It was 2001, and I studied with The Kevala Centre: an international organisation that I *think* has now gone out of business. I came out of the programme with a shiny diploma, and a whole load of helpful information that I’ve used in my day-to-day life, but never had a chance to use in my business… until now.
One of the key things I learned in my diploma was that a stress response is basically your body telling you that you’re in danger. It – very sensibly – wants you to DO something about that danger. And as far as your body’s concerned, “pretending it isn’t a problem” doesn’t count as a valid strategy.
That’s important to remember when you’re trying to manage the holiday stress that inevitably hits at this time of year. So what should you do instead?
Step #1: identifying what triggers your holiday stress
That may sound obvious, but sometimes we’re so busy with day-to-day life that our specific stressors can end up drowned out by the noise. (Actually, in these cases, the sheer overwhelming volume of stuff we need to deal with can be a stressor in itself.)
And yes, some people can immediately identify specific things that stress them out. If you’re one of them, feel free to skip to Step #2! For everyone else who just experiences generalised holiday angst, it can help to take a step back and ask:
- What things make you feel really uncomfortable, frustrated or annoyed?
- What do you find yourself repeatedly getting snarky or complaining to friends about?
- What do you notice you’re really not looking forward to that you feel you can’t get out of?
NOTE: The second part of that last bullet point… “that you feel you can’t get out of”… is actually a key characteristic of stressors. Because, let’s face it – if you thought you could easily get out of it, you would, and it wouldn’t be stressing you out, right?
Back in Part #1 of this Holiday Stress series, I talked about the five most common causes of holiday stress. Why not review that post now and see which ones apply to you.
Step #2: the three foundational strategies for managing that stress
Once you know what triggers your holiday stress, it can help to understand exactly what’s going on in your body when it happens. The Stress Management Society has a great description of the “Fight or Flight” response to stressful situations.
The short version is that when your mind feels as though a situation is too much for you to handle, your brain sends a set of biochemical signals to your body. Your bloodstream floods with a cocktail of hormones designed to help you either overcome the stressor directly (fight) or get away from it ASAP (flight).
That’s why, at their foundation, all general stress management strategies work in one (or sometimes a combination) of three ways:
- Dealing with the stressor head-on
- Limiting or avoiding the stressor altogether
- Accepting the stressor, and using relaxation and de-stressing techniques to manage your response to it instead.
How could those strategies work in practice for holiday stress?
The “right” strategy to use is going to depend on your situation, resources, support structures and personal preferences. Let’s look at some possible techniques based on each strategy for a few of the common stresses we mentioned back in Post #1
Holiday stressor #1: not enough alone time
A few ideas for managing the stress from this issue include:
- Fight: calmly tell friends/family ahead of time that you need to block in a certain number of hours (or days) of “alone-time” during the season. Then, actually follow through and take that time out for yourself, even if that means you can’t be at all the social celebrations people expect you to attend.
- Flight: organise to be away travelling with just your immediate family or significant other, or completely alone during part (or all) of the holiday season.
- Accept: go to all the social/family events people expect, but then take time out for yoga, meditation, journaling or some other relaxing technique in between.
Holiday stressor #2: gift-giving craziness
Ideas for managing this one include:
- Fight: clearly tell people your wishes for gift giving (and receiving) up front – whether that be home-made gifts only, donations to charity in lieu of gifts, or opting out of gift-giving altogether. As an example, this is the request I posted on Facebook for this year.
- Flight: totally avoid the occasions on which gifts are exchanged (possibly by organising to be away per Stressor #1 above)
- Accept: acknowledge that you can’t stop friends or family members buying you gifts, but you can dig down into your own reactions via mindfulness and inner work.
Holiday stressor #3: dysfunctional family drama
Before I offer strategy suggestions here, I want to acknowledge that a lot of family dysfunction can be complicated and difficult to untangle. Sometimes it may require the help of a trained therapist to manage this stuff. That said, potential ideas include:
- Fight: this might include brushing up on assertiveness or communication skills or consulting a family relationship counsellor for specific strategies. It might also include asking a good friend to stay with you to provide support when you’re with dysfunctional family members.
- Flight: choose not to go to events that you know are likely to result in energy-draining drama.
- Accept: use whatever relaxation techniques work best for you to defuse your reactions after the fact.
So what will YOU be doing to lower your holiday stress this year?
I’ve only talked about three of the common holiday stress-sources above, and given one of each type of foundational strategy for managing them. Of course, there are as many potential options as there are people, so this is FAR from the last word on the subject!
I’ll be going through some other strategies in a 90-minute “Create your Introvert’s Holiday Survival Plan” class at 10am this Thursday NZ time. In the class, I’ll also take you through a step-by-step process for identifying what most stresses you out about the holiday season, and putting together a personalise action plan to manage it.
Sound interesting? Why not check out the class?
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments: what will you be doing differently to lower your holiday stress this year?