How To Beat Holiday Stress Before It Beats You

Beat the stress before it beats you.

Despite all the sugary-sweet, Christmas movies on TV these days … despite all the admonitions that this is supposed to be the happiest time of the year … this may be the most stressful time of the year. In her book, “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me,” Dr. Bev Smallwood says, “Good intentions get turned into anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. It’s a recipe for holiday distress.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Grinch. I love Christmas and the meaning of Christmas. But for many people, this may be the most challenging holiday season in memory. After all, they can’t help but look at their dwindling bank accounts and diminishing retirement plans. They can’t help but wonder about their job security. And they can’t help but wonder what their families will think when they opt out on the gift giving or the more expensive parties.

But there’s some good news. Even though this could be a “recipe for holiday distress,” I firmly believe there are 12 things you can do to keep the MERRY in your CHRISTMAS.

And by the way, don’t forget to take these same 12 tips back to work with you … because they’ll help you and your company get past the gloom and doom I see and hear in so many organizations these days.

1. Do only the most important things.

Every activity and gathering may seem important during the holiday season. But they’re not. So make a list of the things that are really really important to you when it comes to the holiday season. And let your list guide your activities this month and for the months to come.

Don’t run yourself ragged at home and at work. Holidays have a way of doing that to people. So ask yourself, “If I had just six months left to live, would I be living my life this way?” If your answer is “no,” then remove some of the activities from your holiday list. Stay focused on what is most important. Focus on the family and friends who mean the most to you and get to the others later in the year.

2. Practice an attitude of gratitude.

The more thankful you are the less stressed you can be. So every day during the holidays, take two minutes to list all the things you’re thankful for. And quit thinking about all negatives in the world … the economy, job losses, politics, war, corruption, and a thousand other things.

I’m not suggesting that you bury your head in the sand and never address these issues. Of course not. But if you want to retain some of the holiday spirit at home and some of the workplace morale in your company, you can’t spend all your time focusing on how bad things are.

Consciously spend some time practicing an attitude of gratitude. It’s one of the most energizing forces in the world.

3. Remind yourself “You’ll never get it all done, and that’s okay.”

No matter how hard you work or how fast you work, you’ll never get all your holiday chores done. You’ll never check everything off your to-do list. So be it. Let it go. There’s always more you could do.

As the founder of Christmas said, “I come to give you peace.” So if you’re not experiencing a fair amount of peace right now, you’re missing the point.

4. Refrain from negative commentaries.

Be careful of putting your stressed-out thoughts into downbeat words. The more negative comments you make, the more you’ll ruin your own holiday season.

I’m hearing it all over the place. I’m hearing it at holiday parties … that are supposed to be fun … where the conversation goes on for hours and hours about “how good things used to be” and “how bad things are going to get.” And I’m hearing it in companies where I’m speaking … where the most negative employees always seem to find each other and have their daily pity party about the state of the world.

So please refrain from negative talk. Or at the very least, restrain yourself from saying too many negative comments about the holidays such as, “I get so stressed out during the holidays … There’s so much to do … and … Before you know it, it’s all over. So what’s the point?” The more you think or say such things, the less joy you’ll experience and the more stress you’ll endure.

5. Set your spending limits in advance.

You may be stressed out by all the expenses and overspending at Christmas. But don’t get fooled into thinking it’s the high cost of living that’s causing your stress. It’s the cost of living high.

Set your limits in advance. Don’t be guilted into spending more than you can afford. And don’t be fooled into thinking you have to get everything on your children’s wish list … thinking that will somehow “make them happy.” That’s a myth. Over the long haul, kids spell love as T-I-M-E and not T-H-I-N-G-S.

Live beneath your means. Don’t buy anything you can’t afford to pay for now. And if you can’t afford to pay cash, chances are you can’t afford to pay another 20% of interest when the credit card bill comes due.

6. Choose your fights carefully.

Sometimes, holiday gatherings at work or home can bring difficult people together. Old wounds can get opened up and personality styles can clash … oftentimes in the wrong place … at the wrong time … under the wrong circumstances. So don’t get sucked into a conflict unnecessarily.

Avoid these conflicts if at all possible. Let the derogatory comment pass. Overlook the social slight. Save them for another time and place … if you think these issues need to be addressed and there’s a reasonable chance of coming to an agreement.

7. Adjust your expectations and attitudes.

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. As Dr. Smallwood says, “No holiday celebration or season can be perfect. This will NOT be the holiday when all the gifts and the get-togethers will be perfect.”

And if you hold unrealistic expectations to the contrary, you WILL be disappointed. In fact, the higher your expectations, the more difficult it will be for reality to come anywhere close to what you were expecting. Your holiday season will fall short. It won’t measure up. And you’ll simply be another victim of holiday depression. So adjust your expectations.

And then examine your attitude. 85% of people have a somewhat negative attitude. And there’s no way you can have a happy holiday or workplace morale if you and all the others around you have a negative attitude.

