How to minimize your stress level during the holidays

The holiday season can be wonderful.  A time to celebrate, get together, do joyful things (mainly eat)…  A stranger said “Happy Holidays” to me on the street and that was enough to keep me cheerful for the rest of the day.

But it is also true that the holidays create such a stressful time for a lot of us.   With something like 80% of North American families considered “dysfunctional,” most of us have had a fair share of family drama and trauma.  Therapists say that November – January is the most lucrative time for their businesses because of people being anxious and stressed out during this season.

So what do we do?  How can we cope with things that seem so out of our control?

As a holistic practitioner and therapist, here are my recommendations for minimizing your stress levels during the holiday season, and really, anytime at all:

1) Make a priority list.

Everyday, in the morning, start your day out with a few minutes of writing everything down in order of importance.  This is not just a to-do list, but a guide to maximize your productivity and minimize your inefficiency.

Write out everything that needs to get done that day, then get another piece of paper and order them.  Number one should be the one that is the most important item to get done, and on goes the list.  Be realistic about what you can get done.  I would say, start with 5-10 items on the list, depending on your needs and lifestyle, and then once you run out of things to do (wouldn’t that be awesome!?), make a new one.

For example, my list today looked like this:

1. Take Pacifica (our chihuahua mix) on a long walk

2. Stretch for 5 minutes

3. Ship out orders

4. Call vendors

5. Design work for client A – send out email

6. Update and resources section

7. Meeting with doula client

8. Meeting with potential business partner

9. Send out holiday cards

10. Write blog post about how to have a stress-free holiday season

11. Update discount codes

12. Beef, broccoli and rice noodles for dinner

13. Phone consultation with client B

Now, I shouldn’t have to write that I need to take my dog on a walk, but sometimes if I’m not conscious and orders and phone calls are coming in and I have to do this and that, I end up not taking her out because she’s a tiny apartment dog.  She actually goes everywhere with me when I’m running around so she definitely doesn’t have to deal with being left alone at the house all day, but it should be my priority, just like if I were a mother, it would be my priority to feed and play with my baby.  So today, I felt the need to write it down, especially because I had some long meetings during which I wouldn’t be able to get the other stuff done.

I also shouldn’t have had to write that I need to stretch for 5 minutes – I should be able to find 5 minutes to stretch without a reminder, right?  But again, it’s something that I am trying to make a habit, so I wanted to write it down until it’s effortlessly embedded into my daily routine.  By the way, it’s an excellent 5-minute sequence called Makkoho (a Japanese meridian exercise method), so I recommend it to anyone who wants more flexibility and energy to give this a try.  It takes no time and it’s fun to do with your little ones, too 🙂 (Oh, if only we could be as flexible as our babies!!)  Don’t overdo it, because that would actually be counterproductive and make you more tense.  I couldn’t find a lot of good sites in English, so I’ll put a link to this one from the Zen Center of Denver.   I’m going to start teaching this method combined with other exercises, so maybe I’ll make a video sometime!

Once you have your list, use it as a guide – again, don’t overextend yourself, make it realistic, so that you don’t feel like you’ve failed at the end of the day.

2) Don’t check your email throughout the day.

This is hard to do especially in this age of smartphones – but seriously, set specific times during the day to check and respond to email.  Do this for phone calls, too.  Think about how inefficient we all are when we have to “take a break” from whatever we’re doing because we’re incessantly checking our email and answering phone calls.  Again, this is where knowing what your priorities are helps.

Focus on one thing at a time.

3) Collaborate and cooperate.

Don’t try and do everything on your own.  Involve everyone: your children, your partner, your family members and friends to help.  This is a great challenge for us motherly people, who are so accustomed to taking things on, even if we’re already overloaded.  Don’t do an activity or cook a dish that’s time-consuming just because you did it last year, if thinking about it makes you stressed out.

4) Don’t take anything personally.

This is a hard one!  We are so used to it.  We are so used to internalizing external expectations, criticisms, judgments and comments that come to us.  It’s hard to not take it personally when an in-law or a mean relative makes a negative remark about you or your actions.  But whatever they say is completely their problem.  Even if they call you names directly to your face, that is their problem.  Because if a person is truly happy and healthy inside, they wouldn’t have to act that way and project their negative feelings to you.  This can be a lifelong challenge for a lot of us, but it really helps lessen the burden on our hearts.  A book that has helped me personally is The Four Agreements (and the entire series) by Don Miguel Ruiz, a Toltec spiritual teacher.  Highly recommended.

5) Make sure you are physically strong and healthy.

Listen to your body.  If you are really tired, that means your body is telling you to rest.  If you feel like you’re coming down with something, don’t push it.  Take time for yourself.  Laugh and do breathing exercises with your children.  Involving them in relaxation activities can be a great way to relax yourself at the same time.  Maybe creating a time for family yoga or stretching time can turn into an activity your children can look forward to during the day.

Make sure you’re hydrated.  Dehydration is one of the often overlooked causes of many diseases, especially over a long period of time.  We don’t even notice that we’re dehydrated sometimes.  And don’t forget to breathe deeply – even when you’re rushing through an aisle at the grocery store with your toddler picking out random products and baby nursing in the cart and a million people are bumping into you, take a moment to breathe deeply and exhale everything out.  Seriously, it takes a second, and it energizes your whole body and brain.

This is all easier said than done, but once we can make the conscious choice to take care of ourselves a habit, it becomes that much easier to take care of all of our loved ones.  Family relationships can get very intense because it’s hard to establish boundaries between family members, but it is also a strong belief of mine that whether a family member brings in positive or negative energy into our lives, it’s still a blessing: either way, you can be grateful that they’ve taught you a lesson to be truly stronger at your core.  With that said, give yourself permission to release and let go when you need to.

I wish everyone a peaceful holiday season, no matter what your situation is.  You are a beautiful individual and you don’t have to blame yourself for anything.  You don’t have to feel guilty for anything.  You don’t have to sacrifice yourself for anybody.

You are you, and that’s a job nobody else can do, and you’re doing (being) it with perfection!

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share your personal experiences and wisdom here.  We always love hearing from you.