Welcome friends to Episode #85 of the Own Your Best Life Podcast. When we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, we often miss these moments of enjoying ourselves. Especially during the holiday season when the list of to-do’s are higher than usual. What do we do when there are so many traditions, expectations and plans in place? We create our own. Today, I’ll share what you can do to start some new traditions, reduce stress and make the holidays a time you enjoy instead of dread.
You’re probably wondering if it is really possible to reduce holiday stress. Many people have normalized the hyped-up expectations and demands of the season. We are just used to having a lot to do during this time. While it is likely that there will be stress, there can also be a lot of joy and time spent connecting with loved ones during this time.
This is the real reason many people look forward to the holidays. It’s to connect with friends and family. I want you to keep this in mind as we talk about how to reduce the stress from this period of time.
When you think about the end of year work demands, coupled with less time working, and more personal commitments during this time, you can understand why people struggle. Particularly with time and money. If you have a lot of both, the demands from you are less – but many people have limited time and money and the holidays require more than their capacity in both areas.
Let’s talk first about what creates holiday stress. It’s resistance to the things we have to do or be or have during this time. Maybe you have to get your work done in 3 week’s time so you can have a week without work. This is a fact. You want to take some time off. You also want to get the work done before you take the time off. This means you have to do more work in less time, or remove work from your schedule. I remember when I was on a project and we talked about bubble staffing, which means that during a period when you are launching several new facilities you will need extra staff to be able to cover all the extra work during this time. People didn’t want to hear it. They wanted costs to be the same. Hiring to be the same. They also wanted to launch successfully.
We do this in our own lives. We want to take time off, not be working during our time off and we resent removing work items or doing more during the time we have prior to taking time off. We don’t want to do what is needed to address the desires we have.
1. Reduce or shift work
The first thing you’ll want to do is to reduce, eliminate, or shift your work. This includes looking at your schedule weeks or months in advance to plan out anything that has to be done earlier. Some of you like to take 2 weeks off. Some of you like to take 2 days off. It doesn’t really matter how much time you take. What matters is that you realistically address the workload you have. We often think we’re going to get so much done when in reality, there are a lot more unscheduled to-do’s that pop up as we head into the end of the year. What’s more realistic is to finish by focusing on what is most important and what can be delayed.
2. Spend time instead of money
There will always be things you need to spend money on, but perhaps you can make the majority of your holiday investments into experiences with loved ones. How about a nice dinner or a trip that you’ve been meaning to take? What about a coffee date? Or a hike? Even kids, who will want toys or material things also want to spend time with you even more. The feeling we are trying to buy them can be created. There’s something pretty magical about being that person in someone’s life who shows someone how to be happy for almost no reason at all. These people light up our life and change the trajectory of our experiences in any given moment. Spend time cultivating that for others and you’ll have given more than money could ever buy. Wisdom.
3. Focus on fewer, but better
Nothing really reduces stress as much as your ability to focus on one thing at a time. Let’s apply this to gift-giving. I know that many people like to give a lot of things, but what about the idea of giving fewer things? What if we changed the family traditions to giving only one thing to one person? What if we didn’t give any gifts? I’m sure I hear an audible gasp from the collective right now, but I want to challenge you to think about what that would look like. What does it mean to you to give gifts during the holiday season? I actually grew up not celebrating the holidays receiving gifts so it’s a concept that is easy for me to understand. I didn’t think gifts really mattered as a kid because I didn’t have an expectation that I would get gifts during the holidays. I did, however, feel supported. My parents gave me what I needed, not what I wanted. I also love giving gifts but I realized that the giving is more about me than the other person. What would I do if I was to really think about what mattered to that person? I would likely not focus so much on gifts but on being with them or connecting with them authentically and meaningfully.
Fewer but better also applies to scheduling. If you are overwhelmed from so many commitments of your time, you will likely resent the activities in the moment. This is when planning and communication helps. It doesn’t all have to be done during this time of the year. If you’re visiting family or friends, can you schedule that visit for a different time? When we say yes to something, we are always saying no to something else. We say “no” to quality time with fewer people. We say “no” to more space in our lives. We say “no” to enjoying our time.
