The holiday season is one of my favorite times of year, starting with Thanksgiving dinner, to Black Friday shopping, to the music of Christmas, and all the festivities that go with the Christmas season as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! So often during this time of year the joy of the season disappears as the rush sets in. This is the time of year of family traditions, parties, and special events at school, work, and church. The pressure to be involved at every event is high. How will we manage this stress?
Here are some tips to managing the stress of the holiday season, as well as the rest of the year:
Accept that you are busy, but do not make life about being busy. We live in a society that is busy and hurried all the time. It is rare to meet someone who is not busy and going from one thing to another all the time. This is a reality of our culture. Accepting the truth that we are busy does not mean that our life needs to revolve around being busy. Do not focus your attention on the fact that you are busy but rather focus your attention on the joys of life and the blessings God has given you! This will make your busy schedule much more enjoyable.
Choose what you do and do not do based on your values. Sit down for a few minutes and think about what is most important to you right now in your life. Write these down in order of importance. Keep that with you on a little piece of paper or as a note on your phone – whatever works for you. Whenever you are faced with a decision that will take up your time (what committees to serve on, what parties to attend, which special events you will participate in, etc.), don’t respond immediately. Look at your list of values and your calendar before deciding which parties to attend, which commitments to make, events to attend, and so on. As you begin the process of ranking your values and then living out those values with your time, pray that God will guide you in your decision making. Matthew 7:7 tells us “Ask and it will be given to you” (NIV). God can and will help you make decisions about your time and how to use it.
Make the holiday season what you want it to be. Traditions are great. We all need to have traditions in our lives. As you are making the holiday your own, look at the traditions that you have from your family and how that fits with you and your life now. There are some traditions that we carry forward from our families of origin that we value and others that we need to let go because they do not fit. I grew up with my family having the tradition that we put up our Christmas tree Thanksgiving afternoon. I loved that tradition, but it does not work with my current lifestyle because my kids, husband, and I travel to be with my family for Thanksgiving out of state. So, we get our tree and decorations up the next weekend. However, Christmas morning tradition is one that I have carried forward. We open presents and have Christmas breakfast together. Choose the traditions that you want in your life and carry those out.
Be present …really present….at whatever you choose to do. No matter what activities you choose to participate in, choose to be present and focused on that activity. If you find yourself at a party thinking about what you need to do when you get home or what is on your to do list for tomorrow, you are not really present at the party. Live in the moment and focus your attention on the people around you and the relationships you are building. The people you are choosing to celebrate with are important to you. Focus on them in that moment. The celebration you are attending is important and fits your values, so focus on the celebration. If you are at a church service, focus on Christ and the message of the service. If you are at family party, enjoy your family and focus your attention on them. If you are at a work party or a party with friends, focus your attention on building those relationships. If you find yourself wandering back to yesterday or to the days to come, refocus your attention and remind yourself “I am here right now” and be present in the moment.
Choose joy! Recognize the blessings you have daily and be thankful for them. When we get busy it is easy to forget the blessings we have in our life to be grateful for. One way to remind yourself to choose joy is to start a gratitude journal. Every day write three things you are thankful for. Another way to remind yourself to choose joy is to have a positive message you are focusing on each day and repeat that to yourself throughout the day. This is a practice that I personally have started doing recently. When I catch myself getting caught up in the stress of the day I repeat my message for the day to myself. The message should be very specific to you and what you most need to remember or what helps you refocus your attention to the things that you are grateful for. Recently my favorite message has been “I am blessed, I am loved, and I love”. This message reminds me of all the blessings God has given me in this life, the love He has given me through Christ, my family and my friends, and the love I have for Him, my family, and my friends. Focusing on this message reminds me to not let the stress take over. Focus on your blessings and choose the joy in your life!
Take time to relax and rest. The busy schedules of the holidays can sometimes keep us from getting the rest our mind and body needs. Take some time every day to rest and rejuvenate yourself. Be still and rest in God. In the beginning of time, God created us to rest. He made the day and the night so that we would know when to work and when to rest. Furthermore, Jesus taught us to rest by telling the disciples to rest. In Mark 6:31, Jesus told the disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (NIV). Rest and relaxation means that you have some time that you are just focused on your own self-care. This can be taking a soaking bath, going for a walk, listening to music, reading a book, or whatever you find relaxing. Getting a good night’s sleep is also very important.
Above all – remember the reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! Keeping Christ at the center of what you do will help you enjoy the season.
Beth A. Kitzmiller, PhD, LPC-MHSP, LMFT
Director – Covenant Counseling Center