I thought I’d shift away from the topics of writing and reading in order to share some methods for managing the holidays. Whether you’re prone to the seasonal blues or just have too much to do, here are a few techniques I’ve used in the past for managing stress, workloads, and minor-to-major annoyances:
- Give yourself a break
This technique can take many forms, from short time-outs to longer approaches. The most important thing to do in this method is: Identify What’s Stressing You. Once you do that, you’ll be able to find ways to keep those bothersome things (or people) from getting too much on your nerves. For example:
If you’re feeling a lot of pressure from the too-many things you have to do, make a list of the actual tasks instead of viewing them as an unmanageable whole. Instead of seeing your big holiday party as a giant project, break it down into smaller categories such as invitations, food, beverages, and decorations. Instead of dreading all the gift shopping you have to do, write out the list of the actual items you need to go get. This obviously doesn’t lessen the amount of work you have to do, but it allows you to see that the insurmountable obstacle is actually made up of smaller (and easier) tasks.
Once you get going on these chores, don’t forget to continue giving yourself a break. Lock the gifts you’ve already bought in your car (concealed, of course) and then get a snack or a coffee before moving on to the next store. While you’re doing that, take a moment to look at the decorations. This is a festive time—let it be enjoyable for you.
As a minor caveat to the above, some people are more goal-oriented than others. I’m one of those people, and so I only start to feel better about a big project once I’ve tackled a significant part of it. If you know that will lower your stress, then go with it. Check off a bunch of the boxes on the To-Do list—and then take a break.
- Turn down the negativity
These are trying times for many of us, even without the holidays, and we are surrounded in our everyday lives by reminders of how bad things are. In a maneuver closely related to Giving Yourself a Break, recognize the value of temporarily shutting out some of the negativity in your life. For example:
It’s okay to miss the news from time to time. This isn’t a recommendation for sticking your head in the sand or slipping into a fantasy world, but it is a strong suggestion that being bombarded with dire warnings about the economy, the environment, and just about everything else can be very stressful—and to no immediate purpose. Many of the doomsayers on the news have an agenda that only involves your vote or your wallet, so you can turn them off for a while without missing much. If something big happens, you’ll hear about it without turning on the TV or the radio or the computer.
If the negativity in your life comes from a different source, apply the same principle and try to control your exposure to it. So if you have a relative, friend, or coworker who brings you down, you don’t have to shut them out completely—just limit their opportunities to ruin your spirits. This can be as easy as mentally setting the time when you’re going to politely end the conversation, or as involved as including more upbeat people in the event where the downer is present.
- Lift your spirits
The first two techniques listed above involved the reduction of negative influences, but that’s actually a negative approach itself. So I’d like to finish by suggesting that you try something positive. Identify events, books, movies, music, or anything else that makes you happy this time of year. Once you’ve found a few of these, add them to your life somewhere in the next few weeks. Revive that family tradition, rent that beloved movie, or pop that CD of Christmas carols into the player.
If you can’t identify anything that’s lifted your spirits in the past, look for something new that might give you a boost. Every town website (or local library) has some kind of ‘Calendar of Events’ listing, and many of these events are free. Some of them may even allow you to do some volunteer work, which is also a good way for most of us to improve our moods. Whether it’s walking through the town common to see the Christmas lights or helping to wrap presents for the less fortunate, there are plenty of activities out there that can put a nice seasonal spring in your step.
Even if that doesn’t work, take a page out of Scarlet O’Hara’s book and remember that tomorrow is always another day, with just as much chance that things will be better as that they will be worse. We’re closing out the year 2010, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling optimistic just because a new year is beginning.
I hope you’ve found these ideas helpful. I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, a joyous holiday season, and great good luck in the coming year.