Year after year you read the statistics about stress and its detrimental effects during the holidays. Studies show holiday stress increases your chances for weight gain, heart attack and depression during the holiday season. It’s fairly easy to understand these outcomes and relate to the stress when your typical week (or maybe only a day or a few hours) during the holidays entails getting the kids ready, taking your pet to the vet, preparing for work, completing a business project, getting your oil changed, having team meetings, handling customer concerns, getting a gift for your co-worker (secret santa), preparing holiday meals, traveling for business negotiations, attending important social events, shopping & wrapping gifts (all while keeping them secret), traveling to family gatherings, creating new content & products, picking out the perfect ham, Christmas tree or New Year’s party, dealing with the annoying brother or the nagging in-laws, hosting the annual holiday workshop and on and on and on. Does that sound like your holiday stress? Holiday Scrooge...Bahhh Humbug Ok, you get it and if you are like me then I’m sure around the holidays your responsibilities see a drastic increase both at work and in your personal life. Unfortunately, during these times of heightened responsibility is when we let ourselves slide most. Letting ourselves go is often the conductor of holiday stress. What I mean is not getting sleep, exercise, good eats (I mean healthy when I say good) and not allotting me time can really wear on you both physically & psychologically. You see I once thought just the same as you…”here comes the holidays, here comes the stress.” That was until I began noticing that I had become Scrooge himself. At first I found myself very irritated with all the time constraints and outside “demands” from work, family and friends. I became downright angry and annoyed (picture red faced with steam coming from the ears like a cartoon kind of pissed) because I believed I had to run around doing all of the above. I was boiling inside…unable to complete anything in one sitting (often only 30-60 minute time blocks) because of constant interruptions. Next, I felt unknowingly selfish. I was complaining (mostly to myself) about getting gifts for others and going to events which had no major benefit to me. Then, I became shut down (not quite depressed) and I began to cold-shoulder everyone. I was grumpy and short if I did respond, angered almost as though they were bothering me. That’s the gist and it wasn’t good to say the least. In the long run of it, I gained weight (probably about 15-20lbs of fat) and isolated myself from my friends and family thinking it would make me feel better. Truth was I felt worse, all of the consequences and more piled on…tired, weak, alone and still packed with holiday stress. A Reality Check A few days after the New Year, I was working with a client discussing her first quarter goals right after we finished discussing how happy we were that the holiday stress was gone. It was then when I noticed for every goal she brought up she had something negative to go along with it. It was then I said, “Stop.” She looked at me perplexed and asked, “What?” “Are you listening to yourself? How will you ever achieve anything with an attitude of everything being too stressful or too difficult?” I said. She responded, “Ok Mr. Grinch! A minute ago you were just talking the same about the holidays?” BAM! It was an instant subconscious slap in the face. It was after our conversation on my 40 minute drive home that I began to reflect on how I viewed the holidays and then replayed the holidays back in my head over and over. It was after nearly a week of continued reflection that I began a mission to forever eliminate what was holiday stress. My Seasons of Change I spent the next 9 months dissecting my actions, thoughts and perspective during the past holiday seasons. I quickly realized several things which I will share in a moment, but first food for thought. I have come to believe that the holidays are strategically planned to relieve stress not cause it. Take a look… First; Halloween is a time of funny, ridiculous costumes, exciting social gatherings and sharing candy and stories with children. Does that sound stressful? Not so much. Maybe too much candy can cause digestive stress and add some weight, but if you’re dancing at the costume parties and walking the kiddos around the block trick or treating then you’re bound to fight the gain and maybe even shed a few. Next, Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, appreciation and giving thanks. Add an extended weekend of spending time with family & friends, highly competitive football games and delicious food, we’re practically in heaven. Can you picture that being stressful? Once again a little too much of the wrong foods could do damage, but the annual neighborhood Thanksgiving football game really takes care of that. Third, Christmas is a time of giving gifts to those who mean the most, sharing wonderful acts of love under the mistletoe and extended time off work. I mean how can you go wrong with sledding, making snowmen and having family snowball wars together with your kin? Stressed? I think not. Lastly, New Year’s is the icing on the cake. NYE is one big party and if anything did go wrong previously you can start anew in the morning. Tell me that doesn’t scream stress relief. If I still haven’t changed your mind here is a terrific way you can tweak your holiday mindset to minimize stress: A New Attitude If you couldn’t tell by the above paragraph, how I view the holidays now is much different than I used to. It may not seem like much, however your perspective of the holidays can drastically decrease stress. Studies have shown that gratitude and a positive mindset can decrease stress and high cortisol levels that typically accompany a stress response. The effects of extended bouts of stress can be detrimental to your health, not to mention your relationships. An optimistic mindset alone can have life-changing effects on you. Here is how you can put it into practice…spend about 15-30 minutes prior to bed reflecting on your day and focusing on two things: 1. Visualize or write- Visualize or replay in your head the 3-12 most enjoyable moments of the day. This reminds and helps you to really appreciate all the wonderful experiences you had today. If you want to take it to another level journal about these special times. The journal comes in handy in times of struggle or anytime when you need a quick pick-me-up, you can always come back to review it. Or you can use it as a guide to help build future outcomes and make important decisions. When doing these exercises ask yourself these 4 key questions:
- Who or what inspired me today?
- Who or what made me smile, feel loved or touched?
- What was the best experience I had today?
- How or where can I add more of these into my future?
2. Re-wrap with Appreciation- Reflect back on one bad moment, preferably the worst of your day and “re-wrap” the moment or thought with a positive outcome. Take it to the next level by visualizing the best possible outcome, appreciating the lesson you can learn from it and how you will do it different the next time. I’ll leave you with this…You are blessed with only so much time on earth. Time with your family and friends is even more limited when you take into account your daily responsibilities. The holidays are a time to relax, celebrate and enjoy having family and friends around. Find appreciation for this time, show how much you care for those closest to you and share these special moments with them fully expressed and grateful not angry, depressed or anxious because of holiday stress. Take the time to practice the attitude of gratitude exercise with at least one special moment a day. You’ll notice increased holiday happiness, a heightened attention for things you appreciate and your stress will begin to diminish. What other ways do you use to alleviate stress? What other methods do you practice to show appreciation & gratitude?