Posted on December 10, 2013 by Elaine Bayless
Holiday stress comes in a lot of forms. There are the screaming kids at the mall, uncomfortable arguments and disagreements with family, panic over the perfect gift, and for many, a sense of overwhelming loneliness.
To learn how to deal with stress during the holidays, we contacted Elaine Bayless, a certified life coach specializing in teaching people how to take care of themselves. Here is her advice.
Step One: What’s the True Meaning of the Holidays?
What does this particular holiday mean to you? What is the one event, activity, or experience that makes or breaks the entire holiday? Start by choosing a couple of phrases to describe each holiday you’ll be celebrating in the next couple of months. Then think about those phrases and try to reduce them each to just one word.
The word you choose is the priority of your holiday. It is your measure of success or failure. This is the foundation for creating holiday calm because it brings focus. IE, for me the word for Halloween is costume. If I don’t get a chance to dress up and go to a party on Halloween, I feel like I haven’t really celebrated it properly.
Now that you have your word, use it! Wield it as the weapon of power that all priorities are. Look at your to-do list for the holiday. Any item that doesn’t contribute, directly or indirectly, to your priority should be marked off the list. Seriously. If food is not the focus of your Thanksgiving feast then order the whole dinner online! Or make it a potluck. If the entire point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ, then skip the gifts.
Obviously, there are other people involved in the holidays, so you will need to talk with them to communicate your priority and discover their priorities. Use these conversations to incorporate other people’s priorities into preparation and planning.
Step Two: Managing Expectations
One of the biggest problems we face at holiday time is disappointment. Disappointment that the gift we wanted is the wrong size or color. Disappointment that Santa didn’t get us a pony, again. Frustration that our dad and brother can’t get along for just one stinking meal! Disappointment with ourselves that we didn’t fulfill any of our optimistic New Year’s resolutions.
Communication is key to managing expectations. As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to make sure everyone who celebrates with you is aware of your priority. If your partner has a very different priority than you, compromise and teamwork will be required to bring both priorities to fruition. While you communicate, plan ahead.
You probably know that something unpleasant is coming. Whether it’s the annoying aunt, know-it-all neighbor, or sullen 13 year old, there is a fly in your ointment. So plan for it. Identify two or three constructive coping mechanisms and put them into place. Finally, plan for the worst case scenario. Thinking through our worst fears almost always neutralizes them. (Martha Beck seems to advise this in almost all her writing, probably because it is so useful). If I’m hosting Christmas dinner and my oven dies, what will I do? How can I salvage my feast?
Be sure that you manage not only the expectations of those around you, but your own. Don’t let your priority word become an ideal goal that must be attained at all costs. Just because Christmas is about feasting doesn’t mean that you must make a six course gourmet meal! Keep it simple.
Step 3: Healthy Eating
The holidays are a time of feasting, which usually means high fat foods, desserts, and alcohol. So how can you stick to a healthy diet? And do you even want to? Once again your priority is a great way to stay on track. If Thanksgiving means “family time,” then just eat one or two bites of all the dishes on the table and leave room for dessert. But if Thanksgiving means “feast,” then by all means, fill up your belly! All healthy eating habits allow the occasional splurge.
The key to controlling eating is mindfulness. While there’s nothing wrong with periodic feasting, you don’t want to spend half the holidays hung-over or on a sugar roller coaster. So when you reach for the chocolate fudge, or pecan pie, sit down with it. Take small bites and chew them thoroughly. Paying attention to every thing you eat brings greater satisfaction and reduces consumption. Alternate water with cocktails. This will help you stay hydrated and slow your alcohol consumption. If you’re at a party and want to circulate while holding a plate of food, load it up at the lonely veggie tray instead of the dessert platter.
When you’re not at a party, eat normally. Don’t use the holidays as an excuse to eat cake for breakfast, or mindlessly suck on candy canes while you watch TV. Make sure you are fully stocked with your normal food sources. A great way to keep your house from filling up with fattening leftovers is to send them home with your guests after parties. Buy some cute containers, or even some cheap plastic ware, and as people leave, fill up a container for them to take home. Don’t give them a choice! Now you’ve given a holiday gift and removed temptation from your house.
Step 4: Stick to a Budget
Holidays are expensive: food, gifts, cards, wrapping paper, etc. Not to mention that all the media in the world has just one goal: for you to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the next 6 weeks. So how can you stay on a budget?
First, do your homework. Set aside an hour to sit down, with or without your partner, to create a holiday budget. Look at last year’s expenses. Set a budget for each gift recipient. Remember that you’ll need to buy stamps for holiday cards, wrapping paper, tape, and at least one or two last minute gifts.
To stick to a budget there are many options. One is to do everything in cash. Say your Christmas budget is $1500 and there are 5 weeks until Christmas. Withdraw $300 each week for all Christmas purchases. If you do a lot of shopping online, this probably won’t work as well. In that case, set aside a certain credit card. Use this card for all purchases, and check your balance online every day. Once you have reached your budget amount, put the card away. In addition to cash management, use shopping lists. Don’t go anywhere without a list, and don’t buy anything off your list.
Using lists is one great way to avoid impulse buys. Don’t even think about going into Target, Wal-mart, or the grocery store without a list. If you are shopping and see something that might be a great gift or purchase, write it down and sleep on it. If it fits into your budget, go back and get it! Research each gift before you buy it. If you plan to do all your shopping at Amazon, then buy all your gifts at once to take advantage of bulk shipping prices. Be sure to include the cost of gift wrap or batteries into the gift budget.
Another way to avoid impulse buys is to shop locally. Buying a gift certificate for your best friend’s favorite coffee shop is the same amount of money as a gift certificate for Target, but you won’t be tempted to buy anything else at the coffee shop (except, perhaps, a delicious scone). Consider product parties too – they are very popular, and while you aren’t generally buying local items, it can be a way to focus your shopping efforts while having fun at the same time.
Still need help dealing with stress during the holidays?
Consider hiring one of the thousands of life coaches on Noomii.com or check out the related article: Happiness & the Holidays: How to Deal with Holiday Stress [Infographic]