By the time Christmas carols play on three radio stations and the windows of department stores are dressed with red and green glitter, a majority of the human race will have elevated cortisol levels. (It’s the stress hormone that does a good job of preserving us from life-threatening events, but can disrupt almost all of the body’s processes if it’s not stopped.)
Our job in December is to keep our stress-response system from getting stuck on autopilot, communicating false threats to most of our biological systems. Here are a few strategies.
1. Make a list and cut it twice.
Go ahead and make a list, but instead of checking it twice, cut it in half twice. Impossible? Ask yourself this question: Will I die tomorrow if this task isn’t accomplished? If your answer is negative, follow it up with this one: Will I be extremely uncomfortable if this task isn’t accomplished? If you answer with another negative, chuck the item from the list. At least from this week’s list.
2. Get some elves.
Santa is so efficient and jolly because he has mastered the art of delegation. The big guy has a crew of elves helping him and he trusts them to get the job done. Therein lies an important lesson for us: we are better off if we can find a person to complete some of the tasks on our to-do list. Payment is not always required. Often times I will exchange favors with someone to get something done that I’m not good at or that I hate, and it proves to be a win-win situation.
3. Expect trouble.
With the holidays come a multitude of occasions where personalities clash, feelings get hurt, and you remember why you moved 900 miles away from the mothership. If you anticipate problems and keep your expectations in check, you’re better off. Newspaper columnist Ann Landers once wrote, “Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life, and when it comes, hold your head high. Look it squarely in the eye, and say, “I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.”
4. Document December.
If you’ve never kept a journal, now might be the right time to start. Recent research by Dr. James Pennebaker, chair of the psychology program at the University of Texas, has concluded that writing about painful feelings and emotional events relieves stress and promotes healing on many levels.
5. Protect yourself.
Chances are that you will receive a zinger or two from an insensitive in-law, ignorant cousin, or jealous sister, so protect yourself with as many layers of emotional resilience as you can acquire. If you attend a weekly support group, go twice a week during the holidays. If you practice yoga, squeeze in an extra class. Live with your therapist during the month of December.
6. Spot triggers.
Know thyself. And honor thyself. Identify your triggers before you make too many plans this holiday: people, places, things, and topics that have you behaving like an intoxicated abominable snowman. If you are a highly sensitive creature like me who detests crowds, loud noise, and people spraying you with perfume every ten feet, avoiding the mall between Halloween and New Year’s might be a good goal.
7. Lose yourself in service.
According to Gandhi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” When I am anxious, depressed, frustrated, or all of the above, the quickest way out my angst is to find a use for my feelings. If I can emerge from my own head (not always possible), I reach out to another hurting soul. When I turn my attention to someone else’s suffering — especially someone who is struggling with the same kind of pain — I can forget about mine for a split second.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Dec 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Borchard, T. (2013). 7 Ways to Survive the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 9, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/12/23/7-ways-to-survive-the-holidays/