Note from Jaelyn: This contribution is from an amazing therapist and great friend, who also just so happens to be my mom. :-) I love these tips for staying sane during this time of year - it's so easy to let the stress of expectations overwhelm you and make you lose focus on what you should be enjoying. This quotation sums it up pretty well, I think! -->
By Bev Lucas, LMSW
It’s hard to believe the holidays are here again and with them, anticipation, both positive and negative. If you think back over all of the holidays you have experienced most likely your favorites have been as children. Those were times when the biggest expectation was whether you received the things you had asked for. As we got bigger and older, our expectations got bigger as well. Now, we not only try to make others happy, but also re-experience the happiness from our youth, and our high expectations often lead to failure and disappointment. So, the question we face is: How can we enjoy the holidays as we once did?
In times of stress, the most important thing you can do is to practice “self-care.” The holidays can make this difficult. How you go about assuring self-care is up to each individual but here are a few rules to keep in mind:
- Eat regular, healthy meals starting with protein for breakfast. Don’t deprive yourself of the wonderful goodies, just eat them sensibly and in limited amounts.
- Sleep 7-9 hours every night. Get into the habit of sleeping regular hours as much as possible. Set a bedtime. Starting an hour before that, begin to do relaxing things. That means no telephone or computer, and preferably no TV.
- Do something every day to address your personal needs. Take a walk, read something entertaining, watch a funny movie, stand in the shower and enjoy how the water feels. If you can afford it, get a massage. The most important thing is to do something personally positive for at least 15 minutes every day.
- Take your “emotional temperature” often. Do you feel tension in your neck or shoulders? Is your heart-rate elevated? Are things irritating you that don’t normally? Are you distracted while driving? If you notice these or any other stress signals, take a few seconds to acknowledge each of your Five Senses. Close your eyes (this can even be done at the office). Start with how each part of your body feels in the chair, and simply acknowledge the feeling. Next, listen to and identify what you hear in the room. It may be others talking, a fan, or noises from outside. From there, acknowledge what you smell. Is there a particular taste in your mouth? If so, acknowledge what that might be. Don’t judge your sensations, just take them in. Open your eyes and look around to see if there is anything that was there before closing your eyes that you didn’t notice before. If you follow these steps, it will help to calm your mind and let your body know that things are ok. This isn’t meant to totally relax you but to let you catch your “emotional breath.”
Trade Expectations for Appreciation
Often the thing that causes us the most stress during the holidays is our set of expectations. We have expectations for ourselves and concerns about what others might or might not do. Expectations of ourselves like cooking the perfect meal, buying the perfect presents, or presenting an immaculately clean house. Expectations of others that they appreciate your efforts, behave like respectful guests, or amaze you with their thoughtfulness. To laughingly quote "Phil’s Osophy" (from the TV show Modern Family), “The most amazing thing that can happen to a human being can happen to you, if you just lower your expectations.” While the quote was meant to be a joke, it actually makes a very valid point: Part of our distress during the holidays is that we expect too much for a short period of time. Life isn’t perfect. You need to put aside your expectations and enjoy the present. Find the irony in situations with family members. Whatever goes wrong is still part of the experience so find a way to appreciate it (remember National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?). Try to not anticipate the behaviors of others because if you do, whatever happens will already be accompanied by stress.
Always keep in mind that you made it through every other holiday and with some patience (and a sense of humor) you will make it through this one.
Enjoy as much of it as possible, don’t overextend yourself. Practice saying “no.” And let the rest of it go.