Dealing with Holiday Stress

The holidays are a challenging time of year.  We want to be joyful; it is the season of light, of gift giving, of receiving loving thoughts, of good food and good friends.  Yet it can also be a time of melancholy, stress, financial anxiety, and emptiness.  We all want to “get into the spirit”, but may find ourselves wrestling with feelings that drag us down, flatten us with their demands and make us feel like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

How can we not just survive the holidays, but thrive through them?  If we find our heads and bodies spinning from the requirements of friends and family, if we are the center of the circus and all eyes are on us to prepare and deliver the greatest Christmas ever, what can we do to stay healthy and happy throughout it all?

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me some suggestions for staying strong and upbeat during the holidays, and it got me thinking about ways I stay (relatively) sane.  My friend’s hints (from inspirational speaker Martha Beck) involve disconnecting from the fray for a while, something that seems radical and almost impossible in a culture that keeps us plugged in 24/7.  So if you feel like you’re at the end of the whip on ice skates, consider these:

Hide.  Do you get in the tub and lock the bathroom door, even for 20 minutes?  Do you say you’re going out for milk, and end up driving around for half an hour just so no one can talk to you?  If not, try doing this now.  Don’t let the demands find you.

To achieve the above suggestion, you might have to, dare I say it, turn off the cell phone.  Yikes.  Is this unimaginable?  What about not checking email, Facebook, not tweeting, messaging, nothing???  Do all your responsibilities, like getting back to people, make you cranky in the midst of all the other holiday demands?  Unplug for half a day, a few hours?  Just try it, and breathe.

Refuse to get sucked into every acquaintance’s drama.  Are they sucking the life and energy out of you?  Can you screen your calls, say someone else is on the line, say the stove is boiling over and you have to go?  Seriously, which relationships exhaust you, which ones make you laugh?  Decide, and in the process, create more time for those that bring you joy.

Toughen up.  If you listen to someone’s whining about long lines at the post office, or how bad the weather is, become insensitive.  If saying “so what” seems too rude for you, put on your Pollyanna hat and say “at least we still have the Uptown Post Office to come to”, or “at least we don’t live in Minnesota”.  Gratitude for even the small gifts of our lives goes a long way to lift our spirits daily.

Lighten up.  This is the time of year when the days get longer (right before Christmas, as a matter of fact), so let’s cooperate with the season.  Instead of watching violent TV shows or deep discussions on the state of our country’s economy and health care system, rent stupid movies, or go sledding, or make cookies.  Laugh, breathe, give us all a break.

Let simplicity heal us.  In my opinion, there is nothing more therapeutic, invigorating, delightful, and sacred than nature.  It doesn’t have to work to get our attention; it’s glorious without effort, majestic, inspiring, uplifting and free.  Get out under a gorgeous Montana sunrise, or equally stunning sunset.  Watch what nature can deliver without our making it happen.

Years ago, I figured out:  when in doubt, walk the dog.  Get out there, stroll, breathe, let nature fulfill its function, and while you’re out there, in the silence, with the cell phone turned off:  Ask for help, say thank you, and be amazed.

We can celebrate the season, truly, by stopping the world for a short time, getting off and luxuriating in nothing.  We don’t need new toys, more things, or frenetic activity to feel alive and joyful.  We can simply observe the beauty in life without the interference and complication of static noise and negativity.  Do yourself a favor this season:  don’t settle for anything inferior; give yourself the priceless gifts of peace and gratitude. 

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