Shaken, But Not Too Stirred: Stress Reduction during the Christmas Holidays
I recently heard a pastor use the snow globe as a metaphor for holiday stress. We have all been fascinated by a snow globe at one time or another as a child. We can appreciate the beauty of falling snow and the peaceful silence that comes with it. However, during the holiday season, it is easy to feel, as the pastor put it, “shaken” as if you are living inside a snow globe; each snow flake representing a specific responsibility, a new commitment, difficulties we are currently dealing with, or even a reminder of a painful loss. Just as a child vigorously shakes a snow globe to watch the snow swirl around, we can feel is if life is swirling around us with a greater intensity.
The increased pace of the holiday season, when added to an already busy life, can lead to feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, depression, and stress. What is meant to be a time of celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ into the world, instead is often a time of highlighted by stress, sadness, depression, and even despair. That being said, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things we can do deal with the stress that often comes with the Christmas season.,
- Remember the reason for the season. God set aside His divinity and came to earth in the form of a baby, that he might “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21-23). He is our Hope, and we celebrate his birth with cheer, solemnity, and gratitude. In sharing this gratitude with others, we can brighten the day and pass on the gift of God’s love to another, just as God did for all of creation when he sent his son into the world.
- Let go of Holiday perfection. To make Christmas about the perfect gift, having the best, newest decorations, the ugliest sweater, or putting on the best party is to miss the point. Discovering the secular history of the creation of the Christmas holiday may edify the intellect, but that too misses the point. It is possible to strive to make Christmas so perfect that we get caught up in our own efforts and miss the true blessing of Christmas, all while intensifying our stress level. The birth of Christ is the reason we celebrate Christmas, so keep the main thing the main thing!
- Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings. Many people have lost loved ones, relationships, jobs, suffered health problems and other calamities during the Christmas season. We are indeed “shaken” to the core of personal lives. Yet in the midst of our pain, it is possible to find joy in the midst of our trials (James 1: 2-4). Accepting the pain in our life is the first step to emotional healing and recovery. Pain may be a real, present part of your life, but you are more than your pain.
- Continue with Your Daily Plan. If you exercise, keep exercising, if on a diet, keep dieting. Do your best to keep your daily schedule as normal as possible. Keep up with your responsibilities as best as you can, and give yourself some grace and mercy if you discover something has fallen through the cracks. Do your best to stay on your regular sleep schedule.
- Plan ahead and be Willing to Say No. Our social calendars ramp up during the holidays. Parties with friends and family, at work, in your neighborhood, are fun but can unnecessarily increase our stress level. Sit down ahead of time and figure out what is reasonable to do and be willing to say no to those offers that create stress rather than a sense of enthusiasm. Trying to please everyone is a great way to stress yourself out. To paraphrase that great symbol of Christmas cheer, Harry Callahan, “Know and accept your limitations”. You’ll be happier and less stressed.
- Connect with Others. It is not uncommon to be away from loved ones during the holidays. It is important for those with a small support community to reach out to others. Get out of the house. Visit a local church, go to a community concert or Christmas play and meet some new people. Donate your time and money at a food bank, homeless shelter, local cloth in line behind you at Starbucks.
- Embrace Enjoyable Events. If you enjoy watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel, then watch them to your hearts delight. Practice mindfulness and set aside the cares of the day, and get engrossed in the movie. If you go cut down your own Christmas tree, don’t think about unfinished projects at work; focus your mind and body on finding your tree. Enjoy the experience.
- Stick to Your Christmas Budget. This is a big source of stress that often gets overlooked or neglected. Staying within your budget for gifts or other Christmas-related expenses lowers your stress level by beginning the new year on a more solid financial ground, but also creates a sense of accomplishment by being responsible and prudent with your finances.
- Talk with a Therapist. If you find that, despite your best efforts, you still feel stuck in a negative emotional state, contact a therapist and talk about your problems. They may be able to help you gain a different perspective or identify helpful strategies to cope with your feelings.
Lastly, if you have your own method of stress reduction during the Christmas season that is effective, by all means, keep doing what you are doing. May you all have a most blessed and Merry Christmas!
– Scott Smith
Thank you for taking the time to read this posting. There is so much more that could have been written on this topic. If I can be of any further help to you please email me at Scott@surehopecounseling.com .