Friday, November 21, 2008

Holiday Stress

Most of us look forward to the holidays. Maybe that is part of the problem. We have expectations that will most likely go unfulfilled. Holidays amplify the tensions that are already present in our lives, our stressed lives. If you are having relationship problems, work problems or financial problems, you can bet holidays will add to the stress. It's no secret life these days is stressful. Add to the normal stress of life our current national problems and this holiday time has the potential to be one we might want to reschedule. Of course, we can't. So what can we do to deal with the stress. Here are some ideas I have found helpful.

Keep it simple. No big plans. Perhaps stay home and keep some time free to do nothing. If you do have guests over or special holiday activities planned, think: what is the minimum I have to do to carry this off. It is good to get together with people you enjoy over the holidays so plan to do that but keep those gatherings simple: a pot of soup, or just coffee or tea. Since holidays often involve gatherings with people we are not getting along with very well, keep your expectations low. Relationship miracles are good for holiday TV but they rarely happen in real life. Plan accordingly. As football coach Bill Parcells used to say when he was questioned about the poor performance of his team: "It is what it is." At times some of the primary relationships in our lives are performing poorly, too. If this is one of those times, repeat the mantra, " it is what it is", and make the best of it.

Keep your eating under control. There are different and special foods during the holidays and we are more tempted to indulge ourselves. Don't. You know how it makes you feel afterward. It only adds stress. Keep your meal plans similar to the way you usually eat. Don't eat out often. Don't go to parties hungry. Fill up on salads (watch the dressings) and water. If you have to have a dessert, try stopping at a bite or two. Wait a few minutes. It satisfies your need for a sweet the same as if you gulped down the whole thing.

Watch your budget if you have one and make one if you don't. There is very little that is worth buying if it will put you into more debt. Figure out how much you can afford to spend without charging more than you can pay off by the end of the year. Live within that amount. If someone will be miffed because you didn't spend more on them, they will get over it. More importantly, you will have avoided the huge stressor of debt. Don't let the holidays add to your family debt.

Exercise. Get a walk in as often as you can. Join a gym over the holidays. Treat yourself to a couple weeks with a personal exercise trainer. What a great Christmas present. Exercise is a proven stress reliever.

Pray. In the busyness of the holiday season, we tend to put off the most important things to make time for least important things. Get up a little earlier so you have time to pray. Read through some of the Psalms, or the early chapters of the Gospels that focus on the birth of Jesus. See your pastor for ideas about devotional readings for this time of year. Better yet, make an appointment to see your pastor for a spiritual checkup! Don't miss worship. Holiday worship services pull us away from so much that is shallow and superficial about the holidays and point us to the meaningful and significant.

Rest. Make sure you get to bed early to get enough sleep. Experts tell us that we need 8 hours a night although most of us get by with far less. "Get by" barely and others notice our irritability. Holiday stress is much easier to handle if we are rested.

Spend time with people that you enjoy being with. There are people that drain us and people that energize us. Often the demands and obligations of life make it impossible to avoid the people that drain us and we are too tired to plan time to be with those people that energize us. Make the time. Meet for a lunch or coffee (although watch the caffeine - too much is a stressor too!).

Laugh. Does anything reduce stress like laughter? Often the people who energize us are people we can laugh with. But even in the hardest circumstances we face, we can find something to laugh at. Like the popular book says: don't sweat the small stuff and it is all small stuff.

One last thought. Each of us has a lot of control over the way we feel. People can only make us feel bad if we let them have that kind of control over us. Situations can make us feel sad if we dwell on them. Life is not usually the way we want it to be or think we want it to be. It is much less stressful to live life the way it is and not romanticize about how much better it could be. And how bad things are because it is not turning out the way we hoped it would. Let go of the "if onlys". It is what it is. And we can thank God in, not for, but in all circumstances.

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