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10 tips to de-stress for the holidays

Posted: December 4, 2008 8:08 p.m.
Updated: December 5, 2008 4:30 a.m.

Holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year.

We all have a picture of what our holidays should be like, but often our vision of that perfect Norman Rockwell family runs up against the relatives we really have.

Or the fact that we are alone or sad on a holiday collides with the expectation that we think we should be joyful and cheery.

We also have more social events to go to, a longer list of things on our "to do" list and added financial pressures.

Traditions are a wonderful part of the holiday season. They connect us to each other through shared experience.

But holiday traditions and expectations can also cause stress if we don't enjoy the process. If the tradition is just another item "to do" and not something done with joy, why do them?

Now is a good time to stop thinking about what kind of holiday you want to create.

Take some time out to think through your holiday schedule and celebration plans, and it will help you immensely.

What you change, if anything, is up to you. In any case, before you rush headlong into "the way you've always done it" this season, it is good to stop and remember what exactly you hope to create out of the events you are planning or attending and whether you really need to do and buy everything on your list.
Ask yourself the following questions:

What works for you and connects you to the spirit of the holiday and what creates more work but doesn't add to the meaning or joy of the season?

What do you want to do differently this year?

What do you want to let go of?

Are you getting caught up in someone else's values? Advertisers? Family? Trying to keep up with friends?

Here are 10 great tips for de-stressing your holidays. After you think through the questions above, pick some of these tips to incorporate into your holiday plans and daily activity.

n Breathe. Practice deep breathing from the stomach. Making sure the stomach rises and falls with each breath and that you exhale fully. Stress causes us to breathe shallowly and feel more anxious. Breathing deeply signals to the body that all is well.

n Simplify. Commit to doing at least two things differently this year. Think of some traditions that your family could agree that aren't that important and let them go. Have a potluck rather than cooking the whole dinner. Decorate one room rather than the whole house. Send New Year's cards rather than Christmas cards.

n Check your expectations. Expecting perfection sets you up for disappointment. Allow yourself to look at the standards you have created for your holiday and see if they are unrealistic or cause you stress and pain.

n Focus on people and experiences and less on gifts and spending money. Enjoy the simple things - the small, often overlooked ordinary moments. Think about who you want to be with, helping each other and what you can do together. If you are spending the holidays away from family, create your own family of others you know who are in the same position or volunteer.

n Enjoy the process of preparing for the holidays. Enjoy each part of preparing for the holiday, rather than seeing the whole process as a race to the finish. If your whole experience of the holiday season is based on the success of one night or day, you stand a much better chance of feeling let down when the event is over. Enjoy every moment-reframe. Instead of being upset that you have to wait in line, talk to those around you, spread cheer, or simply relax and take the time to breathe and notice things you would have missed if you had not been forced to slow down.

n Remember that the issues you have with holidays and your family will not be solved in one day. Know your limits and establish boundaries for dealing with the challenging people in your life. Let conflicts go until another day.

n Eat your treats with a meal. Pass on the sugary treats in between meals. Blood sugar variations are linked to anxiety and suppressed immune system functions. Eating your holiday treats with a meal that contains protein and complex carbohydrates minimizes the effects of those sugar highs and lows.

n Spend 10 minutes each day being grateful. Write down all the things you have to be grateful for. Consider a gift of a letter to someone important to you, telling how much you care about them and why you are grateful to have them in your life.

n Exercise. Even a little helps you feel better. Take a walk or head to the gym or put on music and dance.

n Schedule an escape. Use a visualization technique for 5-10 minutes. Go get a massage. Take a bath. Read a book. Anything that allows you time to regroup and take care of yourself counts.

If you would like support in creating stress-free holidays, contact Karen Maleck-Whiteley, certified hypnotherapist and owner of Balance Point Spa at (661) 252-0650. She sees clients privately, in groups and provides classes in meditation and stress management.


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