The busy holiday season will soon be here. And while it’s a great time to get together with family and friends, it often adds stress to one’s already busy schedule. In many cases, what happens to us personally affects us professionally. How can you better manage stress for a saner holiday season?
Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, consultant, and workshop leader,, is also the developer of the Attitude Reconstruction® theory, evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.
“As soon as autumn comes, people’s thoughts begin to shift to the holidays, and sometimes those thoughts are accompanied by difficult emotions such as depression, frustration, and anxiety,” says Bijou.
For some, the holidays conjure up unpleasant associations, such as the first event without Grandma there, or prickly family get-togethers. Then there are financial worries, the pressure to come up with gift ideas, dealing with school kids on vacation, to-do lists, and much more, adds Bijou.
“The goal of the holidays is to feel joy, love, and peace so you can enjoy time off from work, and savor meaningful moments with your family and friends,” says Bijou. “After all, don’t you want to feel the love, and share it?”
Don’t let your personal or professional life take a plunge this holiday season. Here are some simple and practical ways to make your holiday saner, calmer, and more joyful this year, from Bijou:
Get organized to minimize stress
Start by making a list of everything that needs to be done so you minimize anxiety and the feeling that there’s just too much to do and not enough time. This could include card writing, party organizing, shopping, cooking, work deadlines, travel/lodging arrangements, and family/friend communications. Once you have things written down, you can start to schedule tasks so they get done, bit by bit. You won’t feel so agitated as the holidays approach.
Remember the “message”
Whenever you find yourself feeling frantic, annoyed, or upset, remind yourself that the holidays are about being thankful, giving, and loving. It can help to repeat a “mantra” such as, “This time of year is about joy, love, and peace.” Sometimes in the frenzy to buy gifts, we forget that giving is a way to show love for another person. When you start to get tangled up in buying anxiety, ask yourself, “What can I do that will show my love for this person? What will make them happy? How can I help?” Perhaps it’s a night out, a “coupon to babysit,” or a homemade dinner.
Let your heart be your guide
When it comes time to make a gift list, if that’s part of your holiday tradition, close your eyes and think about each person for a moment. A gift that’s personal and comes from your heart will be the most meaningful. Don’t forget that nonmaterial gifts may be the best and most memorable of all. For example: a hand-drawn card with a message, a personalized poem, or a list or a short video with 10 reasons you appreciate this person. Gifts from the heart increase feelings of joy, in you and in the recipient.
Be smarter with your cards
Holiday cards can be burdensome and time-consuming. For some people, they’re such an energy drain that they become a hated chore. If this describes your relationship to creating, personalizing, and mailing holiday cards, consider ways to make it easier. Try cutting down the people on your list. Or create an e-card, enter everyone’s email address on the BCC (blind copy) line, and push send. Voila! You’re done. Or simply break the task into smaller, more doable components; for example, commit to sending out 10 cards every three days until you’ve finished.
Prioritize your “yeses”
We often get overwhelmed at holiday time with party invitations–and then beat ourselves up for overeating and overindulging. Too many holiday events cause burnout, so limit yourself. See how saying “yes” really feels before you actually accept an invitation. And as for agreeing to host or organize a house party, office party, book club party, or any other holiday event, consider the outlay of energy it will take, and only agree if you have a partner to help.
Be good to yourself
Approach the holidays as though you were an athlete in training. Pace yourself in terms of eating out and partying. Make sure you get lots of sleep. Make room for alone time to replenish your energy–even if it’s just a short walk around the block. Think about how bad you would feel come January 1 if you gained 7 pounds. This holiday season, do it differently–avoid regrets.
Don’t bury your emotions
Handle your emotions physically and constructively. If you feel sadness, maybe perhaps because this is the first year a loved one will not be in attendance, allow yourself a good cry. If you know you’ll feel angry at the antics of Uncle Jim, pound or stomp out the anger when you’re in a safe, private place. And if you feel scared because you’re bringing someone new home with you, allow yourself to shake and shiver before knocking on the door.
Want to find out more about attitudes and reactions that may affect your holidays? Take a quick self-quiz here, and then try the coping strategies designed to address them.
More about Jude Bijou
Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, consultant, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. Learn more at www.attitudereconstruction.com.