Here we go again…the holidays! For some, it really is the most wonderful time of the year, but for many of us, it’s more of a mixed bag: stress, added expenses, family (with all the good and all the challenges), travel, illness, and of course, food, fun and festivities. There’s nothing new in being more frazzled at this time of year, but wouldn’t it be nice to feel less frazzled? Whatever your approach to self-care is throughout the rest of the year, the holiday season is when your daily and weekly routines – your habits – are more fragile than ever. With all the additional demands on our time and the increased number of emotional stressors, we risk letting go of the very things that keep us on a more even keel, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, depleted and having a lot less fun than we’d like. By keeping a few guiding principles in mind, you can be more emotionally prepared to handle the stress of the holidays, and feel like your best self in the meantime.
We all know that the holidays and stress go hand in hand, but where do we start in preparing ourselves for the holiday craze, which seems to begin earlier and grow in intensity each year?
Since most of us can’t really change a lot of the external factors of the holidays that cause us stress, such as travel, visiting with relatives, increased expenses, social obligations and much more, what we can control is ourselves, and this is a lot. Much more than most of us realize. It’s really about changing our perspective. Instead of wishing the stress of the holidays were different, we can increase our own awareness of our emotions and triggers, and then make a few fairly simple, but high impact adjustments.
If perspective is reality, then how do we go about changing that perspective?
Start by thinking about how you actually feel about the holidays. Most of us have some strong emotions attached to the holiday experiences we had when we were growing up, and it can be helpful to take a minute to stop and think about what those feelings are. Do the holidays in general make you feel tense and anxious? Excited and joyful? A combination of positive and negative feelings? Identifying and naming difficult emotions is the first step in diffusing their power, and this is something you can do anytime, anywhere, not just during the holidays. By sitting with a negative feeling and naming it, you begin the process of moving past it. The next step is to give yourself full permission to have the feeling. If you don’t really like the holidays, that’s perfectly ok.
How do our feelings about the holidays tie in with our habits?
The more self-awareness we have, the better we are at self-management. Self-awareness is defined as the ability to accurately recognize our emotions and thoughts and their influence on behaviour. Self-management is the ability to regulate our emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations. This is particularly relevant when managing stress: controlling impulses and self-motivating. And for a lot of people, those are three of the biggest challenges of the holidays: managing stress, controlling impulses and self motivating.
Self-management has a lot to do with daily habits. We often think of the word “habit” with the word “bad” in front of it, but a habit is really just something that you do regularly, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. It also extends to all the ways you take regular care of yourself, such as exercise, writing in a journal or meditating. So, for example, if you’re someone who gets completely overwhelmed by time spent with relatives and who struggles to get through lots of family social gatherings, it’s really important that you keep up with your routines that take care of you. Whether that’s running, or yoga or talking to a trusted friend on the phone or practicing a calming bedtime routine, the madness of the holidays tempts you to let those things go. And yes, it is more difficult to find the time necessary to keep up some routines during the holidays. However, if you can make a conscious decision about what you MOST need to do to take care of yourself – and your stress – and schedule that activity in your day as an important agenda item, you are not only helping yourself enjoy the holidays more, but you’re ensuring a smoother post-holiday experience as well. As many of us have probably experienced, it can be surprisingly hard to get back to our good habits after the holidays – or after any time we’ve gotten away from them – which is one of the reasons why so many people make New Year’s resolutions…to get back to their good habits!
How do we tie it all together? It’s important to remember that small changes can have a big impact. Ask yourself how you feel, not just about the holidays, but give yourself a check-in, even daily, during this season. Name how you’re feeling and then think about what you most need to best get through that day. Are you cutting something out of your self-care routine to get everything else accomplished? Instead of cutting it out altogether that day, like exercise, how about doing half your normal time? Last, don’t just give yourself permission to take time out for you, but consider it a requirement, every bit as important as the most important thing on your holiday to do list.