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Many of us look forward to the holiday season all year. I know I do. We think about spending time with friends and family. Decorating our homes and shopping for the perfect gift. And as a bonus we get extra days away from the office. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.
Unfortunately, all this activity adds to the daily stress in our lives. But there are things you can do to minimize the effect this stress has on you. I asked six experts to share their advice on how to beat holiday stress make your holiday season a little more merry and bright. Just the way you want it to be. Following, are their responses.
CAREER-INTELLIGENCE.COM Our business lives are already hectic. Holiday activities – the office party, networking your professional organization, scrambling to finish projects by the end of the year – only add to the stress. What can we do to reduce stress in our 9 to 5 lives?
DEBBIE MANDEL, M.A. (www.turnonyourinnerlight.com) In order to deal with stressors beyond our control, we have to deal with the little stressors that come up before they accumulate and overwhelm us. The best way to rid the body of stress hormones, improve focus to accomplish tasks faster, improve mood and boost the immune system is exercise. Activity alleviates anxiety and breaks the stress cycle. Once you exercise daily, even in small increments, you will organize your day around better health including eating lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates which help release feel-good chemistry and so, reduce stress.
Create a “Look-what-I-did-today list” to go to sleep feeling accomplished instead of tossing and turning over the things you didn’t get to do.
MELISSA MCCREERY, PHD, ACC (TooMuchOnHerPlate.com) Don’t stop taking care of yourself because you feel too busy. You are what you bring to the game, and when things get hectic, it’s especially important that you are in good form. Aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep. Take the time to plan for a healthy lunch.
If you don’t eat well, focus, concentration, and productivity will suffer as the day wears on. You’ll also be more likely to over eat high sugar and carbohydrate foods later in the day (which can lead to sugar crashes, irritability, and weight gain). Remember to stay hydrated and take a short 2-3 minute break every hour just to stretch, move, or simply check in with yourself. Be sure to take ten minutes a day to make a list prioritizing your activities.
GABRIELA CORA, MD, MBA (www.executivehealthwealth.com) 9 to 5 lives? Most people are working twelve and sixteen hour days to keep their lifestyle in spite of the recession these days. You may want to think whether or not to attend all those office parties and networking opportunities during the holiday season, particularly if you need to meet your deadlines. If you are experiencing the stress of needing to be in two places at the same time, you may need to cut down the time that you would spend at each event, minimize your excuses, and maximize your productive time.
KAREN SHERMAN PHD (www.drkarensherman.com) During the day, the best thing to do is bring in the Relaxation Troops: Do some relaxation breathing. Take in a slow breath through the nose, down past your throat and chest, into your solar plexus (area right below your ribs) to the count of four; then hold for four, and then through slightly opened lips release the breath as if you are blowing on a ckae with lit candles but since it’s not your birthday you only want them to flicker, not blow them out. This should also be done to the count of four.
STEVE ORMA, PSY.D (www.DrOrma.com) Stress is a normal part of life, because life is inherently challenging. We have many things to balance, such as work, relationships, kids, our health, etc., all of which create stress. A certain amount of stress is actually beneficial, as it helps us to stay alert, focused, and increases our performance. Thus, the goal should not be to eliminate stress, but to keep it at a manageable level.
Organize with a daily planner. Sit down with your planner now and write in all the important activities and tasks you know are coming up during the holidays. Every night, add any additional tasks to your planner. Make sure you give yourself enough time for each task. Prioritize the tasks and postpone anything you can until after the holidays.
Don’t take on more than you can handle. Make sure you have time before adding anything. If it’s something you can’t turn down like a request from your boss, make room by removing a less important task. Remember, you don’t have to be a superwoman to be a productive and valuable employee.
SUSAN FEE, PROFESSIONAL CLINICAL COUNSELOR (www.susanfee.com) Focus on what you can and cannot control. Stress results when we focus on those things we have no control over, dwell on them, and then feel completely overwhelmed.
CI: We’re already juggling our personal and professional lives. The holidays bring additional duties – like sending cards, entertaining friends, gift buying and decorating our homes. How can we get everything done and still have fun?
MANDEL: By letting go of perfectionism. Nothing is ever perfect. Going back to basics and keeping things simple put the holidays into a realistic perspective. It is important not to multi-task as this slows you down, creating problems and misunderstandings. Single task and then cross off each task on the list. And please don’t forget to delegate. Everyone can help out and believe it or not, people like to help and feel a part of the celebration. The basic reason many women refuse to delegate, tire themselves out and grow irritable is that they need the applause – look what I can do. However, this external validation comes at a great emotional cost. Resist it, give up some control and enjoy the spirit of the holidays.
