Do the holidays really need to be so stressful? Press “Pause”

Do the holidays really need to be so stressful? Press “Pause”

Growing up in Australia, my only experience of Thanksgiving was through American television. Somehow it seemed a lot like our Christmas. . . except of course without Santa and warm sunshine. After a decade in the US, I have really come to love the Thanksgiving holiday. The idea that the last Thursday of November each year is put aside so that people can come together and share thanks for their blessings is, I believe, a very special and valuable tradition.

Of course Thanksgiving, and the festive holiday season it kicks off, can be a very stressful time for many people (way too many people in my mind!) The Martha Stewart-like images of happy families, dressed in the lastest holiday fashion, sitting around a decadently decorated table feasting joyfully on gourmet delights, create expectations that can never measure up to reality.

We get so busy-busy-busy ploughing through our long “To Do” lists all our hectic doing somehow hijacks who we are BEING. The result: we start feeling like something is missing from our lives. Instead of feeling gratitude for all that we have, many of us find ourselves focused on all that is missing. . . whether it be someone else to host Thanksgiving dinner, relatives who don’t drive us crazy, or the resources to recreate that glossy magazine cover in reality.

So my challenge to you this Thanksgiving holiday (and for those of you elsewhere around the globe, this festive season in general) is to take take a moment in your day, every day, to pause from all your doing, take a deep breath and consciously commit to letting go all your expectations about how it “should be”. In the space that opens up, you will be better able to graciously embrace the circumstances you find yourself in for all that they are, and for all that they aren’t. There is nothing that can shift your experience of stress as quickly as gratitude. That said, there are some other things you can do to create a more joy filled festive season. Here’s five below:

Here are five strategies to help you ENJOY MORE, and STRESS LESS this holiday season:

  1. Don’t “Should” On Yourself (or Let Others “Should” On You): Deciding upfront to let go the idea that your holiday will ever be postcard-perfect will free you up to enjoy it for all that it is, and for all that it isn’t! Drop all the “shoulds” and unrealistic expectations that only create stress, conflict and resentment — “we should all get along,” “the table should be decorated Martha Stewart style”, “we should all have fun,” “everyone should come home for the holidays”, “we should all give thoughtful gifts” …. and the list goes on. It’s our attachment to how things should be that causes the bulk of our holiday stress and upsets. If you let go having to have things be a certain way, it allows you to enjoy things just as they are.
  2. Create New Traditions (& Turf Out Old Tired Ones): Be careful that you aren’t being a slave to tradition. Sometimes, traditions outgrow themselves. Just because “that’s how we’ve always done it” doesn’t mean you still should. Start a new tradition or, just for this year, break with the old one. We are cooking beef tenderloin for Thanksgiving lunch this year. Not because we don’t like the turkey tradition, but just because it’s quicker and easier to prepare and that suits us better this year. No right or wrong about parting way with tradition… even if just for a year.
  3. Think Outside the (Gift) Box: The best presents are never the most expensive but the most thoughtful. Give someone a voucher for a massage, breakfast in bed or a night out at the movies and drinks afterward. And of course, spend wisely – you aren’t being generous spending money on others if you can’t afford it.
  4. Express Gratitude More Generously: Like a sweet treat, expressing gratitude or just paying a compliment has a have a way of immediately lifting others’ spirits by bringing a smile to their face. Just think about whose day you brighten by taking a moment to appreciate today. Pick up the phone, send them a card, flick them an email… it takes only a little time in your day to give it but it can make a profound difference to the person you give it to.
  5. Lighten Up, Laugh (at Yourself first), and Have Fun!: Make sure that in between working your way through your to-do list you make time for fun. Don your playful hat and look for simple ways to have fun,  at work and home. Hold silly contests like who has the most unfashionable holiday apparel. Play your golden oldies CDs at breakfast… or in the office (everyone has to bring in their own). Keep your ideas simple and focused on involving everyone and having a fun time.

So on that note I invite you to view this video to help you enjoy more, and stress less this Thanksgiving and holiday season.

Here’s to a Thanksgiving brimming with gratitude for all that you have, for all that you are and for all the people in your life. . . even the ones who press your buttons!