Happy December! It’s the most "wonderful time of the year," full of twinkling lights, lots of good cheer, festive Christmas music, cozy living rooms, delicious warm beverages, Will Ferrell in Elf, sweet treats, parties, presents and the optimistic refrain of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. And this year we get an extra few days of the holiday season since Thanksgiving fell early. This is great, right? The answer can depend on your level of so-called holiday resilience — how you balance the stress of perceived holiday expectations (personal, financial, emotional, etc.) with the joy that is abundantly available this season.
The truth is that this time of year can pose a real challenge. All the holiday cheer in the form of extra food, drink and social activities can take a big toll on our bodies and our immune systems. Our sleep schedules can get out of whack, we may feel bloated and sluggish, exercise falls to the bottom of the list and we become exhausted. Coupled with dysfunctional family dynamics, financial stress, long lines, crowded stores and hectic shopping, loneliness and isolation, massive sugar overload and even long, cold, dark days can all contribute to a case of the holiday blues.
The good news is that by shifting your thinking, and your perspective, you can increase your resilience and more easily bounce back from holiday overwhelm to have the holiday season you crave.
The first thing to do is hit the pause button for a minute for clarity. Resilience is not only about what you do, but how you think about what you do. The first step is awareness, followed by tuning in. Ready? Grab a pen and paper and let’s begin.
Start With an "If" and a "Then"
A great way to navigate all the excess and avoid arguments with yourself is to create a few if/then statements. These involve a simple formula that looks like this: If X happens then I will do Y.
If I DO overdo it, then I will be kind to myself and speak to myself the way I would speak to my friend or my child.
If it is 5:00 PM and I haven’t exercised then I will take a walk even if it’s just five minutes around the block.
If my mom starts nagging me about what I’m wearing then I will politely excuse myself from the conversation and find someone else to talk to or something else to do.
If I go to the craft fair to buy holiday gifts then I will stick to my budget by bringing the exact amount of cash I want to spend and not using my credit cards.
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If I decide to have cocktails at the party then I will have a full glass of water between each drink.
If I need to do last minute shopping and feel overwhelmed by the crowds then I will remember to slow down my breathing and not get caught up in the chaos.
Make some if/then statements of your own in anticipation of the things that trigger your holiday stress levels so you will be ready when they inevitably occur.
Identify How You Want to Feel
Next up: What are your emotional intentions and goals for this holiday season? How do you want to feel and what will it take to make that happen? What do you want more of? Make a list (and check it twice!). Challenge yourself to go beyond happy and broaden your emotional wish list to things like inspired, generous, proud, optimistic, loving or abundant. Now go through that list and write down some activities, people, places or things that help you achieve those feelings. What fills you with joy? What brings you peace? What transports you to a state of gratitude? What helps you stay present? Think of it as your personal resilience plan.
My personal resilience plan includes wanting to feel strong, cozy, grateful, present, clear minded and joyful. A few of the things I can do to get there include the following: Continuing my morning routine of journaling, writing a gratitude list and some kind of movement, be it yoga or walking. Getting outside as much as possible to clear my mind and lower my cortisol. Lighting lots of candles and cozying up by the fire with a book or my computer. Having phone-free meals with my family. Planning a movie marathon with my teenagers who need to be educated in the classics. Scheduling a massage.
Love Your To-Do List
Now make a list of your perceived obligations, including your regular chores and activities. How can you better these tasks and bring in some of the ideal feelings from your resilience plan? If you are craving connection, can you invite that in by sharing the task/activity with someone else or by planning a connection reward for when the activity is completed? Notice what things on your list feel like a should or have to. Ask yourself if you really do have to and if so, why? When you break down the why it can help you find better clarity and perspective and ultimately lose some of the negative feelings around that particular activity. Perspective determines which part you make important, so reframing how you look at the situation can greatly increase your resilience.
Ultimately, everything we do is a choice. Sometimes we choose to do things that are less than fun because they support a value that’s important to us or because it simply beats the alternative (i.e. none of us love paying the bills but we need to keep the lights on). The holiday season is often a time when we worry too much about what others will think and we should too much. Are you sending extra holiday cards because you feel like you should or because it’s a tradition that you really value? Are you cooking a big holiday meal because you believe it’s expected of you, or can you make it a potluck or buy the food readymade instead? Can you make cleaning your house more fun by playing holiday tunes extra loud and singing along while you tidy up or enlisting your children to help? How can you make your to-dos feel easier and rewarding? Or perhaps simply remind yourself why they are important to you in the first place.
And finally, get out your calendar. Planning ahead can help you be realistic with your time. What can you get done today? This week? What things can shift from have-to to choose to or even get to? Most importantly, schedule the things from your personal resilience plan. Knowing that these things are already in your calendar can act like incentives to help you avoid the holiday blues and make this your most resilient holiday season yet.