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Look at that! We have arrived back to December once more. For most of us, Thanksgiving is now a memory and the march toward the December holidays begin. The holidays are meant be a time for spending extra time with loved ones, immersing yourself in positive energy, and relaxation. But this busy time can create a lot of holiday stress. Begin by looking at past celebrations and seek to recognize your holiday triggers. Research shows the following are the most common stressors:
- Gift shopping (56 percent)
- Crowds and lines (54 percent)
- Cleaning (45 percent)
- Knowing what to get people (38 percent)
- Cooking (36 percent).
Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. This holiday season try one of these tips to reduce stress and most importantly, remember to be gentle to yourself.
1. Expectations! Be realistic. You know you do it. You build up your hopes for the perfect morning or meal or gift. Most of us do this! We spend so much time planning for a holiday worth of Martha Stewart magazine. This year decide right now that perfection is not the goal or a realistic expectation. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often need to change as well. Embrace change! Choose a few traditions to hold on to and be open to creating new ones. Work with your tribe to distill any plans down to what matters most and focus on one or two special activities. Then, strive to live in the present moment. Enjoy the things that are right in front of you as they unfold.
2. Remember to include self care. This time of year is demanding, and in normal times the average iPhone user checks their phone 80 times each day! This month try making some time for yourself each day. Professionals suggest that spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Be intentional in something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
o Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
o Listening to soothing music.
o Read a good holiday book.
o Get a massage!
3. Make a plan. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. Work to prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients or gifts. Plan your budget. As tempting as it might be to spend big on your loved ones, be realistic about your financial well-being. This year, decide to not use your credit card, try using cash or debit for expenses, be honest to relatives about realistic travel arrangements and try making a gift!
4. Make plan B Sometimes even with all the planning and preparation life does not follow the script we planned. So, even though you put time and effort into the original plan, don’t get too invested in it. Life will surprise you. But with some positive thinking and flexibility you can still find peace and joy during the holidays. So, have a backup Plan B that factors in self care and support if things don’t go as planned.
5. Moderation is Key During the holiday season it is easy to overindulge in food, spending, alcohol, and many other temptations, while skimping on regular physical activity. Be practical about your indulgences to avoid feelings of regret later. If you want to eat a slice of pie or two have at it, and in return try to balance it out with a long walk afterwards. Before you go gift and food shopping, make a budget you can afford, then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
6. Random Kindness Studies suggest that committing small, random acts of kindness can make you feel happier. This can be something as simple as letting a car in front of you while stuck in traffic, paying for someone’s coffee or giving someone a compliment. This holiday season get in the spirit by doing something small but kind for a stranger, friend, co-worker or family member. You might be surprised how good you feel afterwards!
7. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until another time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
Bottom line—holiday stress can ruin the joy of the season for you and your loved ones. You can free yourself from the stress that comes, and simply enjoy the holidays.
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By Lisa Prosser-Dodds, PhD