The holiday season is a source of great excitement and often starts out with a sense of joy that is infectious to everyone around. From seeing the colorful Christmas lights reflected in the first snowfall to feeling the anticipation build as another advent candle is lit on Sunday. However somewhere during this joyous progression a line is crossed. Decorations turn into assaults on the senses, the act of giving and generosity of spirit get taken over by panic buying, and spending time with family becomes burdensome. Oftentimes awareness that a line has been crossed does not even register. You wake up one day amidst unfinished Christmas cards, with lists that have been rewritten more times than the naughty and nice list and find yourself really understanding the mindset of Scrooge and The Grinch.
Why not try something different this year? Keep the spirit of the season close and stay away from the stress line. If you learn to recognize the signs, there are tips and techniques you can use which will steer you safely away from the frenetic side of the holidays, and keep you in the here and now of the moment so you can enjoy everything Christmas should be about. Don’t wish the season away, just the stress.
It’s extremely easy to lose perspective when you are running around trying to complete the 1 million items on your ‘To make Christmas Perfect List’ in the handful of hours you have free everyday. Anxiety and panic creep in and spin out of control the more disasters you predict will happen if you cannot find the perfect red napkins for the table. OK, your worry might not be about napkins, but there is probably a negative thought stuck in your mind that follows a script similar to, “If I don’t get ___ done, Christmas will be ruined.”
You’re not alone in this type of thinking. In fact it has a label, ‘catastrophizing.’ Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., writing on MentalHelp.net, explains that catastrophizing is a way of looking at an upcoming challenge or situation and expecting disaster. Your anxiety levels will continue to rise when stuck in this thought process as you imagine worst case scenarios on top of worst case scenarios, until you learn to challenge the negative thought, or ‘decatastrophize.’
Dr. Goldstein highlights three simple steps that will help keep your imagined ‘catastrophes’ in check:
Recognize and acknowledge when you are caught up in worrying about future events. Pay attention when you get stuck in ‘what if’ questions about a situation or challenge on the horizon.
Bring yourself back to the present moment and out of your imagined future by anchoring yourself to where you are now. This could be as simple as taking a deep breath or taking notice of physical sensations, such as the feel of your credit card cutting into your hand because you are gripping it in panic!
Challenge the thoughts by intentionally asking yourself ‘what-if.’ When you are more grounded in the present reality and ask yourself ‘what is the worse that could happen?’, you’ll probably find your answers are a lot less apocalyptic than you had first imagined. Ask the question as often as you need to until your ‘what if’s’ turn into ‘so what’s’.
Own your Financial Status
One of the biggest causes for concern during Christmas is money. Each year a vow is made to not get carried away with spending, and each year spending somehow gets carried away. It is not just presents, but activities, pictures with Santa, Christmas cards, parties, the electric bill when you plug in the 4 million twinkling outdoor lights, etc. It’s unlikely the list is going to get any shorter, however the end bill can be lower if you are mindful of your financial situation and your priorities.
Establishing budgets and setting limits before you start spending will help you avoid the stress of going into debt over presents that may never be used. Ryan Ermey from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance writing on Yahoo! Finance sums it up very well when he writes, “don’t confuse what you can afford with how much you think you’re expected to spend.” Whatever the expectations or perceived expectations are for gift giving in your family or circle of friends don’t forget that after Christmas, it is you who will be carrying the consequences of overspending no matter how much everyone enjoyed their presents. To avoid getting into a whirlwind of buying that can get out of control very quickly, think back on some of your most treasured Christmas memories. Do they involve material things or sharing a moment with the people you love? (Hint: one of these options are priceless and cannot be bought!)
Keep it Simple
When planning your Christmas, try and stick to the principle of simplicity. Going to extravagant Christmas parties, seeing friends’ beautifully decorated houses, and talking to others about what presents they are getting their children for Christmas are great things to share and get ideas from but you have to be careful not to cross the line into competition. Nobody wins in competitions like that, so if you find yourself starting to change your plans to cram more in, remember KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid!
Make sure to plan down time. If you plan it into your day you are more likely to stick to it rather than saying to yourself you will take a few minutes after this next task, well maybe the next, and so on. Healthcentral.com suggests that if you only have a few minutes to decompress try closing your eyes to cut down on the input overload, take a few deep breaths to help you recenter, or taking a walk. According to the site, being outside in the fresh air “helps to clear your head and increases focus.”
Kids are also easily overwhelmed at this time of year. Noise, lights, people and activities that disrupt regular routines can cause overstimulation, leaving children (and adults) weepy, hyped up and prime for the all encompassing holiday melt down. Finding a quiet place where it is possible for the child to unwind, maybe even nap is imperative according to Healthcentral.com. When they can take time out and close their eyes, it allows their brains to ‘reset.’
Practice Peace Everyday
When you find yourself getting caught up in the holiday hullabaloo it’s not enough to recognize it once and expect yourself not to fall into that thought pattern again. They call them negative thought cycles for a reason and if you only had to address a problem once and it never occur again, therapy would be a lot shorter and easier.
The compulsion to repeat behaviors and thought patterns that are familiar at times of emotional distress was identified by Freud as ‘repetition compulsion.’ A false sense of security is created because the behavior reaction is familiar. Regardless of whether or not a person wants to react this way, it becomes automatic, as do the thoughts that surround the situation and behavior, which, as pointed out in an article on PsychCentral.com about repetition compulsion, “can accumulate and emotionally overwhelm the person.”
So what do you do? Take small steps towards redirecting your thoughts each day. Take a few minutes of quiet and resolve to not let yourself be sucked into a spiral of stress every time someone mentions your mother-in-law’s Christmas visit. Combat your negative automatic thoughts with an alternative, such as a repeated mantra like, “People will be who they will be, I can’t change them, only my reaction to them.” Again it won’t happen with one time, it takes practice, but the more you practice, the more you will be breaking away from your negative thought cycles, creating paths for yourself that will peacefully lead you around your panic pitfalls.
Let the Joy in
Remember each day what Christmas is really about. It means something different to each person. For some it is about reconnecting with family and friends. For others it is the warmth they feel when they attend the candlelit service on Christmas Eve. Whatever you feel the most connection with, the element of Christmas that makes you feel that little bit lighter whenever you think about it, latch onto it, and focus on that when the season starts to become something other for you.
Being bombarded with messages of what Christmas is supposed to be about does not help a person’s focus. It is so easy to be swept away in the frantic Christmas rush, which makes it all the more important to remember that Christmas did not start out with decked out halls and 5 course meals. It started out in a manger, with the hope of love and peace being promised with a childlike joy. However you celebrate your holidays, try and embrace the fact that it is a celebration. Honor that special feeling that comes from making a connection with people and the world around you when you join in the Spirit of Christmas.
Mental Help.Net: Catastrophizing Controlling Your Life: 3 Steps to Break Free
Yahoo! Business and Finance: A Gift-Giving Guide for the Truly Broke
Health Central: Managing Overstimulation During the Holidays
Psych Central: Repetition Compulsion: Why Do We Repeat the Past?