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From Dreary to Cheery

DrearyToCheeryJacquie Eubanks RN BSN

The busy holiday season has officially begun with many of us looking forward to a time of good cheer and celebrations with family and friends. While we may have become accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the holidays as we plan, arrange and organize, surveys show that more than 60 percent of Americans report feeling challenged by the stress-inducing holiday preparations. Most might agree that the holidays would be much more enjoyable without all the pressure we put on ourselves to make everything perfect. Sometimes, less really is more. Eliminating some tasks and embracing the spirit might just be the path to celebrating the true magic of the season.

Taking steps to minimize undue stress by lowering exceedingly high expectations can help make the holidays more delightful and perhaps, even more meaningful. How we respond to the pressures the holidays bring influences the level of enjoyment or anxiousness. When we set unrealistic expectations, overwhelming stress-inducing demands on our time, energy and finances can negatively impact personal wellbeing. Setting holiday boundaries by making deliberate choices and prioritizing what’s most important can help ease holiday stress and allow for time better spent with family and friends to really enjoy what you love most about the holidays.

Focus and reassess. When the holidays are more dreary than cheery, it’s time to reassess. If holiday traditions are more work than fun, give yourself permission to lighten the expectations. To bring more enjoyment and meaning to the season, mindfully choose your priorities and concentrate your time and energy on meeting just those goals.

Create a budget. Racking up holiday debt is a major stressor. The average American overspent by $1,000 last year. Prioritize your resources by determining an amount you can comfortably spend on each person on your list. Though it may sometimes be tempting to exceed your budgeted amount, not overspending eliminates the negative impact of carrying debt into the new year, effectively resulting in reduced stress and peace of mind. Ultimately, it is truly the thought that counts.

Give and receive. In lieu of a gift, take a good friend or relative to lunch at their favorite restaurant or to an outing they would enjoy. Offer assistance to a person on your list that could use and appreciate your help. The holidays are really about creating memories of time spent with those near and dear to us. A gift may soon be forgotten, an act of kindness or shared experience will be remembered.

Establish priorities. When time, energy and resources are limited, concentrate on the tasks you really enjoy, and delegate or eliminate others. Pare down responsibilities as much as possible so tasks can be completed in a reasonable amount of time.

It’s okay to say no. You are not obligated to accept every invitation or request to volunteer. Attend when it works for you, help when you can, politely decline when overcommitting adds more  stress to an already stressful time. Fewer commitments means more energy to spend enjoying the events you really want to attend.

Set boundaries. While others’ expectations may increase pressure, awareness of your own priorities allows for better management of time and energy. Check in with yourself often to focus on what matters to you. Setting boundaries is a great strategy for preventing  overcommitment to allow for a less hectic, more joyful holiday season.

Breathe. Deep breathing is one of the most convenient, simple and best ways to quickly re-energize and de-stress. Find a quiet space and concentrate on deep breathing. Nothing else. Tuning out the world for five to ten minutes calms and relaxes the body, reduces tension and relieves stress.

Go for a walk. Even when time crunched, you can still prioritize some amount of stress-relieving exercise. A brisk walk anytime is mood elevating and energizing. Taking a walk after dinner with family or friends is an enjoyable way to view holiday lights and decorations, lower stress levels, support health and burn off some extra calories.

One more thing. Fortunately, while the holiday season may be chaotic, the whirlwind is short lived. While you may not think it possible to manage even one more obligation, focusing on personal wellbeing has positive effects on mental and physical stress. No matter what stage of life, perhaps it is possible to really enjoy the holidays by carving out time to spread tidings and good cheer to those all around you.

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References:
Holiday Stress and the Brain. https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/holiday-stress-and-brain
The Impact of Holiday Stress on the Mind and Body. https://chopra.com/articles/the-impact-of-holiday-stress-on-the-mind-and-body
Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255
Holiday Stress: How to Cope. https://www.psycom.net/holiday-stress-how-to-cope