4. Give to those in need
It seems like an obvious thing to do, but we often don’t give as much to those in need because we’re feeling stretched thin already. Tying the holidays to giving, however, will actually remind you of how abundant you really are in terms of time and money. It doesn’t take much money to buy some food for the local food pantry or to give some gifts to a child. It doesn’t take much time to volunteer for a few hours or to clean up your local neighborhood. If you feel like you don’t have enough of something, try giving some of it to someone else. It will train your brain that your circumstances don’t change your sense of generosity and abundance. Being in a sense of “lack” is where the root of our money and time not-enough-ness comes from. When we feel like we don’t have enough time or money, we get stressed and overwhelmed. Giving is a habit, therefore so is feeling abundant.
5. Create simple, magical moments
The start of any new traditions come from the moment you do something that feels a bit magical. Magic can be found in connecting with people in a new or different way. One of the things I do with my family is that on Thanksgiving Day, we’ll go to the local coffee shop and get a coffee on our way out shopping for a few last items for that day. It may seem weird that we enjoy grocery shopping on Thanksgiving Day but we do.
We take our time, there’s no rush. We don’t feel like we should have had everything done or purchased beforehand. There’s fewer people in the store that day and we get to enjoy our coffees and lattes as we shop. Take the opportunity to see in each moment what small traditions you can create. It can be something small like a coffee/latte ritual or something bigger like the way you decide to decorate your home. Maybe you decide to give gifts in a certain way that’s special to you and your loved ones. Maybe you create a new moment each time and see what sticks and what doesn’t, naturally. Don’t overthink it, just notice what pleasant moments you are having and make note of it as something you want to do next time.
6. Give up the need to be right
There are so many encounters with people during the holidays. These can often be moments of stress, sadness, anger, overwhelm or frustration. Give up the need to be right and you’ll restore your sanity for at least that one moment. This one, difficult moment will pass and the longer we hold onto the way we think things or people should be, the longer we are wasting our energy in a state of frustration. Instead, look for what’s right and build upon that. You can still hold boundaries and not tolerate poor behavior – just don’t have to throw yourself so deep into the pool that you can’t swim out.
7. Practice daily mindfulness
We can set ourselves up for success by acknowledging that we’ve got more than usual on our plates during this time and that we’ll need daily habits to manage the chaos. Mindfulness is the ability to notice our thoughts, feelings and body sensations. Commit to a mindful practice like meditation, yoga or journaling each day so that you can be more aware of how your feeling and what you’re thinking in each moment. Stress comes from a thought. “It shouldn’t be this way”. When you notice that thought, you stop the story that runs through your mind of why it shouldn’t be this way and what’s wrong and instead of feeling overwhelmed with stress, you stay with the sensation of overwhelm until it passes by noticing that it’s just a thought. If you have an accidental thought like “it shouldn’t be this way”, you can have an intentional thought like, “I wonder why I get so worked up about this?” These questions lead us to a better train of thought that seeks to understand instead of blame. This one question can reduce an immense amount of suffering in your life, but practicing it by committing to mindfulness practices allows us to remember how to come back from our runaway monkey minds.
8. Move your body
If you want to create less overwhelm and stress, do what most people don’t do. Most people overeat, don’t move very much, and then feel bad about themselves afterwards. This is where the strenuous workout regimen or restrictive eating program comes in immediately once January hits. There’s nothing wrong with intense programs, but I encourage you to also move your body and enjoy yourself during the holidays without the shame. You can sit around with friends and family – and then go for a walk. You can create new traditions of walking, running, doing yoga, biking, or playing outside that aren’t what you typically do. What if you could feel like you were able to maintain your physical health well during the holidays? That you enjoyed food but didn’t obsess about it? That’s where freedom comes in, isn’t it? This is entirely possible.
This time of the year is beautiful even in its messiness. I know that this has been a time where work and personal life come to a head and I’ve had to make choices. I’ve learned so much from these experiences and so can you. Take the time to disconnect from devices or social media and reconnect with your own practices of being still and having beautiful moments of pleasure. It is going to be well worth your time.
If this topic resonates with you and you want to see transformational results in your life, you’ll love coaching. Getting coached consistently is the spark that will light the fire of inspiration to make the change you’re looking to make. It is the first step in creating clarity, making a massive shift and moving obstacles out of your way so you can move forward. You can go to www.mayempson.com/contact to learn more.
If you are interested in how to create meaningful and purposeful goals, I’m holding a workshop on 12/12. Go to www.mayempson.com/yourbestyear to sign up. We will craft a year of your best life. You will not want to miss it. I will see you there.