By Andy O’Hearn
The word holiday comes from the Old English word hāligdæg. The word originally referred only to special religious days—an observance of sorts; often, a looking inward with a subsequent resolve to cleanse the spirit, mind and body and begin anew.
Nowadays, “holidays” are supposed to represent any special day of rest or relaxation – and yet many of us find ourselves clamoring and competing in choppy and ceaseless seas of rampant commercialism.
Finances are tight (and tax season is just around the corner). Family pressures, drama, loneliness and expectations tend to escalate. Seasonal Affective Disorder (lack of daylight) affects half a million people every winter between September and April, peaking in December, January, and February. The “Winter Blues,” a milder form of SAD, may affect even more people.
Weather conditions can make road conditions hazardous, cause traffic congestion, and occasionally leave people stranded. Holiday confections and treats add to waistlines and contribute to exhaustion and occasionally illness. Imbibers from holiday parties sometimes get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t. Resolutions from earlier in the year go unmet. Arrivals and departures add to the chaos and can strain us to emotional breaking points. Job opportunities tend to slow; lower-paying seasonal work supplants some of the demand.
The good news? Holiday depression is anything but a given. One of the largest studies examined seasonal trends in more than 3,670 suicides and about 3,300 psychiatric admissions to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, N.C. It found no increases in suicides or psychiatric admissions around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Other studies verified that national suicide rates in December and January were either average or below average.
In addition, the “spirit of giving” takes on added significance during this time. Music, festive lights and decorations relive the wonder of our childhoods. Congregations of families, friends, neighbors, and associates encourage us to reconnect. Dustings of snow on housetops and trees create a pure and serene moment in time. The warmth of a crackling fire in the hearth, a cozy homemade meal to dispel the chill, and cards from distant relatives or friends can all help remind us of what truly matters to us.
Amidst all of the holiday change, upset and upheaval, what ideas can we consider putting into practice to make the ensuing events uplift us rather than drag us down?
The fundamental element is this: a focus on kindness . . . giving . . . doing something positive for another person or group that amounts to a small but meaningful “lift” in their otherwise hectic routines.
As with most things, a successful approach starts with ministering to the S.E.L.F.:
- Sleep, Serenity, Self-Talk, Safety
- Energy, Exercise, Ease, Essential Edibles
- Laughter, Love, Listening, Learning
- Food, Friends, Fun, Forgiveness
The other letters of the alphabet can also offer constructive stress-busting suggestions for you:
- Avoid people or situations you find stressful. Attitude: Maintain a positive one.
- Breathe: Practice deep slow breathing to let go of the past; to center yourself in the moment; and to “in-spire” new possibilities. Boundaries – Say “no.” Don’t take it personally. Step back. Breaks: Take them as needed.
- Consciously Choose one thought over another (source: William James).
- “Drive” your road reactions from epithets to blessings: replace automatic responses with consideration and concern for others’ well-being.
- Escape into a book, or a movie. Listen to music.
- Friends: Spend quality time with people who are special to you.
- Giving to others is a gift to yourself. And speaking of gifts, why not also think about where you will shop? Some stores and organizations give part of their proceeds to good causes. You can shop and do something good for the less fortunate at the same time.
- Help those who are less fortunate or more isolated. Shovel a driveway, deliver a meal, etc.
- Imagine: Visualize what you seek.
- Journey: Start yours (i.e., don’t procrastinate). “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Source: Lao-tzu)
- Kindness: Respond to others with random acts of kindness (see above).
- Loving thoughts (quiet, peaceful, positive).
- Manage your time better. Set priorities. Determine what can wait. Meditate; you can pray if you like. Or just ponder a pleasant, positive thought while sitting quietly and comfortably. Mindfulness: Practice as needed.
- Notice: What tends to trigger stress in you? Also: Naps; give yourself permission to take them if needed.
- Organize yourself: “A goal with a plan is just a wish.” (Source: Antoine De Saint-Exupery)
- Positive attitude/outlook/focus. Put things into Perspective (Perceptual fame).
- Quiet: Find quiet time.
- Relax: Trigger your own relaxation response in whatever way you like best. Lay in a hammock. Sit in a comfy chair with music on.
- Stay flexible and reasonable; accommodate the needs of others where and when you can.
- Talk: Express yourself. Don’t bottle feelings up. Talk it out with a friend.
- Understanding: Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Stephen Covey: Habit #5)
- Volunteer: Visit places where the need of support is far greater than your own—senior citizen centers, hospitals, food banks, houses of worship, etc.
- Write: Express your thoughts and feelings. Keep a journal.
- “X”pectations: Adjust them. Be realistic. Nobody is perfect.
- Yourself: Be yourself and Yield the burden of worrying about things beyond your control.
- Zoom: pause to look deeper into the wonders of nature that surround you (engage all of your senses). Zen: absorb yourself in your experiences; seek enlightenment through stillness and balance.
Remember, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it” (source: Hans Selye, author of The Stress of Life and Stress Without Distress). Although stress is a fact of life, if managed properly, it can actually become “the spice of life.” (See Dr. Kathleen Hall’s excellent website for even more useful techniques.)
If you are interested in assessing your current levels of stress, you are encourage to check out the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory . . . then feel free to experiment with one or more of the coping strategies noted above.
Happy holidays to each and every one of you!
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Author’s Note: If you are interested in scheduling a short program called “Managing Stress During the Holidays” (which was most recently presented on December 17 at St. Matthias Employment Ministry, Somerset, NJ), or a similar program, please contact:
Terrence Seamon, author of “To Your Success!” and “Lead the Way!”
Facilitating Change – Achieving Results!
Organization Development & Training
(732) 246-3014 home/office
(732) 715-8218 cell
Terrence H. Seamon is an organization development consultant who provides leadership and team development services to employers in New Jersey. His book, “Lead the Way,” explores the challenges of leadership. Additionally, Terry is a job search and career coach whose book, “To Your Success,” provides a motivational guide for anyone in transition. An alumnus of PSG, Terry co-founded and co-moderates the St. Matthias Employment Ministry in Somerset, NJ. He can be reached at email@example.com and via his website: http://about.me/terrenceseamon.