a childhood tradition or make a new one.
- Try muscle relaxation. Whether you’ve had a day on your feet or sitting at your desk, extra stress can make your muscles tense and sore. Try to relax your muscles by tensing and resting each large muscle group. Start with your hands, clenching them into fists tightly for 10 to 15 seconds, then releasing the fist and allowing your hands to rest heavily on your lap for 30 seconds. Repeat the exercise a second time and then move to other muscles in your body, such as your arms, the muscles in your face, your shoulders, and your legs. When you’re done, take a moment to rest and notice a feeling of heaviness in your body.
- Self-soothe with taste. If you’re out and tempted to graze on appetizers or other fast food without really tasting anything, pause, and then choose one food, slow down and really taste it. Or, if you’re at home, take time to prepare a good meal or favorite soothing drink, such as hot chocolate or warm apple cider. Then sit, do nothing else and focus your attention on tasting and savoring the food or drink.
- Try deep breathing. Lie on your back, breathing evenly and gently. Focus your attention on your breath, coming in and out and the movement of your stomach. As you breathe in, allow your stomach to rise. Exhale fully, pushing all the air out of your lungs. Continue for 10 breaths.
- Clean the house. The holidays often bring extra chores and cleaning. Use them as an opportunity to self-soothe, rather than as an additional stress. Divide your work into stages: straightening things and putting them away, then scrubbing and cleaning. Allow a good length of time for each task. Move slowly (three times more slowly than usual) and focus your attention fully on each task. Maintain awareness of your actions and your thoughts if they wander. Bring them back to full attention on the task at hand.
This time of year can be tiring, lonely, overwhelming, financially difficult and can bring up painful conflicts and reminders of painful circumstances and feelings. Not all of these strategies will be right for you. Choose two or three that you believe will help you and try them. They just might help you get through the season with a little less stress and a few more moments of calm and peace.
Information adapted by article from Christy Matta, MA in the Psych Central – World of Psychology E-Newsletter, 12/23/12.
If you would like more information on “9 Tips for Surviving Holiday Stress” feel free to contact Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus – University of Minnesota at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus™ information in next week’s paper.