At every turn, you see the signs of the season: ads for turkey, for upcoming sales, commercials for jewelry and other "necessities" to make this holiday the best ever. You feel the excitement, because after all, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Andy Williams even says so. You spend a lot of mental energy thinking about the perfect gift for that special person, or for that certain someone you'd rather not have to see. You're thinking about holiday parties, hostess gifts, and finding something special to wear — and before you know it, you're thinking, "I'm completely stressed out!"
Not only do the extra holiday activities cause stress (decorating our homes, shopping, baking, and entertaining), we also have family issues to deal with. The media does a marvelous job portraying the perfect Hallmark holiday. Oftentimes, however, the reality of spending time with relatives is far removed from the image we have in our heads, or see in the media of the happy family laughing around a dinner table. Perhaps you have a relative you only see once a year for a reason. But this is the year you tell yourself the encounter is going to go well. You're going to set aside your differences, you tell yourself you're not going to let anyone steal your joy or hurt your feelings.
This is obviously a false illusion. But even if you recognize that, you still may strive to overachieve, overextend, overcommit, and eventually overstress yourself.
Let's be real. The holidays are often the most difficult time of the year. There is no such thing as the "perfect family," and this becomes very evident during this time. There is discord amongst relatives, divorce situations, in-law issues, and questionable finances. The list goes on.
This year, in order to create a truly enjoyable holiday, take the pressure off. Follow these 3 simple rules to change the way you think and feel so you can actually enjoy yourself:
1. Toss the illusion and create realistic expectations.
You are going to have to deal with that uncomfortable relative. Just realize that and put no expectations on you or them. You are going to get invited to parties you may not want to go to. Remember that you're in control of whether you go and how long you stay. When you have a long "to-do" list, get real and break things down into realistic chunks. With my coaching clients, I teach the 50% rule: aim to be successful 50% of the time. Once you've mastered that, aim for 60, then 70, etc. If you aim for perfection, you set yourself up to fail. Above all, accept. Accept that things may not go as smoothly as you want. Your old baggage may rear its ugly head. If it does, deal with it and move on.
2. Choose your top 5 values for this holiday season and align your actions accordingly.
Values are principles we live by. We grow up adopting values from our parents, teachers, and society. Perhaps one of your parents was a peacemaker, so you've adopted that habit. Or perhaps one was a high achiever, always managing to "do it all," so you feel you must too. You learned their behavior and you want to live up to their expectations. Now, stop for a minute and evaluate your values. Think: What is important for me this holiday season? Inner peace or connection? Health or accomplishment? Self-care or achievement? What will make it on your list?
Choose your top 3 values from the following list and make all of your decisions based on them: Connection, spirituality, family, accomplishment, health, joy, orderliness, partnership, compassion (or choose 3 of your own).
3. Make time for you every day, even if only for 5 minutes.
There is no realistic way to simply "drop out" of the holiday season. Those extra things outside of your daily routine just happen, and you need to manage them. The best way to stay balanced in these upcoming weeks and truly appreciate the holidays is to set aside some "me time" every day.
Acclaimed author Louise Hay says, "How you start your day is how you live your day." Spend a few minutes in the morning getting centered. Close your eyes and visualize a peaceful setting. Picture yourself surrounded and encircled by nature, the sun, whatever energizes you, and place outside your circle any people or situations that are causing you stress. Breathe deeply, relax, and let go of expectations. When you feel a sense of peace, open your eyes and then begin your day.
If morning is not the best time for you, do something that relaxes and centers you any time of day that is convenient. The important thing is that you be consistent.
Give yourself a break: a break from perfection, from being busy, from meeting other people's expectations. A good way to be reminded of the need for self-care is by practicing affirmations.
Choose your favorite from the following "take a break from holiday stress" affirmations:
- I'm okay no matter what's going on around me.
- I slow down and enjoy every moment.
- I set realistic expectations and I'm being gentle with myself.
- No matter what happens today I can handle it.
- I choose balance over stress.
Repeat these affirmations throughout the day to maintain your balance.
This holiday season, aim to truly enjoy the time rather than rush through and endure it. Simply taking a step back to inhale the gifts of the season and letting go of "perfectionism" will make this holiday season maybe not the perfect one, but the best one for you.
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