We’re approaching “the most wonderful time of year” — where we spend time with our family and friends, feast on our favorite foods and relax and unwind.
Does this sound like your holiday experience? If not, you’re not alone. Even enthusiasts get stressed out. The holidays are also full of many expectations, obligations and judgment. This can easily become the most trying time of the year.
Here are some ways to mitigate stress so you can truly enjoy this holiday season.
Set realistic expectations
One of my favorite holiday movies is Christmas Vacation. Most of the humor stems from Clark Griswold’s lack of self-awareness and the gap between his expectations and reality. He envisions an idyllic holiday filled with the perfect tree, decorations, festivities and an adoring family. It’s no surprise that he’s met with a series of disappointments.
We can save ourselves from the same predicament by setting realistic expectations. Rather than wishing everyone else to behave well or act differently, think about how you want to act and feel. Our actions and reactions are the only thing we control.
Journaling is a great exercise. Write down your favorite and worst memories from the past few holiday gatherings. Read through and think about how you can react differently.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of taking a few deep breaths before responding. Or having prepared responses like “I’m not sure how I feel about that,” or “I’m not ready to talk about that yet.”
It’s also about practicing compassion toward others and not judging what others say or do. Instead of pushing buttons or focusing on hot topics, we can ask open-ended questions about things they care about.
Set an intention
I used to subscribe to the “expect the best, prepare for the worst” philosophy, but not anymore. Instead I set an intention for what I want for myself and others before every event and activity.
Here are some examples: I want to celebrate with my loved ones. I want to be fully present. I want to deepen my relationship with every person I interact with. I want to be loving and compassionate to myself and others.
The key to true happiness is to detach from the outcome. When we set an intention that is good for everyone and let go of expectations, we will have a positive experience despite the twists and turns that inevitably happen.
Set healthy boundaries
This is critical, especially if you’re the go-to person for everything and/or a people pleaser. It’s incredibly difficult to say “no.”
A good exercise is to write down an exhaustive list of all your obligations (think about “have to” or “should do” items). Review it a day or two later and seriously assess each item. Is that something you actually have to do? Will anyone notice or mind if you don’t do it? What can be delegated or removed?
It’s an opportunity to be creative. Can you buy a holiday meal from your local grocery store? Can you do a gift exchange instead of buying gifts for every person? Can you find a game or puzzle that everyone can do together? Simplify so you have more time and energy to enjoy every moment.
Do a social media detox or limit the amount of time you spend on apps. Spend your free time reading books, watching movies and listening to music that makes you feel good.
The holidays give us a keen sense of what we’re missing or lacking. Instead of dwelling on what we don’t have, we can practice gratitude.
Practicing gratitude is powerful — it boosts our positivity, energy and happiness. It also helps us sleep better and create stronger relationships.
It’s easy to create a daily practice by writing down a few things we’re thankful for every morning or evening, sharing what we’re thankful for at dinner or thinking about the best parts of our day before bedtime.
We can be thankful for the big things in our lives like our home, family, friends and job as well as the little things like a book we’re reading, a compliment we received or getting an unexpected 30 minute break from a canceled meeting. It’s also good to include a few things that we love about ourselves.
When we focus on what we have, we’re able to open our hearts up more to ourselves and others.
This is also a perfect time to volunteer and donate to organizations that are near and dear to our hearts. Volunteering builds a sense of community and gives us the opportunity to connect to others. It also builds compassion and empathy as well as gaining a new perspective from people who we don’t often interact with.
When we help others, it gives us a greater sense of purpose and allows us to see our contributions in a meaningful way.
Ask for help
The best initiatives at work involve many team members across the company. The diversity in thought and action produce a much better result.
It works the same way at home. Doing the work all by yourself is not just lonely, but it can create unnecessary resentment. Don’t assume the responsibility to do all the holiday tasks. Spread the joy — ask others to run errands and plan activities. Give them the opportunity to step up and contribute. They’ll feel good about their role and enjoy it even more.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, reach out to a counselor. They’re experts in their field and can help release negative emotions, overcome limiting beliefs and navigate this stressful holiday season.
I hope you’re able to employ one or more of these tips and practices to alleviate stress and create a more positive experience.