As much as our culture markets the holidays as a time for joy, cheer and peace on earth, it’s important to remember that it can be a stressful time for many. The excitement of the holidays carries the equal potential to fill us up as it does to deplete us.
What many of us don’t realize is that we experience stress in our bodies whether we choose and control the activity that causes it or not. For example, deciding on the perfect gift for a loved one, cooking turkey for twenty or looking for a parking spot at a busy mall creates the same type of stress response as being in an accident on an icy road, forgetting a work deadline or losing a parcel in the mail.
In all cases, the effects of the hormone cortisol are the same, and the damaging impact of the chemical does not discriminate.
Simply put, stress is stress.
Stave off stress through self-care and awareness
An effective antidote to these chosen and unchosen forms of stress is the practice of scheduling strategic self-care. Having the awareness for how it serves us and choosing to take the time to engage in activities that bring us relaxation, recreation or joy helps give us the tools to better manage the stress to come.
Just like depositing money into a savings account before going on a trip to visit family, it’s very beneficial to have those banked resources before we enter the stressful situations of the holidays. It allows for us to have more positive internal reserves to create the experiences that contribute to the lifelong memories keeping us hooked into participating in these rituals and traditions.
It’s also important to distinguish between purpose (the focus that drives our day-to-day goals) and meaning (the value we ascribe to the bigger-picture stuff).
During the holidays we have all these things we want to get done. But challenges are everywhere; it’s difficult to make things happen and setbacks are typically part of every day. It is the purpose we bring to the holidays that inevitably provides us the stress.
Meaning, on the other hand, and those rituals of connection and traditions we maintain and look forward to year after year, are the elements that keep us grounded. They provide us the memories and warm feelings that allow us to accept and endure the predictable difficult moments of the holidays. The meaning of family provides the balance to the chaos of commercialism.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind the idea that, over time, our memories favour holding on to the best parts of our experiences. For example, you may not remember the biting cold of the minus-30 weather a few years back, but you still recall the fun of ice-skating with friends.
While not always easy, the connection, fun and memories of the holiday season always seem to be worth it — particularly when we have some strategies and tactics in place to take care of ourselves.