10 Positivity Tools for a Stress LESS Holiday

By Teresa Starr

December 15, 2015

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Years or any other winter holidays, this season is appreciated by many as “the most wonderful time of the year!” To help you keep it that way, it’s important to set the intention to minimize holiday stress and accentuate joy. Following are 10 positivity tools to help you focus on making this holiday the most memorable, less stressed, and most joyful season ever!

Picture yourself sitting by a cozy fireplace sipping hot chocolate, the room is festively adorned with the perfect holiday trimmings, and your children are gleefully giggling as they wrap presents. The holiday mood is further set by the sweet smell of spicy gingerbread cookies baking in the oven and the old favorite holiday tune, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” playing in the background. Awe, total bliss!  In that setting of near perfection, it feels like those lyrics were written precisely for that one moment in time. Freeze frame! Sound like a total fantasy? It is!

Now picture a different holiday setting. Maybe one where you’re stuck in an endless line at a crowded mall, feeling frazzled as your kids begin fussing and fighting. Unable to find the perfect gift for grandpa, you’d settled on another pair of black socks (for the third year in a row but you figure it’s better than nothing). Still standing in line, you suddenly realize that you only have a half hour to get home to host the holiday office party. Not to mention that tomorrow is the big day and you haven’t even delivered neighbor gifts nor finished mailing out your Christmas cards. Completely overwhelmed, you notice the blaring music over the intercom playing that old familiar tune with those perfectly timed, yet now mocking lyrics, sarcastically ringing in your ears, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Suddenly you have the urge to tear your hair out and scream at the top of your lungs, “STOP!” Have you been there? Haven’t we all been there, at one time or another?!

Several years ago a friend of mine was so completely overwhelmed by holiday stress and obligations that she boldly stated, “This is the year I’m not going to have a good Christmas.” I knew she was hosting a couple of big holiday events and I empathized, yet I was still somewhat shocked by the unabashed negativity of her declaration, especially since the events she was hosting were charity related. I tried to assure her that, once those big events were over, she would still have time to enjoy the season. To this she replied, “Nope, I’ve decided that this year I’m not going to have a good Christmas. I’ll just have to wait until next year to enjoy a good Christmas!” Unfortunately, in her state of overwhelm, she had made up her mind and set her intention (and only she could change it).

If you can relate to my friend’s “hum-bug” frame of mind, take a minute and set a different intention. Our goals and intentions become our self-fulfilling prophesies, so make a conscious decision to guard against overwhelm and invite in a little positivity to make this holiday the best one ever. We all long for the picture perfect holiday yet, due to all of the events and expectations of the season, we often find ourselves feeling completely overwhelmed and missing the point of this “most wonderful time of the year.”

Perhaps you’re among the many who find themselves dreaming, not only for a white Christmas, but for a completely stress-FREE holiday. Considering the hustle and bustle of the season, that may be an unrealistic expectation, however the 10 positivity tools below can help you make some little tweaks that will make it possible for you to at least stress LESS this holiday. Even if you only incorporate one or two of the 10 positivity tools, you’ll bring yourself out of survival mode and into the mode of celebrating a more joyful holiday season!

10 Positivity Tools for a Stress-LESS Holiday:

Simplify! Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “Minimalists have more fun!” Okay, maybe you haven’t heard it – I think I made it up. But I believe that, to some degree, it is a true statement. Sometimes, if we’re not careful, we can overwhelm ourselves with unrealistic expectations for holiday fun and service – to the point where we smother out the joy. One way to simplify is to make a list of the essential activities and traditions. Then make a conscious choice to hold on to the traditions and activities that mean the most and that carry the most bonding power for you and your family and friends. Schedule the most important activities first. Prioritize family relationships first and then vigilantly keep it that way, even as the holiday demands start tempting you to focus elsewhere. Be sure to schedule in “down time” to allow yourselves time to relax and savor those special holiday moments. Resist the urge to do anything “over-the-top” and just enjoy the sweet simplicity of the season. In our effort to simplify this year I gave myself permission to skip sending out Christmas cards (shocking I know, but it allowed me time to focus my energy elsewhere). To assure friends and family that I still care, I’ll send out a few Facebook messages this year and send out the traditional cards again next year. We also decided not to put Christmas lights on the house this year (it makes me smile to realize how courageous we’ve become) as we’ve set our priorities on other things. Admittedly, I do miss the twinkling lights on the roof, however they pale in comparison to the way my husband’s face lit up when we made the decision not to put up the lights. He said it was the best Christmas gift ever and to me that’s worth the sacrifice! Next year the lights will go up again (or not) and we’ll find some other way to simplify. What we’re discovering through this process is that simplifying is liberating plus it gives us the time and energy to focus more on what truly matters most.

