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3 Simple Shifts for a Stress-Free Holiday: A Busy Person’s Guide

Pat LaDouceur, PhD, helps people dealing with anxiety, panic, and relationship stress who want to feel more focused and confident. She has a private practice ...Read More

This time of year, you’ll find quite a few articles about having a stress-free holiday. A quick search on Google brings up almost 63 million.

First, you’ll find generalities:

  • How to avoid overwhelm: be realistic
  • How to survive holiday parties: set aside your differences
  • How to get it all done: ask for help

Good ideas, as far as they go. Who doesn’t want to be realistic? Who wouldn’t love to set aside differences? But if it were that easy, you would have already done it. You need something more solid.

If you keep searching, you’ll find hundreds of ways to be more efficient, more organized, more productive, or more “there” for other people: Shop in advance and avoid the rush. Learn to cook a hassle-free dinner for 12.

But let’s be realistic. No one actually lives like this. The real world is full of requests, problems, and challenges. That’s just what life is like. Shopping in August isn’t going to solve the problem.

What we really need is a new perspective.

To let go of stress, to live spaciously, doesn’t mean that your life is always calm. It means that you are capable of tapping into a deep sense of calm amidst the inevitable chaos of daily life.

The first shift

To do this, you’ll need to change the equation you use to get things done. Instead of adding up how much you can do, how fast you can do it, and who will be disappointed if you don’t…you’ll need to put your own well-being first.

If you want to live spaciously, you’ll have to be #1 on your own priority list. You deserve it. Seriously.

But isn’t that selfish? Not really.

When you take care of yourself first, you have the energy to you can still make dinner for your family, take care of your kids, help your friend paint her living room wall, and volunteer at the soup kitchen. You can take care of yourself and live with integrity.

During the holidays, set aside few minutes or even a few hours. One of my favorite ways to replenish is with movement: do 3 yoga poses, go on a hike with your partner, walk to the grocery store, dance in your kitchen…or to a good salsa band.

And don’t wait until you have time – plan it. Put yourself on your calendar.

The second shift

Next, you’ll need to change the way you look at time.

Time is a curious thing. It can’t be created, stretched, or packed too full like an overstuffed suitcase. It has no substance, so it can’t even be “managed.” Instead, perhaps, it should be celebrated. And the time most worth celebrating is time for yourself, and time with the people you care about.

But if you’re like most people, you somehow end up saying “Yes” to too many things. Maybe you don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. Maybe you feel obligated. Maybe you see an opportunity to shine, or fun to be had.

Try this simple exercise: as you go through your day, count the number of times you say yes. And for each yes, ask yourself this question: Does this “Yes” help me feel more tired, or more energized?

Listen thoughtfully to the answer. If you end up on the side of “tired,” then it’s time for a simple “No”:

  • Sorry, I won’t be able to make it.
  • Sounds like a great event, but I already have other plans.
  • Tuesday is full for me already.

Short and sweet.

The third shift

Maybe you’ve had one of those days where you were so busy that by dinnertime you could hardly remember what you’d done with all those hours or why. When that happens day after day, you start to lose touch with what’s really important.

The antidote is to find time to reflect, to be alone with our thoughts, to gain perspective.

Think about it: the pause in a piece of music is what gives it its power. A well-timed pause in a great speech can deliver more emotional impact than all of the words before and after.

A pause is just as important in daily life. It’s moments of silence, when no one is telling us what we should do or how we should feel, that help us find meaning. Etty Hillesum wrote in her diaries, “Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”

Take a moment, every day, to be alone with your thoughts. Here are some possibilities:

  • Spend an extra 10 minutes in bed in the morning
  • Slip outside the family gathering and walk around the block
  • Stay home from the party and read a book

A stress-free holiday

As you head into the holiday season, take a few moments to imagine the kind of holiday you want. If you’re looking for ways pack more in to each precious day, you’ll find plenty of advice out there. But if you want to create a spacious life, take time to look a little deeper.

Find ways to put yourself first. Change how you look at time. Build in time to reflect. It’s the small things that matter.

Ultimately, it’s not whether or not you go to your wife’s friends’ holiday party, even though you’d rather be home watching TV. It’s about taking a walk, gracefully saying “No”, and noticing the power of a breath.

Life won’t always be calm. But if you can tap into that deep sense of calm that lies within, you can live spaciously, even when the world around you is crazy.

Keep Reading By Author Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D.
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