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Karen Maleck-Whiteley: Safely ride the “bullet train” to the holidays

Live Well Stress Less

Posted: November 5, 2009 7:27 p.m.
Updated: November 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.

As my friend Carol said on Facebook this morning, we’ve just boarded the bullet train to the end of the year.  
After Halloween, it seems that everything speeds up – Christmas décor is already up, Thanksgiving seems like it is tomorrow, and if your family is like mine, you have several other big events like birthdays or  baby showers thrown in for good measure.
It goes without saying that the holiday season can be one of the most stressful times of the year.  On top of that we all have a picture of what our holidays should be like, adding to the stress.  Often our vision of that perfect Norman Rockwell family runs up against the reality of the relatives we have.  Or the fact that we are alone or sad on a holiday collides with the expectation that we think we should be joyful and cheery.
We also have more social events to go to, a longer list of things on our “to do” list, and added financial pressures.
Now is a good time to stop and think about what kind of holiday experience you want to create for yourself and others.  Actually taking some time out to think through your holiday schedule and celebration plans will help you immensely.  

What you change, if anything, is up to you.  

In any case, before you rush headlong into “the way you’ve always done it” this season, it is good to stop and consider your situation this year and remember what exactly you hope to create out of the events you are planning or attending.  

You can then decide and whether you really need to have, do and buy everything you usually pack onto your list.

Here are tips to get you started:

1.  Assess Your Situation
Take a look realistic look at your current situation and set some boundaries.  It will reduce your stress immensely to avoid overspending and over-commitment on your calendar up front. Make sure your holiday plans meet your current needs and abilities.

Ask yourself the following questions and make your plans in response to your answers.

What is my financial situation?  How much can I afford to spend? What is my time situation?  What are the commitments I and my family have that are non-negotiable? What and who are my resources?

Know your budget and other constraints. Breathe and let go of unrealistic expectations.  You’ll feel much better after the holidays if you stay in your budget and say “No” to things that don’t fit into your schedule.

2. Pick Your Priorities
Again, ask yourself the following questions and make a strategy to preserve or include what is most important to you ­— activities, events, experiences, purchases and people.

What works for me and connects me to the spirit of the holiday? And what creates more work but doesn’t add to the meaning or joy of the season?

What do I want to do differently this year? What do I want to let go of?  What can I say “No” to? What do I want to be sure to preserve? What is realistic for me to accomplish, include, and handle THIS YEAR? Am I getting caught up in someone else’s values?  Advertisers? Family? Trying to keep up with friends?

3.  Simplify.  
Commit to doing at least two things differently this year.  Think of some traditions that your family could agree aren’t that important and let them go.  Have a Thanksgiving potluck meal rather than cooking the whole dinner yourself.  Decorate one room rather than the whole house.  

4. Check expectations  
Expecting perfection sets you up for disappointment.  Allow yourself to look at the standards you have created for your holiday and see if they are unrealistic or cause you stress and pain.  

5.  Focus on people
Focus on people and experiences and less on gifts and spending money.  Enjoy the simple things — the small, often overlooked ordinary moments.  Think about who you want to be with, helping each other, and what you can do together.  If you are spending the holidays away from family, create your own family of others you know who are in the same position or look for a way to volunteer and be with others. There are many opportunities for this at our local food pantries or the homeless shelter.

6.  Enjoy the process
 Preparing for the holidays is a process. Enjoy each part of preparing for the holiday, rather than seeing the whole process as a race to the finish.  If your whole experience of the holiday season is based on the success of one night or day, you stand a much better chance of feeling let down when the event is over.  

Enjoy every moment — practice reframing.  Instead of being upset that you have to wait in line, talk to those around you, spread cheer, or simply relax and take the time to breathe and notice things you would have missed if you had not been forced to slow down.

7.  Practice Gratitude
Spend 10 minutes each day being grateful and giving thanks.  Start a list of all the things you are grateful for, and add to it each day this season.  Spend a few moments at your Thanksgiving table actually giving thanks.  Have each person share something or someone they are grateful for this year.  

Traditions are a wonderful part of the holiday season. They connect us to each other through shared experience. But holiday traditions and expectations can also cause us stress if we don’t enjoy the process. If the tradition is just another item “to do” and not something done with joy, why do it?

It may even be time to invent some new ones that better capture the spirit you want to have. Spending some time now planning how you want to live this holiday season will help you to slow that train down, and actually enjoy this season of thanksgiving and joy.

If you would like more support in creating stress-free holidays, you can contact Karen Maleck-Whiteley, certified Hypnotherapist and owner of Balance Point Spa; 661-252-0650.  She sees clients privately, in groups, and provides classes in meditation and stress management.


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