The clock is ticking toward the holidays, and two very different feelings are flashing on your emotional news feed: impending joy and impending doom.
OK, maybe doom is overstating it; dread may be closer to the mark. But let’s face it, many of us are finding ourselves up at 3:00 in the morning checking our to-do lists and reviewing incessantly the parade of possible catastrophes: “Will my brined turkey be a disaster?” “Will everyone be happy with their gifts?” “How much weight (and debt) am I going to gain?” “What if my family doesn’t get along?” “What if I’m not ready?” “What if I totally fail?!” Wait, are we preparing for the holidays — or final exams?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
It’s time to change our relationship with the holidays. We don’t have to break up with them, but just know that as with all things anxiety, the holidays aren’t the problem; it’s the story in our head about the holidays that needs to change.
So, don’t gather up the mistletoe or menorahs, waiting for that starting gun to say: “On your mark, get set, stress!” Instead, put down the supplies, take off your running shoes, and change your expectations.
The holidays are not a control-freak boss or a mother-in-law poised with a perfection-sensor critiquing your every move — more likely, you’re doing that number on yourself. The holidays are an opportunity — your opportunity — to acknowledge and celebrate in the ways that you would like.
So, this year, give a gift to yourself. Be daring. Choose how you want to celebrate this season. Yes, you do have many choices in the matter. Whether that’s a tailgating party, a marathon family reading of The Hobbit, or the more traditional hot cider in front of the fire, don’t let the anxious chatter — “You should, you must, you’ve failed!” — ruin it for you. Find your own meaning, there are no right or wrong answers. If it’s real to you, it’s real.
Here are six ways to help you have more joy and less stress this holiday season:
Get Specific and Fact-Check Your Worry
If the mantra in your head is: “I have to make this the most perfect holiday ever,” it’s time to release yourself from the impossible. The constant worry that this thought generates is sure to distract you — if not derail you — from enjoying what is. Take a minute and on one side of a piece of a paper write down what your worries are about the holidays. Your worst picture of what could go wrong. Then, on the other side of the page, write down your answers to a different question: What do you think will actually happen? Or, put another way: The next morning, how do you think things will have actually turned out? Pick up the paper and read it from time to time, then notice what happens in your body when you read your answers to those second questions. It’s like someone unplugged you from the stress machine and you’ve tapped into the truth. Make sure there’s room for reality in your head and at your holiday table.
Don’t Script, Live
If you back up and look at the most cherished moments from holiday times in the past — the raucous game of charades or football, the quiet moment when everyone was happily entertaining themselves in the living room while the snow was falling out the window. What happened before those moments? It wasn’t that anyone said, “Hey, let’s make memories here — let’s all sit in the living room and occupy ourselves contentedly, okay?” Things just evolved. So as much as it is great to have plans and ideas, flexibility, spontaneity and being open to what might happen provide the greatest possibilities.