So, a few days ago I happily tore open my chocolate advent calendar (yes, that’s right – I still have one at this age!), a gesture signifying the beginning of the holiday season. My tree also just went up, providing a lovely sparkly focal point in the room (this is likely due to the tinsel, which I refuse to stop using). Gifts I have purchased are accumulating, waiting for the perfect wrapping paper and bow to adorn them. Ahhhh, the holidays!
When reading this post, one could sigh and join me in a moment of revelry, agreeing that this time of year is blissful. To others, all of the above could induce a panic attack. Advent calendars? Um, hello – that’s a daily dose of chocolate to add to the already-accumulating holiday pounds collecting around one’s waistline, and a constant reminder of how few days left there are until the Big Day!! Decorating brings on an epic meltdown if standards are set so high only Martha Stewart could reach them and gifts!?! The dwindling bank account, that impossible-to-buy-for person (or persons), the pressure to find the “perfect” thing!!! My hands are starting to sweat…
I have been incredibly fortunate to have the holidays be a very special time in my life – my parents always went all-out, and still do, in attempts to make everything as perfect as they can. But although my feelings towards this time of year are always fond, I can also find it stressful. And I am not alone. In our fast-paced society, ever-fixated on the More, the Better, the Perfect, many people find that the holidays no longer have that special sparkle they once did. One could argue that this time of year really is about children, which it is, but that does not mean it can’t be great for adults as well. We just need to remember a few handy tricks to not only survive the holiday season, but to actually enjoy it along the way!
First off: BREATHE! When we get stressed, the Fight or Flight response kicks in and all sorts of unpleasant things occur in our bodies (if you are unsure about what this response is, click here: http://www.stressstop.com/stress-tips/articles/fight-or-flight-the-evolution-of-stress.php ). You know how it manifests in you and how you cope with it. Some dive head-first into the Baileys, or chocolate, or maybe both. Others lose sleep and end up getting cranky and snippy, which is never a pleasant addition at a festive party. And others end up making the Grinch look like a saint in their quest to hate everything that is holiday-ish. Mind you, it doesn’t help that we are now bombarded right after Halloween (sometimes even before!!) with painful musical renditions of holiday classics, over-the-top decorations and advertisements on tv! I digress…
We evolved from beings where the Fight or Flight response enabled them to escape or thwart off a physical danger. Luckily, these types of stressful situations were infrequent and their bodies returned to a more normal state of being. Unfortunately for us, in our highly-technical and advanced environment, human physiology has yet to evolve and create a technique to cope with our new type of stress, i.e. constant stress. Most of you will agree, it is hard to remember the last time you were fully, completely relaxed and free of worries or deadlines. It is unlikely that Holiday Season 2010 is a reference for a lot of you.
As mentioned before, breathing is crucial, not only to survival, but to force your body into relaxation mode. A series of slow, deep breaths (both in and out), sends a message to your brain that the danger zone has passed, and that you are “safe.” Some might feel this way about the whole month of December, but if you can take a few moments out of your day (especially when you feel anxious) to practice mindful breathing, you will survive!
Luckily, 99% of the time, our stressors are not physical ones, unless you include temper tantrums in the aisles of Toys R’ Us. Ours usually exist in our minds and stem not only from external pressures, but also ones we place on ourselves. The loose definition of stress centres around your perception of what is taking place, and how much control you feel you have in the scenario. The perfect example would be this month; all the things you have to do, and no time in which to do them!
This brings me to my next suggestion: make a list! And not the kind that Santa makes :). It is always incredibly helpful to get everything out of your head and down on paper. This helps you to keep from forgetting things, and also allows you to prioritise how your time is best spent. On that list, do not forget the self-care! In this challenging time you want to arm your body as best as possible, meaning take a walk when you need a breather (or a change of perspective), eat your fruit and veggies, and get some sleep! And, remember, it is always alright to say “no” to something you do not really want to do, or have the time for. If you list is bulging with commitments to other people, you cannot help but feel anxious. This being said, do not be a slave to your list. Remember, you are never able to get it ALL done, and that is more than alright.
My last suggestion might be the most important one. We can take a cue from our American friends, who just finished celebrating Thanksgiving. When you get down to it, aside from the obvious religious significance, the holiday season is about reflecting on everything we are grateful for and what is most important in our lives. If you need a refresher, Dr. Seuss spells it out perfectly in The Grinch. Maybe you need to sit down with your family and have a little meeting. Ask each member what this time of year means to them. Don’t be surprised when your kids outline their entire Wish List – this is expected :). But writing these things down, and even posting them where everyone can see, will help to keep it all in perspective when your head is spinning and the dog just threw up on all of the presents. (remember what happened to the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?? No one wants a SWAT team flying through the dining room window…)
And finally, just enjoy yourself and have FUN! This time of year really is magical, and can bring out the “kid” in all of us if we just let it. See above and note the sheer glee I obtain from an advent calendar! And maybe some Baileys once in a while… 😉