Let’s face it… this is a stressful time of year for a lot of people. I say this as if the rest of the year isn’t stressful for most people… but I digress. However, “the holidays,” as they’re commonly known, seem to have the ability to INCLINE our stress meters. Here are some quick thoughts on exactly why that is, and some tips on how you can regain control during this seemingly “out of control” season.
First of all, let’s clarify a bit (one of my favorite things!) as to what “the holidays” means. “The holidays” generally refers to that time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Although, in recent years, the calendar seems to have expanded to include Halloween, which of course is when the Christmas decorations go on sale to make room for the Easter stuff. It spans all of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, and New Years, at least in US culture, which I guess makes sense since no one else celebrates Thanksgiving (duh!) . Forward.
This time of year, referred to here as “the holidays”, is a total stress trap! How can a time filled with troubled relationships, the same old stories about you falling down the stairs when you were 5 (“and that doesn’t explain a lot!”) minus a little case of resentment at its finest? Wouldn’t it be great if, just once, it was different? If only once it could be that “perfect” and serene celebration. Well… IT NEVER WILL BE! Get over. The first step is to recognize that you have a problem. So how can we treat it AS IS? There are good news! A little change in mindset can make that happen instantly.
With that in mind, how can you keep drama from yourself and others to a minimum? The first is a simple concept. Please read this carefully (several times!):
Life is not about what is happening to you. Life is all about how you choose to RESPOND to what is happening.
Hmm. Think about it for a moment. Life is happening to all of us. Do not think that you are different or special in that sense. Life sucks sometimes, even for people you think are perfect. So first, let go of that false belief that you are holding onto so tightly. Your stress levels have little to do with the current situation and have a LOT to do with how YOU ARE CHOOSING TO RESPOND to the current situation. Notice the word “choose.” That is a problem. What that means is that YOU are in much more control than you are constantly led to believe. SCAM! (I say this with a lot of love.)
Point? The point is that you create most of your own stress. You do this by choosing to react to situations in a stressful way. Do you want an example? Someone cuts you off in traffic. You have 2 options as to how you respond: one, honk your horn, throw your finger of choice in the air, yell at the top of your lungs (even though the guy can’t hear you because all the windows are closed), and slide to the side! of it so you can LOOK at it! Or, two, you can hit the brakes to slow down, laugh, and say something like, “I’m glad one of us was paying attention,” and then go about your day.
With the first option, you can guarantee that you’ll get nervous, angry, get your adrenaline pumping, and let that state of mind dictate your behavior for the rest of the day. Chances are, he’s still ‘reeling’ from this minutiae specification hours after it occurs. Why? It’s just how your body works. All those little stress hormones and chemicals that you told your brain to release by reacting that way have to work their way through your system before they can disappear. With the second option, the whole incident lasts 4 seconds, you let go of your two cents on a sarcastic comment to yourself, and you are free to live the rest of the day in relative calm. I think it was Gandhi who once asked: “if you have a burning coal in your hand, waiting to throw it at your enemy, who is getting burned?”
So… how can you bring this simple, practical, common-sense approach to the most stressful time of the year? Let’s explore 3 ways.
1. Don’t expect it to be any different! wow! It sounds so simple, but boy do we have problems in our society with expectations! Phew! Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Sounds familiar?
One thing we learned earlier has to do with control and how much more you have than you think. We know you have no control over other people, but you do have almost complete control over how you choose to respond to other people. Right? So… think about the people you KNOW are going to be where you will be. Think about the SITUATIONS that will be where you are going to be. Think about the STORIES that will inevitably arise where you will be. Why can you know these things? Because they are the same every year! You know it! So if you mentally prepare ahead of time, you’re way ahead of the game. Remember, no one can make you feel bad, angry, mad or sad. YOU create these things by how you choose to respond. The beauty of it? YOU have control over fixing that.
2. Know your triggers. If the same story comes up and you’re embarrassed or just don’t feel like it should come up for the 74th time, take control. What does that mean? YOU mention it. Think about it, if you know it will come up and you are the one bringing it up, who is in total control of the situation? If you allow someone else to “push your buttons,” you have just handed over control to them. Whereas, if you mention it, it’s likely to pass quickly. Why? Because half the fun is watching you squirm. If you’re not dripping, the thrill is gone. A proactive approach allows you to better manage both the direction and the tone of the discussion. Remember, only you can stress. Never give someone enough power to do that to you.
3. Have a sense of humor about it. There’s a reason “the holidays” are fodder for so many comedies! Have you ever noticed that things are stressful when they happen to you, but fun when the exact same things happen to someone else? Think of yourself as a movie director. You can yell “cut” at any time and “back off.” This allows you to see the situation from a little distance. How can that help? It allows you to see things from a more humorous rather than stressful perspective. If you go through a family visit thinking of it like a movie, you’ll begin to see the humor in many of the same things that have baffled you in the past.
One final piece of advice worth mentioning is that “the holidays” can trigger serious mental health problems. If at any time you feel that your stress, depression or seasonal affective disorder requires professional advice, it is important that you seek it.
If you keep reminding yourself that you have a lot of control over your stress levels and that you’ll most likely pay a ticket to the movies or theater to see your family’s Christmas celebrations, you’ll do just fine. If that fails, just remember that it will be over in just a couple of months!