We’re all familiar with the Norman Rockwell version of Thanksgiving dinners: grandma with the turkey, grandpa ready to carve, smiling faces, and children sitting expectantly—family bliss immortalized. I’m certain that all of your holiday celebrations are exactly like that, right? On the outside chance that you’ve experienced otherwise, here are a few tips for dealing with the stress that sometimes accompanies this time of year.
Be realistic. Life can be great, but it isn’t perfect. Traditions can change. Children grow and develop new friends—and their own lives with new families. Accommodate and welcome these changes, rather than resent and resist them.
Acknowledge your feelings. Realize it’s normal to feel sadness sometimes, just as we also sometimes feel great joy. Recognize the time and financial pressure of the season. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because of the time of year, but you can allow yourself to be happy and joyful.
Tune in to the motivations of those around you. Don’t be annoyed with the aunt who ‘forces’ you to eat a piece of pie; recognize that she’s trying to share her happiness with you. Be grateful for gifts and attention, even if this takes a little work on your part.
Be generous. This doesn’t mean spend a lot of money you may or may not have. Generosity can consist of your time, attention, compliments and favors to others. Babysitting and allowing a mom some time to herself may be a better gift for her than something from the mall.
Take care of yourself. Exercise is documented to reduce stress and elevate moods, in addition to boosting energy and keeping the weight off. Exercise also reduces anger and fatigue. Eat well. It’s easy to overeat, consume too much caffeine and drink too much alcohol during the holiday season. Temptation abounds. Take small and polite portions of goodies and fill up at the veggie and fruit tray. Water down those drinks (or drink fewer of them). Take breaks, and build ‘down time’ into your calendar. Five minutes of quiet calm or deep breathing can go a long way.
Learn to say ‘no.’ Saying yes to a request when you should have said no will leave you resentful and overwhelmed. No one expects you to participate in every project or attend every gathering. No one else does. If you really can’t say no to a specific request, then remember to remove something else from your to-do list to fit in the added request.
Spend wisely. Remember that gifts of time, attention and talent, if well thought-out and given from the heart, can be more valuable to the recipient than gifts of things. The hand-drawn picture from my grandchild will be in my office. The tie will be on the rack.
Take proactive steps to enjoy the holidays. Learn to recognize those things that trigger stress: traffic at the mall, hearing The 12 Days of Christmas for the 13th time, demands on your time or anything which bugs you. Then, try to address them before they cause problems for you.
Whichever holiday you celebrate, may you find peace and joy in the coming year.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Children’s Hospital Services, mercy.net.