a smiling toy snowman

With Christmas once again almost upon us, I felt this might be a useful time to share my 3 steps for a stress free holiday.

The festive period is a great time to unwind, spend time with family and friends, overindulge and catch up on all the Christmas specials on television. Unfortunately, Christmas can also be a stressful time if you have to deal with overexcited kids, drunk uncles and broken Christmas tree lights. Follow these 3 steps and you’ll enjoy a much more relaxing, enjoyable and stress free holiday.

Start With A Healthy Perspective

Too often our expectations for how the holidays will turn out becomes unrealistic. The kids must love their presents; the Christmas turkey must be perfect; no-one should argue; she shouldn’t get drunk; the Christmas tree has to look perfect.

We want Christmas to be great and so we end up making ourselves anxious by placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others. We need to start by having a healthy perspective on the holidays. Some things won’t turn out the way you want them to – and that’s ok, it doesn’t have to be perfect. With 6 billion people living on a planet floating in an infinite universe how important is it really that you have a perfect Christmas?

Begin by thinking about the small pleasures you want to get out of Christmas and then recognise that anything else is a bonus. So perhaps your goal is to have a few days away from a hectic workplace, or spend a couple of hours with your children, or visit an elderly relative, or go for a drink with an old friend, or go for a winter walk with your family. By hoping these things happen, but not wanting or expecting them to happen, you are developing a healthier and more realistic perspective.

Practice Acceptance

So, it’s Christmas day and the dog has stolen the turkey…

Take a deep breath…

Acceptance means acknowledging a situation in a non-judgemental way, not seeing it as good or bad. Things happen over Christmas that we have no control over. For example, we can’t control other people’s behaviours, responses or emotions any more than we can influence the weather. If you have visitors coming on Christmas day some will be early, some late and if you are lucky some will turn up on time. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking, supporting or endorsing a situation but it does mean recognising that you can’t change what has happened. Spending time worrying about the future or ruminating on what’s happened will just mean you won’t enjoy the holidays. Learning to accept the ebb and flow of the holidays is the second step to feeling calmer.

A really useful technique to help you practice acceptance was develop by Dr Elisha Goldstein and is based on the acronym S.T.O.P:

S – Stop what you are doing

T – Take a breath. Breathe naturally and focus on your breathing for a moment.

O – Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Name any emotions you recognise but don’t try to stop them, just allow them to be. Then take your attention to your body and become aware of any sensations and how you are holding yourself.

P – Proceed with something that will support you in that moment for example talk to someone or take a walk.

Develop An Attitude Of Gratitude

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca summed up the value of gratitude best when he wrote:

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

Unfortunately, as we got caught up in the Christmas spirit, especially in our modern age of consumerism, it is easy to lose track of all the things in our life for which we are grateful. No amount of expensive presents can be as fulfilling or rewarding as the support of a loved one, or a great friendship. Developing a better attitude of gratitude is proven to:

  • Improve physical health
  • Improve psychological health
  • Enhance empathy
  • Reduce aggression
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve self esteem
  • Increase mental strength

So this Christmas why not try this simple technique to help you feel happier and reduce and minimise any stress. A study of the effectiveness of this technique showed that 6 months later participants were on average 9% happier.

  • Get a notebook
  • Every night for one week before you go to bed make a note of 3 good things that have happened to you that day. It can be as simple as a delicious lunch or a catch up with friend
  • Think about why  – make a note of why it happened and why it made you feel good
  • Look back at your journal a week later. How does it make you feel? Are there any themes?
  • Try again for a second week. Get into the habit of including it in your bedtime routine

 

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