The holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year. Yet, according to Andy Williams 1963 hit, it is supposed to be “The most wonderful time of the year.” We have a long list of to-do’s, traditions, expectations, and expenses. This causes high stress at a time that should be relaxing and joyful.
Stress isn’t a bad thing. It helps us to be motivated to accomplish our goals, to be productive and to move ourselves forward. But too much stress can affect our health, creates anxiety, panic and anger, and leads to a breakdown. It affects every part of your body, from your skin, to your brain, to your muscle strength, your heart, your gut, but especially your immune system.
So how can you better manage your stress during this busy time of the year? Here is a 5-step process to get you started.
Make a list of all of your to-do’s. Include traditions, expectations, obligations, wants, events & activities, etc.
Circle the things that bring you joy, and create excitement and energy.
Star the things on the list that you are dreading, feel anxious about or that drain your energy.
Evaluate the starred items. Are there any that can be let go? Or turned over to someone else? Cross out any that are unnecessary.
Look at the items left and number and prioritize them.
Going through this exercise will help you prioritize what is most important, what is worth keeping, and what you can let go. Letting go of things that don’t work can be freeing! For example, I let go of my tree being perfect and just let my kids decorate it--I may rearrange here and there, but they love to decorate and I don’t. Turn your focus to ways you can optimize your energy!
One of the best ways to optimize your energy is to exercise. It is a great way to relieve the stress that you are feeling. This might be a mindset change for you, but try it. It might be a walk, an exercise class, yoga, a good lifting session, etc. Do what brings you joy. I have a T-Shirt that says, “Exercise is Cheaper than Therapy.” It really can be a great way to relieve stress and you’ll feel a lot better than if you were to eat a carton of ice cream. There is no guilt when you exercise.
Don’t neglect self-care during this time of year! This includes taking time for things you love and help you find rest from the to-do’s. It means setting up boundaries for yourself and your family. Be mindful of the unrealistic expectations and don’t be afraid to say “no” if you aren’t absolutely sure you feel up to it or will have the time. If you aren’t sure and want time to think about it, you can say “maybe” and get back to them after you’ve had a chance to evaluate your time and mental capacity.
Another one is to enjoy the moment that you are in. Fully embrace it and soak it all in. Corita Kent said, “Love the moment, and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries.” For example, I don’t love Junior High music concerts, but I love my daughter and love to watch her perform. So going is a priority. And when I go to her concert, I am completely there. My focus isn't on how quickly it will be over or doing the last of my shopping, I’m soaking in the experience and expressing gratitude for it.
The last thing is to really watch what you are eating. Don’t stress about it, but what and how you eat will affect your stress levels. Fuel your body with the best. And consciously without guilt. We have complete control over what goes into our mouth. So why don’t we put energy producing, health giving, therapeutic, healing foods in our environment, carts, and mouths? Because….(insert your answer). What is your excuse? This doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner, but fill your plate with what is healthy first, and then find ways to add the most nutritional value into your choices on all the other days. Enjoy a bite or two of your favorite holiday treat and savor them. You’ll find you are very satisfied and your energy levels will be much better.
Be mindful of your stress level. Practice pausing and evaluating why you are doing what you are doing, and it will become easier to accomplish all the things you want to accomplish. Prioritize, exercise, take care of yourself, enjoy the moment you are in, and fuel your body with the best. It truly can be “the most wonderful time of the year!”