Thriving Through the Hectic Holiday Season

Holiday Blur!Has the holiday season got you in a whirl of activity? Is everything becoming just one big blur?  If so, don’t worry, you’re not the only one!

Once again the winter holiday season is upon us and once again I’m noticing an increase in the stress levels of the people I work with.  It’s funny, given that Christmas is extolled as a time of great happiness and joy, with family and friends getting together and even company sponsored parties to celebrate the season.

Yet all too often what I hear at this time of year is “I just don’t have enough time to do everything I have to get done. I’ll never be ready in time!” and as the actual holiday itself gets closer people have a tendency to become more irritable and their tempers seem to develop a very short fuse.

However in spite of everything going on around you, you can lower your stress level  considerably if you take time to figure out where it’s coming from and recognize that there are things you can do to reduce it considerably. This is because all too often you are yourself causing the majority of your stress.

Christmas, and in fact the majority of holidays, most often come with a slew of assumptions, expectations and beliefs as to “how it should be”, yet we are largely unaware of them and how they can add unnecessary stress to our lives.

Take the ‘assumptions’ which many of us make daily without giving any thought as to where they come from or the basis behind them.  For example we have a tendency to ‘assume’ that others will want to do things the same way we do and will, therefore, naturally see the necessity of holding the family get-together on Christmas Day itself.  While this might have worked when there was only a small ‘nuclear’ family and the children didn’t drive or have spouses, as a family grows and expands additional people are added to the equation, complete with their own extended family, established patterns and underlying assumptions.  While in the past it might have been relatively easy to get a core family group of two parents and two young children together with one sibling and his small family,  with some of the grandparents maybe even there, just imagine the impact of additional family members as children grow up, get married and deal with the family traditions of their spouse.

The assumptions we hold are further complicated by our ‘expectations’.  It seems that people create their picture of what their ‘ideal Christmas’ should be and then become stressed as the reality starts to deviate from what they expected!  As an example a basic expectation of my Mother’s is that everybody in our extended family will get together on or near Christmas Day so we can all celebrate as a family.  It was easy when I and my brother were children, but now we are grown with families of our own and our children have jobs, have moved away and in some cases married so trying to schedule one day within a short period of time when everybody can get together is akin to trying to schedule all the trains passing through Grand Central Station to be on time – during a snow storm!  Yet every year my Mother gets worked up and becomes extremely stressed because we can’t find a day that suits everybody.  And as wonderful as it would be if it happened, basing an expectation on a reality that no longer exists is a sure-fire recipe for frustration and increased stress!

And then there are the beliefs we all hold, both consciously and unconsciously.  If you were raised in a loving family where everybody got together on holidays, you could hold the belief that ‘if family members really care about each other they will get together each holiday no matter what’, with the corollary belief that ‘if family members don’t come to the family gathering it means they don’t care about our family anymore’.  Unfortunately beliefs like these can be deeply rooted in our upbringing and may never have been consciously expressed, so we may not even realize why we get so irritated with someone in the family when they are unable to be at the family celebration.  All we know is that they aren’t coming and our stress level rises because ‘Christmas just won’t be the same without them’.

So if you want to avoid unnecessary stress this holiday season, and in fact enhance your ability to THRIVE in spite of the chaos and craziness around you, whenever you feel your stress level rising step back and ask yourself these 3 questions:

1)  Am I reacting the way I am because I have assumed that things are going to happen a certain way?

If the answer is ‘yes’, and it usually is, look at your assumption and determine if it is valid under the current circumstances, or if it’s maybe a little unreasonable.  If, as in many cases, it is unreasonable in the given circumstances (you won’t always be able to easily get the exact style and colour blouse you know your sister wants – and expects) than accept that fact and come up with an alternative solution.

2) Am I upset because I ‘expected’ a certain outcome and it isn’t happening that way?

If the answer is yes (and again, it usually is), examine your expectations to see how reasonable they really are in light of current realities for you, your friends, other family members or anyone else involved.  If your expectations are unreasonable or not suitable given people’s situations, define a new set of expectations.  Or better yet, enjoy each moment with friends and family as it unfolds and don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself by ‘expecting’ one ‘ideal’ outcome.

3) Am I feeling stressed out because I’m making assumptions and expecting certain outcomes because deep down I ‘believe’ that’s the way it should be?

Again, if the answer is ‘yes’, examine your beliefs to see if they are valid in the present circumstances.  If you find that the belief doesn’t take into account the present reality (your brother’s son works shifts and his lack of attendance at a family celebration in no is an indicator of his feelings towards you and the rest of the family), then discard the old belief and define a new one based on what fits the current realities.

While some causes of stress are outside of your ability to alter (there’s little you can do about a major blizzard on the day you were planning on driving 400 miles!), there are many stressors that you can have a significant impact on.  So if you feel the holiday chaos beginning to raise your stress level, step back a moment, take a deep breath and ask yourself the three questions listed above.  And if you find that your assumptions, expectations and/or beliefs are at the root of your rising stress levels, stop beating yourself up and take a more realistic approach.

So if you take the time to pro-actively manage your thoughts and approach to preparing for and celebrating this, or any, holiday season, not only will you ‘stress less’,  you may actually find yourself enjoying the holiday season and thriving!

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