There’s a special pain at the heart of holiday stress: These gatherings are supposed to be the happiest times of the year, and we all genuinely want them to be. But we also know they can be crazy-making, what with houseguests and party logistics to handle, vast amounts of food to cook, quirky family dynamics to navigate — not to mention the psychodrama of gift-giving.
Mary Jo Kreitzer, PhD, RN, FAAN, founder and director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, has some healing suggestions for not just “getting through” the holidays but actually enjoying them — and at the top of her list is flexibility. “Pare down your expectations to what really matters to you, and don’t be afraid to change even the most hallowed holiday tradition if it’s not working for you anymore,” she says.
Stress Source: Frenzied Holidays
Feeling the weight of holiday-centered expectations, obligations and family tensions can dampen the genuine joy of the season. Feeling that you’re missing out on your own ideal holiday experiences can make matters worse.
- Overblown expectations. “Because expectations of happiness are so high at holiday times,” says Kreitzer, “there is bound to be some disappointment, and old or new family tensions are almost sure to come out.”
- Perfectionism. You may feel that the holidays are so important that you have to prepare the perfect meal or meticulously clean the house or buy the perfect gift — and there goes your holiday cheer.
- Too much to do. Your holiday schedule may simply include too many events, rituals and obligations, and many of the items on it may be needlessly stressful and even onerous for others as well as for you.
- Tightly wound traditions. Many of us operate under the assumption that everything has to be done the way it’s always been done, no matter how stressful it may have become under new conditions — e.g., a larger (or smaller) family, geographical changes, changes in health, etc.
How to Cope
- Prioritize and pare down. “If you had to pare down your holiday to its essential core, what would it be?” asks Kreitzer. “Probably something like ‘people spending time with people,’ right? So see if you can find the least stressful way to do whatever is most important to you.” Paring down can also save money as it relieves stress — a definite value these days.
- Let go of perfection. This is your holiday, not some idealized vision plucked from a magazine photo spread, and it’s bound to have the marks of your life on it, including imperfections. And that’s actually a good thing.
- Ask for help. People are always willing to help, Kreitzer points out, and bringing others into your holiday preparations can be a great way to reconnect with them in the holiday spirit.
- Stay flexible about plans. Plans change, flights are delayed, people get sick. Kreitzer advises holiday-makers not to let these inevitable plan-altering events become problems. “Holidays are an important time to practice ‘going with the flow,’” she says.
- Create new traditions. If a beloved tradition is causing more trouble than joy, let it go, says Kreitzer. “Maybe that noontime Thanksgiving dinner or Hanukkah gathering is messing up everybody’s schedule. Maybe there are vegetarians in the family now. How about a 4 o’clock meal with more vegetables?”
- Get input. If you’re concerned that family members or friends might resist the simplifying changes you’re considering, bring them on board early, tell them why you’re considering a change and let them voice their perspectives.
How to receive what you desire — and accept what you have.
’Tis the season to think about others. But focusing on what you want isn’t forbidden during the holidays — in fact, according to California-based author and body-mind therapist Gay Hendricks, PhD, it can be a profound way of reducing stress. Usually, desiring something creates the worry that you won’t get it. But Hendricks’s Third-Way Technique (he describes two other traditional manifestation techniques in his books) aims at a different result: connecting your authentic self with a limitless sense of plenty and helping you accept whatever you receive.
Nineteenth-century psychologists, including William James, first explored the idea that positive attitudes produce positive results. And current theories of manifestation are based on this central concept. When people begin thinking positively in this way, Hendricks notes, negative ideas about themselves also arise; his technique uses self-acceptance to neutralize this negativity.
Because Hendricks’s technique for manifesting what you desire involves deep relaxation and an even deeper acceptance of your life as it is, it helps to relieve stress. The deep, slow, four-second “belly breaths” that Hendricks recommends counteract stress chemicals in the bloodstream. Practicing acceptance of what you have makes it more likely that, unblocked by neediness and anxiety, you will recognize and obtain what you desire, and it also helps you enjoy whatever the universe offers.
First, center yourself by taking some slow, deep breaths. Next, suggests Hendricks, “Create a positive present-tense sentence and moving picture of what you desire. Maybe it’s, ‘I sell my house for a large profit.’ You visualize the new family enjoying your house.” Then you switch gears to what Hendricks calls “an open-hearted acceptance of your life as it is now. You accept and love the fact that you haven’t sold the house; you accept and love the financial situation that is leading you to sell it.” This takes fear and a sense of scarcity out of the process, since they may block the manifestation of what you want and the enjoyment of it if you receive it.
Then, says Hendricks, “you circulate the thought, ‘I am connected to infinite creation and infinite abundance.’ And you allow yourself to settle gently into an awareness of all the support you have, right now.” In this state of openness and connection, you will always be at the right place and at the right time to receive.”