For many people, the demands of the holidays are intense and overwhelming – just the logistics of shopping, decorating, baking, and entertaining. There’s also the additional emotional intensity of “Does he love me enough to go-to-Jared’s?” “Will she like my gift?” “I feel so lonely during the holidays” “Am I doing enough?” While our modern life is full of hassles, demands, frustrations and overwork, these months in December can be way over the top.
What is Stress?
Actually, the symptoms what we associate with stress are a normal physical response to anything that feels threatening and takes you out of your balanced life in some way. You find that your heart pounds faster, breath quickens, blood pressure rises. Now what?
Strategies for Avoiding Stress
The most effective step is to avoid the situation altogether, as best you can.
The first strategy has to do with keeping yourself healthy.
o We’re talking basics here – eat good healthy foods – you know what these are – fresh vegetables and fruits, healthy proteins; 8-10 glasses of water; whole grains. Remember that a little sugar/alcohol is good, too much is poison.
o The next area has to do with breathing. Shallow breathing is common with people who are stressed. Curiously, though, shallow breathing also triggers the body to respond by upping adrenaline and cortisol, so it’s both the chicken and the egg. When you discover that your breath is all high chest, and no ribs or belly, just stop, relax those shoulders, and take a couple good deep breaths.
o Give priority to your own sleeping, a restful 8 hours can mean the difference between enjoying that shopping you’re doing and tearing through the stores like a crazed rabid wolf. Most Americans are sleep deprived to start with – if you’re one of these, the holidays can be a serious deal breaker.
o Decreased Performance and Alertness: Sleep deprivation induces significant reductions in performance and alertness.
o Memory and Cognitive Impairment: Decreased alertness and excessive daytime sleepiness impair your memory and your cognitive ability -- your ability to think and process information.
o Automobile Injury: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities.
The second strategy has to do with all that “should-ing” we all do. There are already a lot of shoulds in our lives. Brush your teeth, feed the children, go to work, pay the bills… The holidays add a whole other layer – decorate like Martha Stewart; gift like Donald Trump; dress like an actress; entertain like Michelle Obama; fill the Stockings; visit hospitals; decorate the church; send a million cards; deliver a million Christmas cookie gifts…. This year, see if you can look at your should list, and pare it down toward what you really want to do, what brings you joy in balance with what brings your loved ones joy. There may be some things on that list (keep brushing those teeth, pay those bills, and fix cookies for the church bazaar) that are shoulds, just try to keep those items that bring you joy in balance with those shoulds.
The third strategy is to keep what I do for others in balance with what I do for me. This is the old, “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting your child” [or you may pass out before you have a chance to help your child]. Keeping the energy you give away and the energy you replenish in balance is a critical variable in your journey to enjoy the holidays. This isn’t necessarily the shopping rule of “I’ll buy one thing for someone, and then two things for me.” Maybe you can purchase cookies to take to the hospital, and enjoy a long hot shower and good mystery novel tonight? Maybe life will go on if the inflatable Santa doesn’t get mounted on the roof this year, and you can enjoy a leisurely walk around the neighborhood instead?
These are all ways to avoid overwhelm and stress. How do you know if they didn’t work for you?
Stress Signs and Symptoms
o Memory problems
o Inability to concentrate
o Poor judgment
o Seeing only the negative
o Anxious or racing thoughts
o Irritability or short temper
o Feeling overwhelmed
o Sense of loneliness and isolation
o Aches and pains
o Diarrhea or constipation
o Nausea, dizziness
o Eating more or less
o Isolating yourself from others
o Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
o Nervous habits (nail biting, pacing)
Strategies to Resolve Over-stress times
Take a mini-vacation.
For just 10 minutes, relax, close your eyes, and imaging that you are in a place you love. If it’s a beach, imagine hearing the waves, imagine the feel the sand on your feet, and create every detailof your dream vacation there behind your eyes. Breathe comfortably and slowly, allow yourself to get lost in your dream. Do as often as needed to love the holidays again.
Plan 2-4 hours a week of nurturing time for you.
That may be a walk in a near-by park, a lazy sip at your favorite tea or coffee shop; a massage; a long hot bath; anything that fits in your lifestyle that focuses on you and your own peace. After all, it’s reported that angels sang “Peace and Goodwill to All” – so take some time to receive that peace that is waiting there for you on your 2-4 hour date with yourself.
Pay attention to the energy in - energy out balance.
If it’s off, adjust those 2-4 hours upwards, until you have your groove back.
You can enjoy the holidays in your own way, and with your own timing. It’s really all about love, isn’t it? Loving others as much as you love yourself.