Are you looking forward to the holidays as a time of good cheer? Or are you counting the days for “the happiest time of the year” to be over? A study showed that, while most people have positive emotions towards the holiday season, for at least 40% of the population stress-levels dramatically increase. According to the survey, especially women feel more stressed and worried during the holidays, in part due to the many additional tasks they take on, such as shopping, cleaning, cooking and hosting numerous get togethers with family and friends.
My mother was certainly one of those women, who should have taken a long vacation as soon as Christmas was over. It still baffles me how much she was able to accomplish on top of her demanding workload in my parents’ medical practice. Already at the end of November, she got up before the crack of dawn to bake cookies, decorate the house, wrap presents and write cards and letters to friends and family members. She also bought countless presents for the older and rather impoverished women in our little village, who had no family and spent Christmas alone. Sometimes I was able to help her distribute the carefully assembled gift-baskets with wine, cheese and other delicacies. When I saw the joyful smiles and tears of gratitude in the weathered faces of these women, who seemed to be forgotten by everyone else, I understood why it was so important for my mom to bring a little bit of light and mirth into their meager existence.
Yet, as much joy and wonderful memories my mom created for others, she was the one, who benefited the least from the holiday season. She never allowed herself to just sit down and relax, but instead was constantly in the kitchen preparing the next meal. I am not sure, if it was her pride, her tendency to over-give, a lack of self-worth or a combination of all — but no matter how hard we tried, she stubbornly refused our help and chased us out of the kitchen.
I have heard similar stories from many of my clients, who, just like my mother, struggled with stress, overwhelm and anxiety during the holidays. Not to disregard how challenging these emotions can be. Yet, keep in mind that stress for the most part is self-created. Stress is a state of mind and not the state of our lives. So what can you do to go through the holidays with greater calmness and ease? Here are a few of the most common stress-triggers and what you can do to avoid them.
Perfectionism and high expectations: At the beginning you have wonderful dreams and ambitious goals — this holiday season will be perfect. You make lists, plans and are determined to stay on top of everything. But soon, with new tasks and obligations creeping up, the pile of “what is not done yet” is growing to overwhelming heights. You work harder and longer hours, driven by the worry that you will disappoint your family and let them down. But at some point, everything seems too big, too much and too difficult to accomplish. Stress and overwhelm drain your joy and energy and make you frustrated and irritable and ultimately spoil the festivities for you and those around you.
So start with making a list of what is truly important to you about the holidays and ask your family to do the same. The above mentioned study demonstrated that for most people sharing a harmonious and pleasant time with their loved ones is more meaningful than a lavish meal, the prefect home decoration or an expensive gift. Therefore, focus on creating an atmosphere of joy and harmony by slowing down, by being present with those you love and by making them an integral part of the holiday preparations. Ultimately, this is the season of sharing and giving; and what can be more precious than the gift of spending time together while supporting and caring for each other.
Self-abandonment: In the spirit of over-giving and under-appreciating yourself, you give up on your self-care routine and deny yourself anything that replenishes your energy and makes you feel positive and grounded. You eat too much of the food you usually avoid; you drink more and sleep less than is good for you; you don’t spend any time alone and stop meditating; you spend more money than your budget allows and choose to ignore that your credit card is close to being maxed out; you push aside the tasks and dead-lines of your work, because you feel the expectation of your family to spend as much time as possible with them.
Although it can be pleasant and refreshing to step out of the routines and obligations of our daily lives, a lack of self-care and self-responsibility ultimately leads to the classic “holiday hang-over.” You feel blue, out of shape, broke and at the verge of getting fired. Thus make sure to maintain a healthy balance between indulging in the sweetness of the holiday bubble and staying committed to what you know generally makes you feel positive, centered and empowered.
Reverting back into childhood patterns: Usually it took just three days with my folks, to have my inner child take the steering-wheel from me. It still astounds me with what accuracy my family members could dig up and push the buttons, they had installed decades ago. For many people, the most stressful aspect of the holidays is getting together with their family of origin. “Why do I still let my dad get to me?” “How come that I can’t speak up for myself, when my brother is mean to me?” “Why do I still compete with me cousin, the golden-child of the family?” You may have asked yourself similar questions, wondering, why you can for 360 days of the year feel like a competent adult, and just after a few hours with your family, shrink back down to the size of a 10 year old.
The reason for this strange phenomenon lies in the subconscious mind, and how it has learned to respond to certain cues and triggers. Similar to you picking up the phone when it rings or getting out of bed when the alarm sounds, your subconscious mind makes you contract, avoid, please or rebel against the people you grew up with, just like you used to do early in your life. Why? Because this was the way your subconscious tried to protect you to not get judged, hurt or rejected.
Now, since for most people falling back and getting stuck in the old childhood patterns is more painful than an inconsiderate remark of a stressed-out parent, it can be worthwhile to spend some time before visiting mom, dad and the clan to prepare your subconscious mind for the time with them. Simply make a list of all the usual triggers, such as remarks about your looks, questions about your finances or attempts to get you involved into a pointless political discussion. Then write down how you want to perceive and respond to them from a more calm and self-empowered place. You could for example have compassion with your dad, who may feel as insecure as you do when you are together in the same room. Rather than getting annoyed with your mom interrogating you, you could take control over the conversation and ask her questions about her childhood and how her family used to celebrate the holidays. Instead of feeling hurt or insulted by a careless statement about your weight, respond from a place of confidence by expressing that you are happy with how you look, or that your body will get back on the list of your priorities as soon as your challenges at work are resolved.
In other words, stay centered and grounded in your adult self, and accept that, while you have grown and evolved, some of your family members may not know yet how to relate to this mature version of you. But if you care about them, you will find the patience to introduce them to who you are now and how you want to be treated by them.
Want to find out more how you can go stress-free this Holiday Season? Listen to Empowerment Radio and learn more tools on how to make this holiday season truly enjoyable and memorable.
Originally published at thefearandanxietysolution.com on December 5, 2016.
Originally published at medium.com