Avoiding Holiday Stress: Part IV

x1_elf2So by now you may be asking, “How do I know when I’ve had enough?” and “What can I do about it?”  Hmmm…Stress.  We all have stress. They say that feeling overwhelmed or depressed is an important sign of stress.  Well, the holidays seem to ramp up that feeling of being overwhelmed  astronomically.  The expectations are enormous, and holiday stress begins, thanks to our big retail chains, around October 15th.  This year, the Christmas sales began before Halloween here where I live.  And, if you are a parent, you know what happens…the holiday season of over-the-top, too excited kids begins and continues all the way to Christmas. Then, the post Christmas morning let-down ensues.

Yup…stress.  There are so many layers of it at this time of year.  For example, there is the baking expectation for the kids’ holiday parties at school, the cookie swap, and after school snacks.  Let’s see, what else?  Parties to attend…what will I wear and will it fit in with what everyone else is wearing?  Shopping for food, for gifts, and for decorations.

Why, I can’t tell you how many friends I have this year who are stressed out about finding the most creative, innovative, exciting ways to position that famous shelf-sitting elf!  If you start with the elf on December 1st, that’s 25 days of stress right there.  I was laughing over one mom that got so stressed about the elf that she wrapped his leg in a fake cast and stuck him on the bookcase with a note that said “Skippy had an accident and can’t move around until his leg heals.”  BWAHAHAHA!

And let’s just talk about gift wrapping for a moment…am I the only one that thinks this is a huge chore? I spend hours cutting, folding, taping, coordinating bows, finding cute gift bags, and worrying about whether or not Santa has all the wrapping paper he and the elves need for their gifts.  Then, those hours of careful wrapping translate to a pile of shredded mess in the middle of the living room floor in no time at all.  Sounds like stress to me!

So, how do we know if we are stressed?  If all of the above hasn’t convinced you, there are some signs of stress, and we all need to be aware of them. You’ll know you’re stressed when you begin losing sleep. If you’re lying awake at night worrying about all the stuff that isn’t done yet…that’s stress. Loss of sleep makes you irritable. If you find yourself snapping at your children, your boyfriend, your husband, your mom, or your boss…that’s stress. If you have lost your appetite and are losing weight… that’s stress. Now another sign of stress is a sudden weight gain, but I don’t know how reliable that would be around the holidays when everywhere you turn someone has something yummy and fattening for you to try!

Are you having aches and pains? What about muscle aches? If your neck hurts, back hurts, or you just ache all over…that could be a symptom of stress. When you’re stressed, you’re tense, and all that tension can make your muscles think they’ve had a real workout. They get sore.  Or, if you are taking aspirin for frequent headaches…that could be from stress too.

Well, now that we’ve talked about what stress is, the next question is, “What can I do about it?” First, eliminate some of the things around you that make you stressed out and add some much needed time for you. For example, you might want to take a quick bath before bed to try to unwind. Pamper yourself with bath salts, a candle or two. You may even want to put on some music to help you relax, or you may need to shut the music off if that reindeer has been running over grandma all day, or if Santa’s Coming to Town has been blaring non-stop at work. Make sure you eat…real food. Don’t skip meals or try to live on snacks and half stale Christmas cookies. Feed your body.

You can try to cut down on the amount of things you do. One of the things that makes us feel stressed is that we try to create holiday moments for our families that are just perfect, like the families you see laughing and smiling in their beautifully decorated homes. The problem is, they are all in commercials or made-for-TV movies. I confess, I have a holiday movie addiction; it is a love/hate relationship. I love that they always have a happy ending, they always have beautiful decorations, and there is always snow. I live in the Deep South where there is never snow, so it’s a treat.  However, I get depressed when I look around my home and every inch of it isn’t festively twinkling with holiday decorations. So I have to limit my viewing so I don’t get too stressed!

I need to remind myself that they aren’t real families who have cats shedding, dogs chewing the baseboards, kids fighting and crying, a batch of burnt cookies, a Gingerbread House with no roof because it is lying half-eaten  in the toddler’s room,  or a Christmas tree that just got knocked over. That sounds more like real life to me. So set realistic expectations. Santa will still come to your house if the cookies are a bit burnt around the edges, if the tree is crooked, or if there are a few dust bunnies in the corner. Pinky swear!

So, take a moment, breathe, and relax. Ask yourself what will be important when twenty years have flown by and your children have children of their own. Do you want them to remember you being stressed, tense, cranky, and frantic?  Probably not. When your children are grown and they talk about their Christmas memories, they will not remember that the floor was perfectly waxed. They will remember how special they felt when you spent with them.

I hope that your feet are up and that you are sipping a nice warm cup of hot chocolate while you read this.  Remember, the time you spend together with your children snuggling, reading a bedtime story, or building a snowman will become their best, most treasured memories. You, just you, are the best gift of all, so be present in your own life and theirs. Merry Christmas to all of my readers.

Author: Jennifer C. Walts, Ed.D.

I am a retired educator and School Improvement Specialist.

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