During this busy season, we can be tempted to increase unhealthy behavior — such as drinking more alcohol, eating more sweets, getting less sleep and exercising less. This, in turn, lowers our defenses and makes every experience, both positive and negative, seem magnified. Here are some tips to help you come through the holiday season with more joy and less stress.
1. Recognize the signs of stress and burnout: As caregivers, we give and give and give, and during the holidays we give even more! All that giving can add up to high-stress levels or even full-on burnout that creeps up on you before you know it.
The prolonged stress builds up, we are robbed of energy, and sometimes we reach a point of total emotional, mental and physical exhaustion. We may lose motivation completely or feel we just don’t care about our loved ones, our other relationships or our work. We may feel that we’ve lost ourselves in the vastness of caregiving and that nothing we can do will make a difference. If you feel like this most of the time, you may have reached burnout. Be aware of emotional ups and downs, fatigue levels, foggy thinking, inability to sit still or the opposite — feeling frozen and unable to get anything done.
2. Anticipate your own holiday hot buttons: Are there holiday activities or toxic relatives that trigger stress or unhappy memories? Do unhelpful relatives regularly arrive for the holidays and criticize your caregiving? Are there topics it’s better to avoid when the family gathers? It may be best to limit your exposure to — or even avoid — certain places, events or people. If you can’t do that, prepare yourself. Minimize the drama, don’t try to resolve longtime family problems over the holidays; try short encounters and develop quick exit strategies. Mentally put yourself in a protective bubble, letting negative energy bounce off without hurting, annoying or distressing you.
3. Mind your own mindset: Acknowledge all your emotions, including fears, frustrations, and sadness, during the holidays. All those emotions are perfectly normal. Try to stay mindful, concentrating on what you are doing in any given moment, rather than letting your mind wander to your ever-growing to-do list. Stay focused on the positives and think about what you can accomplish instead of what you can’t. Negative thinking actually activates your body’s stress response, so steer your mind elsewhere when you start down the slippery slope of negative thinking.
4. Plan ahead and focus on what is most meaningful: Perfection is not the goal of the holidays — joy is! Cramming more into your already crazy schedule can push you over the edge, so consider what is really doable before you commit. Remember, you’ll be happier if you can go with the flow and expect the inevitable delay, crisis or disappointment. Above all, making good memories with your loved ones is especially valuable at this time.
5. Simplify your holiday activities: Many of us love to go all-out for the holidays, but it will be less stressful if you can scale back and find a way to simplify while still enjoying the spirit of the season. You could choose just a few decorations or foods that are most significant to you and feel doable, or cut back to two or three-holiday activities that fill your heart with joy. Set limits and you’ll be OK.
Written by Amy Goyer. This article was originally published on December 6, 2013
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