GETTING A HOLIDAY "STRESS VACCINATION"
By Barbara Poole
Now that we've had our first cold snap, it's time to acknowledge that the holiday season (you know, the one that starts earlier every year?) is right around the corner. It used to be that Halloween paraphernalia didn't show up in stores until the middle of October, and then it was a mad scramble to find the right costume in the right size before the witching hour rolled around. These days you can start shopping for your Halloween costumes in August, and by September, the candy corn is having to share shelf space with Christmas tree lights and Santa mugs. This year, you can bet that New Year's will fall into the major holiday category, with Y2K earrings and millenium sweatshirts competing for your attention.
As the groundswell toward the holiday season grows, the pace of activity picks up, with gift shopping, decorating, church programs, company functions, neighborhood parties, community events, holiday baking, and a host of other commitments that get added to our already full schedules. It's enough to leave you breathless just thinking about it! Is it any wonder that by the time January rolls around, many people are ready to collapse from exhaustion, so grateful that it's finally over?
Most post-holiday resolutions have to do with starting earlier. You know the routine: "Next year Im going to start my Christmas shopping in the summer," or "Next year Ill start baking in November," or "Next year, Im not waiting until the last minute to decorate." Despite these well-intended commitments, by the time next year rolls around, most of us have found a way to fill whatever precious time we have created with some other last-minute, frenzied activity.
One of the best ways I know to enjoy the holidays and avoid the I-feel-like-Ive-just-run-a-marathon syndrome is to practice what I call "stress vaccination." Yes, it really is possible to vaccinate yourself against holiday stress, much like you would get a flu shot to keep from coming down with this years virus of choice. Try these steps to boost your immunity:
- Suspend your need for perfection.
One of the biggest things that causes holiday stress is the need for things to be perfect: Perfect decorations, perfect gifts, perfect holiday dinners, perfect family get-togethers
Even those of us who have tolerant standards throughout the rest of the year somehow think that when the holiday season rolls around, our homes, meals and giftwrappings should look like a page out of House Beautiful. Striving for perfection causes stress, and its not much fun for the people around us.
- Practice regular self-care.
In the race to the holiday finish line, most of us leave ourselves to wind up dead last. We make time for everyone and everything else, but when it comes to taking care of ourselves, we end up with leftovers, at best. This year, make time to take care of yourself, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This means making a commitment to practice daily self-care habits. Create a list of the things you can do to nourish and refresh yourself everyday. This includes things like making time to exercise, eat three real meals a day (not candy bars on the run), spend fifteen quiet minutes alone getting centered, meditating, or praying, take a warm bath, or read a good book. Isn't it selfish to indulge yourself in these activities at this busy time of year? On the contrary, practicing regular self-renewal is what will recharge your batteries and enable you to honor all those commitments you've made to others.
- Strengthen your boundaries.
Boundaries are the imaginary lines we draw to protect ourselves from becoming overextended, overused, and worn out. You know the old saying, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person?" That adage can develop a life of its own for busy people at this time of year. Not wanting to say "no," or let anyone down, we add more and more obligations to our schedules until the entire season becomes one big blur of things we gotta-do. This year, preserve some sanity in your life by being willing to decline a few invitations, resist piling on additional responsibilities, and so "no" when you need to.
- Keep your perspective.
There's no escaping the commercial presence that has come to characterize the holiday season. And it's true that many of the customs and rituals we most enjoy have a commercial element to them. But it's also important to maintain a perspective on what the season is really all about. Take the time to reflect and be quiet, to look inside as well as outside, to cultivate a gentle peace for yourself and your family.
Edna St. Vincent Millay said, "My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night." This year, give yourself a stress vaccination, and keep your candle burning.