Between shopping for gifts, preparing for lavish dinners, and having visiting relatives and friends, the holiday season creates more stress than you might realize. This can lead to feeling burned out, tired, cranky and it might even make you miss out on the joy that is supposed to accompany this season. Yet many people don’t know how to de stress their holidays.
What is Stress and How can You De Stress During the Holidays?
Stress is caused by the thought that you are in danger. The natural, inborn response is to either fight or flee, depending on which response to threat would make more sense and be more life-saving. When you see or hear something that makes you feel threatened, you get a fight-or-flight response which involves a part of your brain called the amygdala.
The job of the amygdala is to perceive when you’re under threat. It marshals a whole survival-oriented response to the threat. Another part of the brain, the hypothalamus, gets the message that you’re under threat. It releases certain hormones (chemical messengers) that help you fight or flee. Your perception of the environment changes and you become focused on protecting yourself from the danger. Respiration, heart rate, muscle tension, and energy level all change to facilitate fighting or fleeing.
Is the Threat Real or Perceived?
It is a beautiful, efficient system meant to protect you from immediate harm. The problem is, you have very complex brains that sometimes perceive threat where there isn’t any and that hang onto perceived danger even after it is gone. You might unconsciously equate something like what others think of you, to being chased by a hungry animal or having someone attack you with a knife or gun. You might experience emotions like anger or anxiety in response to this, which is appropriate.
With prolonged stress, you learn to adapt to it but your body still suffers. Ultimately, you pay the price of being on high alert for so long. Eventually, if you stay stressed too long, it can make you depressed, anxious, physically or mentally ill, and exhausted. I hope you can avoid that this season and for holiday seasons going forward. The good news is you can change our response to stress with our complicated brains too!
How do You De Stress During the Holidays?
Instead of providing pat answers on how to reduce stress, like simplifying and managing your time well, I think it is more useful to look at what makes holidays stressful in the first place. Also, it’s important to consider whose esteem and opinion matters to you, and whose doesn’t. It’s important to think critically about the implicit messages our culture sends us about the holidays, and decide if they reflect what you actually care about.
Many of you have heard about simplification and time management, but there is a reason that those tips don’t always help lower the stress. You need to look within to ask yourself:
What do I really want from my holidays?
Is what I find important about the holidays compatible with the values of those important to me?
How can I balance my wants and needs with the needs and wants of others?
How do I care for myself physically, emotionally and spiritually?
What is at stake if things don't go as planned?
What is the worst that will happen if they don't go as planned?
The Company You Keep Can Help You De Stress (or Stress) During the Holidays
I have talked to so many people who don't even like the people they plan to spend time with, and it fills them with dread and resentment to get together with those people. Do you enjoy the company you keep on the holidays?
What is the purpose of my holiday activities?
What is the intent behind them?
What would I do if I could do anything with time off? Who's stopping me?
Who am I trying to impress; whose standards am I trying to fulfill?
Do I value those people’s opinion?
What will happen if I let that other person or myself down?
If I'm giving gifts, do I really want to make that person happy? Do I simply feel obliged to give them something because of my affiliation with them?
How much energy am I willing to put into gift giving, entertaining, etc.?
What is my intent with cooking, decorating, or entertaining?
Do you want to make your home look like something out of Good Housekeeping? Is the purpose to enjoy the company of the people you're hosting? Would it be easier for you to ask people to bring side dishes? This could help you reduce stress and feel more relaxed, gracious and happy to see them?
Clarifying and Simplifying Can Help You De Stress During the Holidays
All these questions can help re-organize your priorities. They help you remember the reason for your activities. Once you realize your true intent, it becomes easier to apply those chestnuts of time management and simplification. Becoming clear about what the holidays mean to you, and setting an intention for making your activities fit those intentions, are the first steps.
You don’t have to do things that you truly don’t want to just to live up to someone else’s expectations. Instead, you can de stress during the holidays by making decisions that reflect your values and preferences. I hope that you and your loved ones have a meaningful, beautiful holiday season.
If you need help managing holiday (and other) stress, give me a call at 661-233-6771 to see if we can work together to reduce your holiday stress.