It is that time of year again when we start winding down at work yet feeling the pressure from all sides – the pressure to be happy. We are surrounded by the expectations of others to be upbeat and happy while trying to cram in work, home and family, not to mention perhaps taking care of ourselves. Wherever we turn, TV ads, radio music, shop decorations, family and friends bombard us with messages of all we must accomplish in a very short time by the end of December. Christmas music, loaded shelves, shoving others as we maneuver around stores, tricky driving conditions, finding a parking place, early sales with a couple of kids out of school tagging along, the good and not so good aspects of preparing for visiting family contribute to the frenzy. There is gift buying, decorating home and work-place, writing and sending season’s letters or cards, overspending and overindulging as we are urged to taste Aunt Bee’s or patsy’s special treats. How are we going to get it all done? How can we please everyone? We are exhausted just thinking about it. We are stressed out, frazzled and we have hardly begun.
At the other end of the scale, the pressure to be happy may only accentuate your sense of aloneness. If you feel no reason to celebrate, if in fact the last thing you want to do is join in the fake expressions of having fun, you may sink deeper into gloom.
Wherever you are on this scale you have a severe case of the Season’s Stress. Here are ten tips to help you navigate through the stress and enjoy the Holiday Season:
1. Do not set yourself up for unnecessary stress overload such as generating debt, overeating, poor sleep because of 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 getting a gift or inviting someone. What would happen if you baked fewer cookies or bought something healthy like nuts or dried fruit instead? Are you trying to live up to someone else’s expectations or setting your own too high? What would happen if you gave less or did less?
3. Make lists so that you know exactly what you are doing, when. Start with tasks that can be done well before October, such as buying gifts and cards, wrapping- paper or ingredients and boxes for your baking needs.
4. Do your detective work early. Find out what might be some favorite charities and interests of your friends. Maybe you can give a contribution in their name. You will be helping others, making your friend feel good and getting something back on your taxes.
5. While lying by the pool during your summer vacation decide on the maximum amount of money you will spend on gifts this year. If you can, calculate what you spent last year to use as a rough guide. Create a balance sheet and track the remaining balance to help you control over-spending. If at the end of this exercise you have money left over, splurge – get something for yourself or give to your favorite charity.
6. Pause. Structure breaks in your day. Take a deep breath, relax your jaw, unclench your fists.
7. Do your errands earlier or later in the day to avoid the crowds or when you can whiz around without the kids.
8. Beware of marketing traps. Because something is 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 from people in the line behind you. Make sure you get all your cards and IDs back after you make a purchase. Even better do not charge. Have a set amount of cash with you when you set out and pay cash instead. It’s a good lesson for the children shopping with you as well.
10. Instead of buying gifts, do something good. Carolyn Schmatz at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, (2008) found that helping others made people feel better than those helped. Help out at a soup kitchen or a hospital on Christmas Day so the staff can spend it at home. Start a new custom. Instead of an office party we took our goodies to the Salvation Army over Christmas.
If all this Season’s frenzy gets you down, jot down all the reasons why you feel depressed. Then add all the reasons you have to be grateful. This second list usually will be longer. Do you have a roof over your head? Is your health good? Is there a friend somewhere you could make happier by calling? Do you know of someone who is worse off than you? Except in extraordinary circumstances there are people with far greater reasons than you to feel down.
Do something good. Invite others who might be alone for a game of cards or for a cook- together meal or just pick up the phone and say hello. Go to the local humane society and help out for a day.
If someone calls you or invites you or gives you something, allow yourself to accept the kindness unconditionally. This seems the hardest thing for most of us to do. Once you master it, it is a very liberating feeling. It allows you to feel grateful and happy.
Whatever you think of the Holiday Season, it is about taking a break at the end of a year to pause, be grateful for the good things, share and receive kindness and love. Never forget it.