It’s that time of year again when we start to relax at work and at the same time feel pressure from all sides, pressure to be happy. We are surrounded by the expectations of others to be optimistic and happy as we try to get into work, home, and family, not to mention perhaps taking care of ourselves. Wherever we look, television commercials, radio music, store decorations, family and friends bombard us with messages of all that we need to accomplish in no time by the end of December. Christmas music, full shelves, pushing others as we maneuver through stores, tough driving conditions, finding a place to park, advance sales with a couple of kids out of school joining them, the good and not so good aspects of preparing for Visiting family contributes to the frenzy. Gifts are bought, home and workplace are decorated, seasonal letters or cards are written and sent, spent and indulged in excess when urged to try Aunt Bee’s or Patsy’s special treats. How will we do it all? How can we please everyone? We are exhausted just thinking about it. We are stressed, exhausted, and have just started.
At the other end of the scale, the pressure to be happy can only accentuate your sense of loneliness. If you don’t feel any reason to celebrate, if in fact the last thing you want to do is join in the false expressions of amusement, you may sink further into sadness.
Wherever you are on this scale, you will have a severe case of seasonal stress. Here are ten tips to help you navigate through stress and enjoy the holiday season:
1. Don’t prepare for unnecessary stress overload, such as generating debt, overeating, sleeping poorly due to worry, stress, especially the kind that will have long-lasting consequences.
2. Analyze. Must you do it all? Must you do it all? Should you do it at all? Ask yourself why you are receiving a gift or inviting someone. What if you bake fewer cookies or buy something healthy like nuts or dried fruit? Are you trying to live up to someone else’s expectations or are you setting yours too high? What if you gave less or did less?
3. Make lists so you know exactly what you are doing and when. Start with tasks that can be done long before October, like shopping for gifts and cards, wrapping paper, or ingredients and boxes for your baking needs.
4. Do your detective work early. Find out what some of your friends’ favorite charities and interests might be. Perhaps you can make a contribution on their behalf. You’ll help others, make your friend feel good, and get some of your taxes back.
5. While lying by the pool during your summer vacation, decide the maximum amount of money you will spend on gifts this year. If you can, figure out what you spent last year to use as a rough guide. Create a balance sheet and keep track of the remaining balance to help you control overspending. If you have money left over at the end of this exercise, splurge: get something for yourself or donate it to your favorite charity.
6. Rest. The structure breaks down in your day. Take a deep breath, relax your jaw, loosen your fists.
7. Run your errands earlier or later in the day to avoid crowds or when you can get around without the kids.
8. Beware of marketing pitfalls. Because there is something on sale, must you have it?
9. Keep an eye on your credit cards, PIN numbers, and those around you. Keep these personal numbers out of sight of people in line behind you. Make sure to get all your cards and IDs back after making a purchase. Better yet, don’t charge. Carry a set amount of cash with you when you go out and pay cash instead. It is also a good lesson for the children who go shopping with you.
10. Instead of buying gifts, do something nice. Carolyn Schmatz of the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine (2008) found that helping others made people feel better than the people helped. Help out at a soup kitchen or hospital on Christmas Day so staff can spend it at home. Start a new habit. Instead of an office party, we bring our goodies to the Salvation Army over Christmas.
If all the frenzy this season gets you down, write down all the reasons why you’re feeling down. Then add all the reasons why you need to be thankful. This second list is usually longer. Do you have a roof over your head? Is your health good? Is there a friend somewhere that you can make happier by calling? Do you know someone who is worse off than you? Except in extraordinary circumstances, there are people with much more important reasons than you for feeling depressed.
Do something nice. Invite other people who may be alone to play cards or cook together or just pick up the phone and say hello. Go to the local humane society and help out for a day.
If someone calls or invites you or gives you something, allow yourself to accept the kindness unconditionally. This seems like the hardest thing to do for most of us. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a very liberating feeling. It allows you to feel grateful and happy.
Regardless of what you think of the holiday season, it’s about taking a break at the end of a year to take a break, be thankful for good things, share, and receive kindness and love. Never forget.