Sing, Dance, Laugh, and Play! Remember the Christmas and holiday cheer you experienced as a child? Believe it or not, it’s possible to experience those feelings again. Kids are born with an innate sense of “joie de vivre” (my favorite expression – it’s French and means “joy in living”). If you’ve lost your joie de vivre, hang out with some kids this holiday season and observe how they soak up and savor all aspects of life and how they express themselves fully (no holding back)! I’m not recommending that you become childish but I am suggesting that life is more fun when we cultivate a little child-like joy. You just have to set the intention to have fun! Allow yourself to be awed by the Christmas lights, dance like nobody’s watching to some jazzy Christmas tunes or Hanukkah songs, sing like nobody’s listening, laugh ’til your abs ache and play to your heart’s content. “Decades of research has shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social emotional development at all ages” states author, David Elkind (The Power of Play). Research indicates that singing, dancing, laughing and playing also release “feel good” endorphins that can help lesson stress. This holiday season (and always), sing, dance, laugh, play and find your joie de vivre!

Mindfulness & Savoring! If it truly is the most wonderful time of the year, why do so many of us spend so much time hustling and bustling when we should be mindfully enjoying it? To help you stress less this season, get into the tiniest of details and take time to cherish. The NOW is fleeting, take time to savor it! The sights, the sounds, the smells, the smiles, the laughter, the songs, the food, the feelings, the family, the friends and the spirit are rich in abundance during the season so immerse yourself and mindfully enjoy every precious moment! Doing so will increase your level of happiness, strengthen your relationships and create memories that last forever.

Gratitude! In order to savor, one must first appreciate and that’s where gratitude comes in. Science has proven that there are numerous benefits that come from practicing gratitude, including increased positive emotions, improved physical and mental wellness, reduced risk of depression, and increased resilience in the face of challenges. These benefits can boost your overall wellbeing and help you to enjoy higher levels of joy this holiday season and throughout the New Year. Expressing gratitude strengthens relationships & heightens relationship satisfaction (which is a huge part of what the season is all about). Beyond that, the old adage states, “It’s more important to want what you have than to have what you want.” Focusing on being grateful for the blessings you already have (people, possessions, gifts, talents, circumstances) will help you feel more contentment during the holiday season. Taking time each day to write down what you are thankful for is a proven way to uplift your mood. Gratitude is a booster shot against the dreaded “Gimmie-Gimmie” bug that threatens holiday joy and contentment every year. Keep yourself immunized against greed, jealousy, envy and dissatisfaction this holiday simply by focusing on the abundance you already enjoy. Gratitude is the key!

Be flexible. Let go of perfectionism and have a sense of humor. Much of the seasonal stress can come from setting expectations too high, and insisting upon having things done only to the highest possible, picture perfect, standard. This fixed and perfectionistic mindset can be a source of frustration to everyone involved, especially when things don’t go exactly as planned. It’s best to cultivate a “go with the flow,” growth mindset – one that allows for real life. It’s okay to plan for the best but then be willing to release the outcome. This can be done by determining ahead-of-time to be happy with whatever happens. When things don’t go as perfectly as planned, a sense of humor can come in very handy. It’s been said that adversity + time = humor. When holiday happenings don’t turn out as perfectly as planned and it feels like a mini catastrophe has occurred instead, just roll with it. You can take comfort in knowing that, with a sense of humor, one day you’ll be able to look back and enjoy a good laugh or at least a little smile at the “catastrophic” memory.

Take care of your physical health. Feeling well plays a huge part in making your holiday a “most wonderful time of the year.” Unfortunately, many people place physical wellness at the bottom of their holiday “to-do list.” The holidays are full of parties, endless fun, decadent food and big celebrations. If were’ not careful, these extra events and temptations can cause us to get off track with our health and wellness habits. In order to stay well during the holidays, it’s important to hold on to and continue regular daily exercise, enjoy delicious foods (but limit those that are extra extravagant), and be sure to get adequate sleep (7 – 8 hours per night is optimal). Other ways to protect your health (and your children’s health) during the holiday season is to stay hydrated (6-8 cups of water per day), practice regular hand-washing, cover coughs and stay warm and dry. Being vigilant and making a conscious effort to stay well will make it possible for you and your family to enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season.

