Help Yourself to Happier Holidays

When November rolls around, many people start to feel that rising sense of panic about the impending holiday season – and by the time Thanksgiving dinner hits the table, holiday hysteria is in full swing. How to nip the stress of the season in the bud? To stop stress from turning you into the Grinch, start by changing your approach. Instead of thinking the holidays are a chaotic blur of obligations, think of the season as a month-long project with a beginning, middle and end and try to manage it like you would a work project: develop a plan, figure out the steps in advance, prepare to make decisions, take charge and move forward. Here are a few ways to prepare for the days ahead:

Don’t let tradition rule you.
Some traditions are pleasant, while others can fill you with dread. If you’re doing something every year that brings you little or no joy, then it’s time to table that tradition and come up with a new plan. Hate traveling to far-flung relatives every year for holiday dinners? Then create a new tradition that better suits your needs – and agree to travel every other year. Always scrambling to get those holiday cards out to everyone on your list? Give yourself and the earth a break by sending electronic cards instead. No paper, no envelopes, no stamps, no gas – no problem.

Make it a silent night, or afternoon.
OK, perhaps total silence isn’t entirely possible at this time of year, but tuning out much of the noise is. During the holiday season make a special effort to find quiet time every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Meditation, either on your own or in a group, is a wonderful way to bring mind and body back to a calm, peaceful state amidst the holiday chaos. One of my patients, a practicing Buddhist, often pops into St. Patrick’s Cathedral to sit quietly and meditate between meetings.

Embrace the negative.
“No” can be a liberating word – but so many people hesitate to utter it, particularly during the holidays. This season, perfect the art. Just say no to social engagements with a simple “I’d love to but…” to let the host down gently. Throw in a little white lie if necessary. Still too difficult? Then think of ways to work around over-booking yourself. For events that you absolutely must attend, don’t force yourself to spend the entire evening, instead do a “drive by.” Give your host a heads-up to let them know that you’ll only be able to stay for a drink as you have another engagement that night, regardless of whether or not you actually do.

Gift yourself with health.
It’s been said that movement is a privilege, not a right, so if you have the good fortune to be able to move, you absolutely must. Though it may be harder to find time during the holidays, commit to maintaining your fitness routine. Maybe it won’t be as long or intense as your usual, but do as much as you can. Not only will you reap the physical health benefits, but exercise will also help you maintain a sense of mental balance and control despite the chaos of the season.

Exchange a big box of nothing.
In the end, most of us have what we need and what we don’t have, we’ll eventually buy when time and money permit. When many are struggling right now, the greatest gift you can give to less fortunate friends and family is the gift of nothing. Last year one of my patients proposed a gift moratorium to her immediate circle and all agreed. The result? Less shopping, less cost and less stress for all. Now that’s a happy holiday!

How do you save body and soul during the holidays? Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments box.

Have a wonderful, peaceful, healthy and sane holiday!

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