Navigating Holiday Stress: Ten Tips to Cultivate Moments of Peace & Joy


Wouldn’t it be great if it made no sense for the words holiday and stress to go together? You know what I mean. Rushing around for bargains, over-commercialization, the pressure of social obligations, the ever-growing holiday card list, food extravaganzas, running out of scotch tape, orchestrating increasingly complicated webs of divided & blended families, and feeling like you are the only one feeling less than joyful while everyone else is being merry…. What’s on your list?

So here are a few thoughts on how to navigate the season and put the things that are important in your front seat while leaving stress in the back.

#1: Carry the Spirit of Thanksgiving Forward: I wrote just last week about the power of gratitude. Research indicates that a practice of gratitude contributes to improved mood, sense of well-being and, even, physical health. A practice of gratitude helps shift from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance – what we have versus what we do not. Research indicates that a practice of gratitude cultivates joy. It may also help remind us where we want to devote some of our energy during the season.

#2: Get some sun Outside!: We live in New England so it is not practical to wait for the sun to come out. Step outside. Fresh air helps clear our minds and connect to a world larger than our little box. Daylight helps with sloping moods and energy.

#3: Question Tradition: Take some time to reflect upon what you “always do.” Just because you’ve always done something does not mean it always must be done. Does this tradition serve you? If yes, great! If no, do you really have to do it? Consider food, activities, get-togethers, rituals. Are there other activities that capture the spirit of the tradition that are more reflective of where you are now? Are you doing it just to make someone else happy? That may be okay. Do you know, though, if it does? If it does and that is important to you, knowing that that is the reason you are doing it can shift your perspective and your sense of fulfillment in the activity.

#4: Shop Locally: Our communities boast an array of local businesses that offer a warm welcome, personal service, unique selection, a calmer pace and a range of prices. That’s reason enough. Plus, it matters. These same businesses are there when we need something at the last minute. They provide local jobs, contribute to the local economy, and support local organizations. Win-win.

#5: Move!: Walking, hiking, getting to the gym or any other activity that gets your body moving will be of benefit this time of year. We know that exercise helps with mood and stress. It gives us the opportunity to clear our mind and be in the moment.

#6: Don’t Let You Get Squeezed Out: You know what happens when we get busy. The seemingly optional items of your usual routines get thrown to the side, just when you need them most. So, pay attention and be sure to:

  • Drink water
  • Move your body.
  • Eat & prepare nutritious food.
  • Get adequate sleep and rest.
  • Tend to your relationships.
  • Play & laugh.
  • Avoid excessive food & drink.
  • Take moments to clear your mind, pray, reflect, meditate.
  • Get outdoors.

#7: Clarify Your Values: What is really important to you? Take some time to reflect on this and set an intention to have one, two, or three core values be your guideposts for the season. This is a great opportunity to pull out your journal. If you’d like a jump start, Russ Harris provides a list of values along with some activities for reflection.

#8: Pause: There’s no time! Mine for moments between the this thing and the that thing. Finding an opportunity to ground is vital during this “festive” season. While your mind is dancing through the snow with a sleigh full of schedules, shopping lists and items to-do, take a moment to breathe. Notice where you are, what you see, what you feel, what you hear. Remind yourself of your intentions. Remind yourself that you are okay. Try Square Breathing:

  1. Breathe in for a count of 4.
  2. Hold for a count of 4.
  3. Breathe out to a count of 4.
  4. Pause for a count of 4.
  5. Repeat 4 times.

For those of us who like a visual, imagine a square and the steps are the sides of the square, starting at the top & moving clockwise.

#9: Remember: You Are Comparing Your Insides to Other Peoples’ Outsides: I remember vividly the moment I heard this for the first time (thank you, R). It is beyond perfect. Looking around us, we see only the surface. We assume happiness, well-adjustedness, calm, great marriages… because that’s what we see. I and my colleagues can assure you that this is not always the case.

#10: Gifts of Time, Connection & Service: What is the perfect gift? It may be you. A walk, a lunch, help with a storm door might all be very welcome gifts and appreciated even more than another coffee mug. Time, connection and service are all precious and appreciated commodities.

#11: Perspective: I know I said 10 tips, but I’m an overachiever and #1 seemed like cheating a bit because I wrote about #1 last week. Whether it’s remembering that some of these are 1st World Problems or asking ourselves What will this matter in 5 years?, take a moment to put things in perspective. In the long run, what does the holiday season mean to you? Those will be the things that are lasting.

Originally published November 29, 2016

bharrison-small Betsy Harrison, MA LCMHC is founding partner of Counseling Associates, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, a Certified Journal to the Self® Instructor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator. In addition to her clinical work, Betsy leads workshops on reflective writing, curiosity and creativity.

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