The Cardiologist's Wife: Stress Less For The Holidays
by Lisa Tedder
The holidays are in full swing: carols are blaring from the radio, lights are strung on every tree and the mailbox is stuffed with cards. We’re supposed to be rocking around the Christmas tree and ho ho-ing from store to store in search of that one special gift while calling out “Merry Christmas” to everyone we meet. But, for many, the holidays bring added stress and leave us more on the naughty list than the nice one, ironically longing for the peace and calm of gloomy January. Don’t feel like you are alone with your Scroogey sentiments; the majority of Americans report feeling stressed in some way during the period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.
There are many reasons for all this stress, but much of it stems around gift giving as finances, time to shop and all the commercialism surrounding the holidays make it feel overwhelming. Not surprisingly, more women than men feel stressed, as they are typically responsible for gift buying, wrapping and orchestrating the whole holiday so everyone enjoys themselves. The pressure to have the most wonderful time of the year is real, but some may be missing a loved one or dreading seeing relatives they don’t get along with, putting a damper on the whole season. Whatever your reason for not feeling jolly, there are ways to cope.
One of the best ways to deal with stress is to focus on being totally present in the moment. Things that might happen in the future can’t happen right now because we are living in the present, not the future. Worrying about things that might happen in the future robs us of relaxing and enjoying what is happening right now. Worry doesn’t ever solve anything, it only increases the stress we feel, leaving us trapped in an endless loop. So, let go of the things you can’t control: other people’s happiness, the weather, what your in-laws think, whether your brother likes the gift you gave him, etc. Instead, enjoy the children’s Christmas program, the decorations around town, your favorite carol and the lovely holiday meal with friends. Relax in the simple moments too: the cup of coffee before anyone else is up, the birds at the feeder in the yard or the nip in the air.
Just say no. You don’t have to go to every party or holiday event, send out Christmas cards or buy a gift for everyone you know. Remember, you call the shots. Yes, you. You decide where you will go for Christmas, how long you will stay and, most importantly, how much money you can spend. Make a schedule and a Christmas budget with your spouse, compromise where necessary, but do include time to relax and unwind. Stick to your spending limits, and you will feel less guilty and stressed over how to pay your credit card bill come January. If you are afraid someone will show up with a gift for you when you didn’t buy one for them, you can always buy a generic gift or two to wrap and set under the Christmas tree just in case. A bottle of wine, a nice candle or a gift card to a local coffee shop are good ideas that you can use yourself later if not gifted.
Learn to delegate. Even young children should be given jobs to do, whether it’s simply to pick up their mess or gather up the dirty clothes and put them in the laundry room. It may not be picture perfect, but let your spouse wrap presents, bake cookies or do the grocery shopping. Instead of fretting about details, focus on the main reason you celebrate Christmas, whether it’s religious, seeing relatives, enjoying the festive season or seeing the joy on your kids’ faces. Life is messy, so learn to live with it.
Take time to get outside and breathe some fresh air, away from music and phones and social media. The quietness of an early morning or a beautiful sunset can soothe your anxieties and help you reset. The holiday excitement can wreak havoc with children’s schedules, making bad behavior more likely. Take your kids outside to blow off some steam every day so they are less rambunctious, and make sure they have downtime every day to relax and unwind. Read a book together at bedtime, or teach them to meditate.
If you are missing a loved one this holiday season, allow yourself to grieve and feel any emotions you have. Participate in holiday celebrations as you feel able, keeping in mind that a social outing may lift your spirits. Feel free to include a photo of your loved one in cards, share a story about them at a gathering or make a donation in their name to a favorite charity. Reach out to family and friends when you need to talk or for help with tasks you can’t manage.
Last, remember the holidays are what you make them. They shouldn’t be the make-or-break event of the year, but a time to gather with loved ones and cherish the blessings we have.