MCCREERY: Before you dive in to your to-do list, take a moment to get clear on your priorities and your goals for the season. Do all the holiday tasks you “have” to do, really contribute to what you want from the holidays? If you want to create rich memories with friends and family don’t focus on activities that will keep reoccupied and overloaded. Sit down with your family and discuss what is important at the beginning of the season. Drop or revamp those “traditions” that no one really enjoys. Talk about how everyone can contribute to making the holidays the way you and your family want them to be.
Also, consider which jobs you can transform into a group event or a team project (a cookie baking party vs. a long, solo late-night baking marathon or a gift wrapping night with good friends).
CORA: Pick your battles. Although it’s nice to send cards, entertain friends, and decorate your home, none of these should be considered a duty but more of a pleasure. If you have other duties to fulfill – that is finalize projects that will secure your salary or commission so that you will, then, be able to buy nice gifts to your loved ones – those should come first. Be creative! Have a card party with friends and write for your loved ones as a group, ask friends or family members to create and decorate your home together. The “together” instead of the “buying” is what counts to feel connected during the holiday season.
SHERMAN: Prioritize at the holidays, be willing to let some things to – maybe just for a little while don’t make the beds or use paper plates. Be willing to delegate and let others do some of the easier shopping, addressing/stamping envelopes. Avoid spending time at the mall by shopping online whenever possible. Be willing to not be a perfectionist – if every decoration isn’t exactly right or the tree isn’t exactly perfect – let it go. When the choice is between making things perfect or spending time with friends and family, go with friends and family.
ORMA: It’s important to spend the majority of your time on what you value most. Sit down, alone or with family, and make a list of all the things you want to do over the holidays, and then plan those out in your schedule (leave some time for spontaneity). Make sure you give yourself enough time for each activity and don’t plan to do more than time will allow. Don’t take on any tasks you don’t want to do or commit to any engagements you don’t want to attend. Only do the things you and your family love to do the most, and only spend time with the people you most value (not with annoying relatives or friends). Being able to politely say “No” is an invaluable tool over the holidays. People will understand.
FEE: Start planning your perfect holiday season now. Without any thought to possible invites or obligations, ask yourself, how do I want this season to look for me? Get a clear picture in your mind, remembering to focus only what you have control over. Schedule your version into your calendar NOW. Then when you get additional requests or think about “have to’s” measure those against what’s already in your calendar for you. If you’re booked for you, then say no to the additional item.
CI: What is the most important thing to remember during the holiday season? What’s the one thing that you would recommend to help us enjoy the holidays season?
MANDEL: Stress will always land on your doorstep, but you don’t have to constantly open the door. We take ourselves far too seriously. Stress is not external; it is internally driven and so are our perceptions of stress. Instead of a negativity bias, cultivate a positivity bias – put a positive spin on things and enjoy the moment. Happy Holidays – the emphasis is on happy.
MCCREERY: Too many of us get lost in holiday expectations and miss out on the holiday season we are really craving. Ask yourself : When your holiday season is over, what do you want to have accomplished and how do you want to feel? It’s far too easy to overload yourself with “shoulds” that actually distract from what is really important. Get very clear on the experiences you want to savor this season. Make sure you carve out a place in your schedule for these to happen, and make it a priority to be present (and not preoccupied by the next activity) when they do.
CORA: To connect with those you love, that being family and friends. Cards, decorations, and gifts are great but, by the end of the day, you will remember the great times you had with those who are dear to your heart.
SHERMAN: Let go of small unimportant things including the little fights and annoyances so that the holidays can be what they are meant for – love and connection.
ORMA: Remember to enjoy each moment and be mindful of what’s most valuable to you. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays—parties, gift shopping, entertaining, travel. Once you have planned out a fun holiday season with the activities you most want to do with the people you most want to do them with, really savor each moment. Slow down and be present. The holidays go fast and before you know it they are over. So, relax and enjoy them, don’t rush through them or get distracted by unimportant things.
FEE: It is not all-or-nothing. No one made a rule that everything has to fit into one day or week. If seeing family or writing a meaningful card to someone is important to you, then make it important all year long. Spread out the savoring of relationships rather than cramming them into one obligatory season.