5 Mindful Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress
By: Cheryl Schwartz, LCSW, CRC
The holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Get-togethers with family you haven’t seen in months, including uncles who can’t stop talking politics at the dinner table and aunts who think their child-rearing methods are the only right ones. The extra guests combined with extra housekeeping duties and the expense of hosting the big feast creates stress and sometimes dread.
Allowing yourself to stay in the moment while being aware of your physical and mental situation, the practice of mindfulness, offers proven methods to help you not only survive the holidays but get back to enjoying them.
1. Replace worry with planning
You might find yourself thinking about your various duties and the potential points of conflict – and then rethinking them again and again. That tends to build up stress, and it doesn’t necessarily address the issues you are anticipating. Instead, plan the events of the holiday – when to go grocery shopping, which day your spouse and kids will dedicate to scrubbing the house, figuring out which of your special dishes you will cook and bake (and what each relative will bring). Writing down your plan and sticking to it as closely as you can helps to keep you on track and reduce worrying about what you might have “forgotten” to do.
2. Examine your expectations
We want the holidays to be a happy time for all of us, especially children. But while we’re in charge of providing healthy and safe environments for the kids, we can’t always manage their happiness. They might have unrealistic expectations for the holidays, especially regarding presents. (And they aren’t the only ones.) Someone visiting your home might be in a grumpy mood for a reason that has nothing to do with you. The fact is that you can manage only your own emotions, and it helps to remind yourself what is realistic for any situation.
3. Your body is talking to you
Feelings are created in your brain but expressed in your body. We all have experienced the tight shoulders, the sour stomach, the shaking hands that indicate we are stressing. It is useful to recognize the physical signs of stress and anger so that you can take a deep breath, casually leave the room, go for a short walk, or excuse yourself to peel the potatoes – whatever you need to constructively address the emotions you are feeling instead of acting out. The extra time also gives you time to ponder the best way to talk about the problem – or not — in a constructive way.
4. Living healthy
Getting rid of stress is big part of living a healthy lifestyle. You eat in a more healthful way when you aren’t stressed. You also sleep better and feel happier. And when you’re happy, getting enough sleep and eating the right food, you’re more able to manage stress.
5. Exercise in a mindful way
If you jog, swim or walk, don’t stop. Exercise is a wonderful way to burn off the worries that build up during the day. There are some exercises, however – such as yoga and tai chi — that are particularly attuned to the practice of mindfulness. They are less about cardiovascular improvements and more about centering your thoughts within your body, until you think and move as one, so that everything you do is fully intentional.
Each of these tips describe how to be aware of your thoughts, your surroundings and your physical condition here and now. Focus on the moment instead of concentrating your time on the future. You will find that you are calmer and more in control, which will help you deal with whatever comes up at the holiday table.