Letter to the Editor: ‘Tis the season for holiday stress

Thanksgiving, Christmas — name your holiday. You know it’s coming. Is that deer in the headlight look permanent or just temporary paralysis? Typically, your reaction is one of dread, joy or a combination of the two. A positive thought that you can currently hold onto is that you have survived two events that make up the family gathering trifecta with Easter and Thanksgiving. Christmas is the last leg of the race.

Obviously we all want a good experience, so what can you do to make the holidays less stressful? Let’s get right to the bottom line. Hallmark and Hollywood have made a career out of portraying the holidays as a Currier and Ives postcard dream come true. Perfect family, perfect dinner, perfect relatives, perfect weather. You get the picture.

Leave those unrealistic expectations at the door. The reality is real people and real families are not perfect. Sometimes (actually most of the time) Aunt Myrtle’s turkey is so dry it would choke a termite. I’m not saying it isn’t fun to maintain some longstanding traditions, but make room for new memories as well. Be flexible and allow them to unfold instead of trying to make something happen. The point is stress is a part of life!

Even positive occurrences such as a new job, moving to a new city, or having your favor relatives visit can create stress. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the holidays are one of the most stressful times of the year which can translate into depression, anxiety and fatigue. You may not be able to control the circumstances, but you can control how you interpret the events.

Psychologists use the term “reframe.” This is a technique that helps you change the way you look at things in order to feel better. Find the positive. Sometimes you need a checkup from the neck up to stop “stinkin’ thinkin’.” Stopped in a traffic jam on the way to the mall? Instead of verbally abusing the driver in front of you, pause and regroup. It truly is easier to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Use the time to organize your shopping list or listen to your favorite music station. If you can’t change the situation, reframe or change your reaction.

Remember the Serenity Prayer? It’s a wakeup call to change what you can, accept what you can’t or at the very least, view it from a more positive perspective. Having your blood pressure go off the charts accomplishes nothing. Attitude makes all the difference. Always, always maintain a good sense of humor.

Keep your eye on the big picture. Is this really worth getting upset over? Learn to laugh at yourself. Some of the best holiday memories are not based on what went right. You tend to recall what went wrong. Remember when Uncle Charlie fell asleep face down in his plate? Each year the stories are embellished and they only serve as happy reminders of how insignificant the big plans were. In the end it was about fun and enjoying each other, warts and all.

If you are feeling totally overwhelmed, one of the easiest strategies to reduce stress is to breathe deeply. Deep breathing allows more oxygen to flow and it releases the waste product carbon dioxide. Poor breathing habits diminish the flow of these gases two and from your body, making it hard to cope with stressful situations.

If you combine proper breathing with a 15-minute walk, you have a great recipe to help you deal with whatever is happening back at “holiday central.” In other words, take time, or should I say “make” time to take care of yourself.

While we’re on the topic of taking care of oneself, learn to say “no.” Know your limits and stick to them. Delegate some of the responsibilities. It might be easier to herd cats than it is to get kids and other family members to help, but it is a “family” event after all. Take turns interacting with friends and relatives.

You and your significant other can divide and conquer. If you absolutely have to interact with someone who consistently causes you stress, limit the amount of time you spend with that person. Commit to spending most of your time with friends and positive people. Don’t expect people to change this because of a holiday. If people are critical 364 days a year, it’s doubtful they will morph into Mary Poppins at Christmas.

Be prepared for some conflict. Try to set aside differences. Not everyone will live up to your expectations. Avoid discussion of “hot button” topics. If a subject comes up that repeatedly causes heartburn, either stop bringing it up or excuse yourself. You may not be able to control your environment, but how you react to the circumstances is a choice.

Remember to maintain a sense of balance when it comes to your overall health. Accept the fact that your favorite foods will probably be on the menu, but resist the urge to overdo it.

If you do end up in a coma from overindulgence, do not beat yourself up. Get back on track the next day. Watch your sugar and caffeine consumption and avoid drugs and cigarettes. Drink in moderation. Remember the dancing on the table incident last year? It wasn’t pretty. Get enough sleep. Whenever you do, it’s all about balance.

Stick with a budget. Gift giving is great, but debt is not. Many times the best gifts are the least expensive. Get creative and make presents or create coupons for future services such as a car wash, babysitting, etc. Play a board game with your kids and relatives. Savor the moment by enjoying the Christmas lights with a mug of hot chocolate. Better yet, give your time and effort to someone in the community he was less fortunate.

Do as much planning and cooking ahead of time as possible. Ask guests to bring a dish to help you cut back on all the cooking responsibility. Multi-task, but stay focused. Do your best and let it go!

Hmmm….what am I forgetting? Two of the most important tips of all. Have fun and maintain an attitude of gratitude! If all goes horribly wrong, I remember a page out of a favorite holiday movie, “The Christmas Story.” Take comfort in knowing the Chinese restaurants are always open on Christmas!

Deb Grier

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