If you happen to have a somewhat less-than-positive attitude, then I beg you to avoid the big lie … the big lie that says, “That’s just the way I am … I can’t help the way I feel” YES YOU CAN.

Attitudes are changeable … in fact totally changeable if you spend 5 minutes a day practicing a few simple disciplines. So give yourself the gift of a new attitude for the holidays and the New Year by setting the goal of getting a better attitude. I outline the process in my book, “PIVOT: How One Turn Can Lead To Success.”

8. Pay attention to your body.

Listen to your body. It will tell you if you’re experiencing more holiday joy or more holiday stress. It will tell you if you’re off balance or need to tweak your schedule. And if you’re body is telling you you’re off kilter, that you need to slow down, then do it. LISTEN. If you don’t listen, your dis-stress will almost always lead to dis-ease, and that’s a bummer during the holiday season.

9. Choose your actions.

Instead of doing what everyone else expects you to do this holiday season, do what makes sense to you. Do what you feel is good and right for you.

Now I’m not making an argument for selfishness. Not at all. The whole Christmas season is about giving. But there’s a difference between giving … and giving until it hurts … you, your self-respect, and your relationships. You need appropriate boundaries … for acting in a way that makes sense to you.

If, for example, you don’t want that first, second, or third drink at the party … that somebody is pushing you to consume … then don’t take it and don’t drink it. Say, “No thanks.” And if they continue to push, prod, or shame you into drinking, repeat yourself a bit more firmly and say, “I said ‘no,’ and I mean ‘no.’ Please don’t ask again.”

If someone is pushing you to spend more money on Christmas presents than you can afford, if someone is pushing you to buy presents for people you don’t want to include on your list, if someone is guilting you into coming to their house when you’d rather stay at home, then don’t do it. RESPOND in a way that honors yourself and your own commitments as you RESPECTFULLY decline their invitation. Just say, “I appreciate being asked, but that doesn’t work for me this year. I have other plans.”

If you act the way somebody else wants you to act, if you sacrifice what is important to you, you’ll end up hating yourself and the holidays. And that’s a lousy trade you don’t want to make.

10. Give to others who can’t give back.

At a time when much of the world is looking for bailouts, it’s time we all learned a lesson. It’s time we learned … especially during the holidays … to move beyond our wishes and wants and our needs and greeds. It’s time we learned more about giving than getting.

So take a moment to think about what you can give to others outside your own circle of friends and family members. I know my father and stepmother … who are in their 70’s and 80’s … spend much of their holiday season working with the homeless. And my wife and I have often invited my students … who either have no families or have families a long ways off … to join us for a part of the holiday celebrations.

And do you know what? The times spent with those people have brought us more joy than any present we ever exchanged.

11. Share stories to celebrate those who are missing.

Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one since the holidays of last year. Perhaps someone is physically missing from your get-together due to low finances, long distances, ill health or military deployment.

But they don’t have to be forgotten. Set aside some time in the holiday get-together to reflect on the missing person’s life. Recall meaningful or funny experiences you shared together. Collectively cherish the person’s impact as you gather together to share fun, heart-warming stories about those individuals who are missing.

12. Elicit stories from those who are present.

Everybody has a story … in fact many stories … worth listening to. And I can’t think of a better holiday present than share someone’s presence by discussing things that go beyond the superficial. Go beyond sports talk, the latest movie, or what’s going to be served at your next meal.

Ask Brave Questions. Talk about things you don’t normally talk about. And you will be amazed at what you learn about your spouse, your kids, friends and relatives … even your coworkers and clients.

Diane Rooks wrote about that experience. She said, “I purchased your ‘BRAVE QUESTIONS’ book some time ago and have used it in many different situations, including talks with my own family members. But let me tell you about the amazing things that are happening when I use your Brave Questions with hospice patients and their families.”

“I’ve found that most people, when they’re dying, want so badly to talk about important issues … what their life has meant and their approaching death. For many reasons, however, the families are often reluctant to talk about those issues. So I ask my patients a few Brave Questions and the floodgates open. Some of their stories are absolutely incredible … full of wit and wisdom that make me laugh, learn, and cry.”

“And when I ask the family if they know these stories, most of the time their answer is ‘no.’ They’ve never talked about those kinds of things. They thought they knew everything there was to know about their loved one, but now they begin to realize how little they really knew. I tell them their grandchildren would be interested in knowing these stories as well, so they ought to record the stories for them. One patient got so excited that she got out of bed and started typing her stories on a manual typewriter! Her daughter couldn’t believe the change in her mother.”

Diane finished her note to me by saying, “Isn’t it sad that most people wait so long to ask those Brave Questions? My experiences make me determined to ask them before it’s too late.”

Well it’s not too late. If you’re getting together with some folks for the holidays, one great thing you can do is elicit stories from one another. Ask Brave Questions, and you’ll have more fun … and build stronger relationships … than you can imagine.

Action:  The time to beat stress is before it beats you. Select at least 3 of the strategies above that you will use this holiday season so it truly is a MERRY season.