Stress and Christmas: 6 Ways to Smile Through the Holidays

There is still time to hold stress at bay and reclaim Christmas joy.

Posted Dec 16, 2013

Courtesy of Grace Dugan

Here are some thoughts on managing stress from common sense solutions to academic research.

1. Re-write time management by letting go

It is not too late to take a minute to reassess your holiday To-Do list. Although Mayo Clinic provides a guide, Time management: Tips to reduce stress and improve productivity, with just days to go before Christmas Eve, it may be time for crisis management or creative solutions.

The best advice that I ever received regarding scheduling came from a colleague who covered the Supreme Court, a frequent flyer from New York to Washington. She says that whenever she is asked to give a talk, even if it is two months out, she looks at her To-Do list. Then she added: "If I can't give that speech tomorrow, I know that my schedule will only get worse. So I decline."

Take your Christmas list. Assess what you can reasonably accomplish tomorrow by putting the challenges first. Then consider the alternatives: What if you won’t have a chance to buy everyone everything you had expected?  Become creative.

2. Embrace the box of wishes concept

Fill an elegant box with wishes and a promise. The wishes should be hand-written blessings -- from a good night's sleep to a new mother or a windfall of cash. The promise -- your gift will arrive, but not until after the New Year.  They will love your wishes and appreciate your honesty.

How can this work for children? If you haven't managed to find their wish gift, fill a Santa popcorn bucket with little gifts. Then promise: "When Christmas is over we will share a toy store fun day.”

The corner store solution: Last Christmas one gift took center stage -- a last minute item from the local pharmacy. No batteries. No gadgets. Just a simple game of “Who is it?” It entertained them for hours.

3. Indulge in self-care at least for 10 minutes a day

It was after talking with Dr. Sally Hill Jones, Ph.D.,Texas State University, at a conference last month that I realized we could all use her prescription for helping hospice workers maintain balance --- even including a good cry. Anyone overwhelmed by stress might take her advice even if just for 10 minutes a day. She suggests:

"Writing, creating, listening to music, talking with confidants, enjoying hot baths, being held, or cuddling a pet. Aromatherapy, massage, meditation, mindfulness, prayer, gardening, and cleaning -- all of these provide emotionally soothing outlets.

"Allowing time to soak up joyful times and successes or engaging in pleasurable activities and humor is energizing." A Delicate Balance: Self-Care For the Hospice Professional

4. Support local shopkeepers

Spare yourself from mall stress and impossible-to-find sales help. Support your local merchants. When we lived in Beacon Hill, one evening before Christmas there was a shopping treat on Charles Street, which was closed to traffic. Shopkeepers served hot cider, hot chocolate, and mulled wine. Carolers entertained us. Neighbors chatted. It felt like Christmas.

In  Everytown USA  there are little shops tucked away. By walking instead of driving, you save your sanity and the environment. One such treasure chest of beauty in Providence is the events co-op Rock, Paper, Flowers; it is there you will find Grace Dugan Custom Jewelers.  

Events Co-op

5. Count your blessings and express gratitude

One way to moderate stress is to keep a gratitude list. It is a reminder that each day we experience little blessings -- if we simply stop a minute to embrace them. Stop right now if you are overwhelmed and give yourself five minutes to express gratitude. Oftentimes during gratitude breaks solutions find their way to you. 

If you really have no time for presents, a heart-felt handwitten thank you note could well strike a chord that resonates. The blessings of gratitude, as studied by Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Jeffrey Froh at Hofstra University tell us how in A Basket of Gratitude for Every Day Thanks

6. Take time to laugh

The value of a good laugh received a boost from the New England Journal of Medicine in 1976 when the late Norman Cousins wrote about the healing power of laughter in Anatomy of an Illness (As Perceived by the Patient)

Always aiming to practice what I preach, for a good laugh I rely on The New Yorker, computer snippets from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (I still do not own a TV), and Donna Barstow's Ink Blots Cartoons | Psychology Today. For those who believe that stress is turning their hair grey, this one will give you a smile: If You Believe in Fairies, You're Not Alone.

The reality of what you can do and should do

Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and commentator on the NBC Today Show.  She tells us that $800 million per year is spent on anti-anxiety medicationToday Show: 5 Shocking Facts about Stress.

Perhaps it is time to save your money and manage stress by breaking free of "The Shoulds" and accepting what's possible.

Have you read this? Even if an apology is not accepted, our ultimate responsibility is to forgive.

Copyright 2013 Rita Watson / All Rights Reserved