Coming out of a busy week (err … month), I frantically got my ducks in a row to head home for Christmas without any of my shopping done or giving any thought as to how I’d spend my time at home with family. But once I stepped off the plane in North Carolina to bright sunshine and 60-degree temps, I instantly felt ready to embrace the holiday season.
Waiting for pick-up by baggage claim, a mini-van swerved in front of me and a gaggle of loud family members emerged from behind, shouting at each other and carrying obnoxiously large duffel bags and an obscene amount of wrapped presents. They all piled into the car that parked right in front of where I was about to stand to wait for my ride. “Oh, right,” I thought to myself. “Everyone else is clamoring to embrace the holidays, too.”
In my head, the holidays are sheer bliss. Out in the world, that bliss morphs into chaos and angst (and road rage) as I’m faced with reckless drivers of Yukon XLs packed with thousands of kids, line after line of people purchasing one of everything in the store or difficult family situations in which I must choose sides without hurting feelings. Ah yes, the holidays.
Standing, waiting (and getting cut in front of) for my ride at the airport, I began to experience that holiday stress right on cue. But I stopped and asked myself, what do we stress ourselves out for? Ultimately, and in every situation – not just around the holidays – we put that stress on ourselves. The to-do lists, the complicated dish we aim to create for guests, the elusive perfect gift we hunt for to delight the new significant other (and the wearisome guessing game of what he/she got you) are all stress triggers that easily come to mind. There are hundreds of other ways our bodies’ fight or flight responses are triggered, and when I take a step back, I have to ask myself, for what?
Since making this conscious observation, my experience around family, with friends and out in the world is significantly more even-keel – simply by noticing that there are stress triggers and I don’t have to succumb to them. I’m better rolling with the punches in order to soak up this time with family in every positive way I can.
It doesn’t take a complete personality overhaul to make those conscious changes; I’m implementing these simple stress relief tactics in my daily life to find a little more balance:
Take a step back …
… and put the situation into context. When the smoothie I waited for 20 minutes for tasted like garbage, my immediate thought was “IT’S BASICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE AN ALMOND BUTTER AND BANANA SMOOTHIE TASTE BAD.” I honestly got mad about how bad it was for about two minutes and almost demanded a refund. I may have been right in asking for one, but I realized the lesson to learn here was how silly it was that I got worked up over a smoothie.
I decided to not make a big deal and instead go do something else that made me smile.
Most likely, whatever’s got you stressing out is temporary and will be over sooner rather than later. Look past the moment of chaos and change your course of action to bring you back to level-headedness.
See things from the other person’s perspective.
That person who cut you off in the Starbucks parking lot is probably having an equally stressful day, running errands for all their relatives in town. Is the parking lot fiasco worth releasing that excess cortisol into your bloodstream over? Probably not.
Take time for yourself.
Togetherness warms my heart and fuels my soul but there is such thing as too much family time. Taking time apart to do my own thing keeps me balanced throughout the day and gives me the energy to take part in as many family activities, run as many errands and take one or two for the team as needed if I’ve gotten in one yoga class just for me during the day. Find what your “you-time” will be (like a 30-minute workout, perhaps) and don’t feel bad for carving out that time for yourself.
Take five deep breaths.
Sometimes it just takes a few seconds to clear your head. In the moment, judgment gets foggy and emotions run high, but a simple grounding technique of breathing in and out through your nose can bring you back to the present moment and shift your perspective. Don’t believe me? Jack Shephard from LOST knows.
Consider how you want to remember this day either a week, a month or a year from now.
I stand by these tactics for stress relief any day of the year, but especially during the holidays, I want to think back on the season as joyful, relaxing and rejuvenating. That’s the story I want to create so that’s the way I’m acting in order to make good on that. Set your intention for how you want the day to go, how you want to feel at the end of it and what you’ll be able to look back on and smile about – I guarantee you’ll start to see a little more of the good and a little less of the daily stressors that aren’t worth your time.