Breathe and relax! Sounds so simple, right! Often during the holidays we are so busy running from place to place and going through our long list of “to-dos,” that we forget how to breathe properly. Instead of taking in adequate air and then exhaling fully, stress can cause us to take short and shallow breaths which don’t give us adequate oxygen. Breathing this way triggers our sympathetic nervous system and activates our “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately this releases more stress hormones which only exacerbates the problem (like a downward spiral). On the other hand, deep belly breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) stimulates the vegus nerve which activates our parasympathetic nervous system and releases relaxation hormones to help you feel at peace. This type of breathing slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure (because it relaxes blood vessels) and puts you in a state of calm. Relaxation breathing is about extending both the inhalation and the exhalation. In this type of breathing you need to focus on extending your belly, rather than your chest, each time you inhale. Slowing your breaths from a typical 10 – 14 breaths per minute down to 5 – 7 bpm can make a big difference in as little as 10 minutes. For relaxation, I typically breathe in deeply to the count of 6 and exhale (expelling all air) to the count of 8. If you’ve never done this before, you may want to start with inhaling to the count 5 and exhaling to the count of 7. It’s important to practice this during non-stressful times in order to find the exact breath count that works for you and to condition yourself in the use of this valuable tool. So the next time holiday stress overwhelms you, just BREATHE! It works!

Give Generously (time, money or both)! You may be wondering if giving one more thing during the holidays can possibly help you stress less. The truth is, IT CAN! Scientific studies have shown that charitable activities actually trigger pleasure-inducing endorphins in the brain. Psychologist call this the “Helpers High.” A recent Journal of Health and Social Behavior study showed the following: 78% of volunteers reported that serving lowered their stress level; 94% said that serving improved their mood; 95% reported that service made their community a better place and 96% stated that giving service enriched their sense of purpose in life. Gandhi taught, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Beyond all the benefits that charitable acts can give to the server, the most important reason to serve is to bring joy and happiness to another person. You can donate to charity, go Christmas caroling, visit those who may be sick or lonely, do physical labor, lend a listening ear, give a smile, or simply just be a friend. The possibilities are endless and so is the joy you can give to others. This holiday season, focus on making someone happy, paying it forward, sharing the love and bringing a little more holiday happiness and Christmas cheer to others.

Nurture Relationships.  The holidays provide opportunities for friends, neighbors, co-workers and families to make memories, enjoy good humor and bond together. On the other hand, the holidays can also be a time of relational discontent, if we focus too much on materialism, or on having everything our own way or if we dwell upon past hurts and grievances. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers is to focus on truly connecting to strengthening relationships, especially during this season of giving. Specific ways to bond and build relationships include, enjoying meaningful traditions, spending quality time together (without electronic interruption), laughing, singing, serving, and playing with loved-ones. If any of your relationships need mending, consider writing a letter of apology and/or forgiveness (or at least set the internal intention to truly forgive). You can also increase your efforts to give meaningful gifts of the heart (some of the best gifts cost you nothing yet are worth everything to the receiver).  One of the greatest gifts you can give is to express sincere appreciation to all who have contributed to your life’s joy. Treasure every single moment with loved ones, as if it was your last – for one day it well may be. For a most meaningful celebration, put nurturing relationships on the top of your priority list.

Remember the reason for the season and stay focused on it. If the holidays have a spiritual meaning for you and your family, you’ll be interested to know that research shows that people who celebrate the holidays with their families and engage in religious activities report greater overall well being, yet the secular, materialistic aspects of the holiday are associated with less happiness and more stress. In 2002, a study was done to discover “What Makes for a Merry Christmas?” Here are the results:

More happiness was reported when family and religious experiences were especially salient, and lower well-being occurred when spending money and receiving gifts predominated. The study investigated many of these themes, finding that family and religion provided the greatest benefit to holiday well-being, whereas the secular, materialistic aspects of the holiday either contributed little to Christmas joy, or were associated with less happiness and more stress and unpleasant affect.”

To decrease holiday stress, cut down on materialism and allow family togetherness and religious experiences to add meaning and purpose to your celebrations as you focus on the true reason for the season.

If you want to stress LESS this holiday season, set the intention and develop a positivity plan. Using the tools above will help you truly make this season a most wonderful time of the year!

Teresa Starr

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