Holiday Stress — Changing the Experience

Now that Thanksgiving is over, the holidays are in full swing.

Let’s not forget the meaning that Thanksgiving had for our families. It likely had something to do with gratitude—what you are thankful for. The tradition that many families or friend groups have includes each person saying something that they are grateful for.

For many of us, this can be a moment that we quickly forget after Thanksgiving, and go on with our usual lives and ways of being in the world. We can do better!

Remember Thanksgiving Gratitude

This is an invitation to look again at what you are grateful for and to keep it top of mind, now and throughout the holidays (and maybe throughout the coming year!). Brain science has proven that when we think about what we’re grateful for, then our brains start focusing on gratitude rather than stress, judgment or criticism. Yes, we can actually change what our brain is focusing on and that can make us happier. And that’s goodness!

Upcoming Holidays—Unmet Expectations

Regardless of what has happened in years past, your holidays this year could be different, if YOU approach the holidays differently.

One major source of stress and unhappiness over the holidays is unmet expectations. In fact, there is new research out that confirms unmet expectations are key elements in our unhappiness in many areas.

What can we do about this problem of unmet expectations? We can change our expectations.

Have you noticed that each year, in thinking about the holidays, you give thought to how you want the gatherings to go?

Maybe you think that this year the children will not get over-excited and cry. Or this year, my mother will be calm and nurturing. My dad won’t criticize my partner. My sister will give my children gifts. My brother won’t talk politics.

And then, each year, these expectations are not met. To be happier, expect that these holidays will go just like past ones. (And then get ready to be correct.)

Attitude of Gratitude and Prior Planning can save the day!

AND, be ready to ride it out with grace. When we expect the children to be overexcited, build in some quiet time for them and also be ready to accept their behavior, whatever it is.

If your partner is being criticized, change the subject. Same for politics—change the subject. Don’t try to persuade others that you are right. Just silently “decline” the invitations to be in that argument and be ready to introduce new subjects.

This is also a place where gratitude can help you manage your feelings. You can to feel grateful for your family, with all of their good points and their flaws.

Rumi, the 13th Century poet and philosopher, said this:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

It appears that we, as a people, may not have changed all that much over the centuries. We continue to have the idea that we can change others, and if we don’t succeed, we just try, try again.

I am suggesting that, instead, we lean into our wisdom and decide that it’s our job to think differently about the situations (in this case, the holidays) and have a different personal outcome.

You might even experience happiness and satisfaction that you behaved the way you wanted to—with grace and gratitude.

And, I predict that you will see your family in a whole new way because you’ve figured out how to successfully navigate some rough spots, avoid other ones and change the subject when you don’t want to participate in a conversation.

That’s what happens when you approach the holidays with eyes wide open to reality and when you’re armed with some strategies to manage yourself more effectively.

You just might feel good about yourself, you might be able to hold onto gratitude and remember why you love these people. Happiness, compassion, peace and calm. Doesn’t that sound good?

Actions to begin the preparation:
  • If you will be travelling with children, plan early what entertainment items you will take along to keep them entertained—small toys, games, something to unwrap on the plane or in the car, devices loaded with books, music, movies.
  • Sit down and think about what you are grateful for, relevant to the upcoming holidays. Add to this list in the coming days.

That’s all the actions for now. They will be a foundation to build on in the next few weeks.

I’m grateful for those of you who are reading this. My intention is that you will find value in these ideas and be inspired to access your wisdom about the holidays.

Let me know what you think of these ideas.

With love,
Carol

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