How to Survive Holiday Stress

While there are still some among us who get a thrill at the sight of twinkle lights and decorating Christmas cookies, true Cindy Lou Whos are hard to find anymore. Even if Christmas is your absolute favorite holiday, you probably still find it difficult to make it through a whole run with your extended family without having at least one near-meltdown.

As you enter this year’s festivities—or fiascos—use this cheat sheet for when you come across a difficult moment.

Think about the real gifts in your life.

Sure, you already went around the table at Thanksgiving and shared what you’re grateful for. You think it’s cheesy practice and that it could probably be skipped so you can get to the mashed potatoes already.

But should it?

Research shows that counting the positive things in your life (and, particularly, writing them down) gives you a better outlook on life as a whole. And in the race to combat holiday stress, we might as well admit that we aren’t going to get anywhere unless we shift our attitudes.

When you find yourself slipping into frustrations with your Uncle or distant cousins, take a moment to get away from the family hullabaloo. Grab some wrapping paper, and write down 10 things that happened in your life this year that made it better. Can’t think of 10? Go for five.

Then take a deep breath, refill the eggnog and reemerge from taking a much-needed moment to remember the positives.

Look for opportunities to serve.

Chances are you’re not the only one having reservations about being home for the holidays. Those of us whose families could model for a Norman Rockwell painting have our moments of hyperventilation, too, hoping no one brings up politics or family drama.

One great thing about Christmas is there is always something distracting to do, and keeping your hands busy is a great way to fend off anxiety. When nervous energy starts to take over, look around and figure out how you can offer a helping hand.

Whether you’re tackling a pile of dishes or wrapping the banister in garland, contributing to your environment in a positive way will get you out of your head. And probably take care of any Grinchiness left hanging around.

Fake it until you make it.

We all laughed when our favorite elf told us, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

Mostly, Will Ferrell’s green-and-yellow outfit is regarded as comic relief, but his words are a reminder of truth in the old adage: fake it ‘til you make it. A change of heart often follows an intentional act to change your attitude. Therefore, do your best to take small steps to bring some cheer to yourself and those around you, especially when you’re not feeling it.

If you can’t stand singing along to “Santa Baby” or Mariah’s “All I want for Christmas is You,” find some other way to relax and get in the Christmas spirit. If you’re not much of a singer, join the toddlers in your crew playing with toys on the floor or put on your favorite holiday classic. In the meantime, you’ll likely find your spirits being lifted a little.

Seek out a wise man (or woman).

The worst thing you can do when you’re down is pressure yourself to cut it out. Internal stress is natural when you’re surrounded by other people in tight quarters. In these situations, you sometimes need someone you can trust to help you keep your wits about you.

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Before you go into the throes of holiday madness, do yourself a favor and find a friend or two who you can turn to when it all becomes too much. Have your best friend be on alert for a few comic text message relief threads, or set up a phone date with someone you need to catch up with. You could also pick out your most gracious relative—the one who can always calm you down—and pull them aside to talk for a minute.

It is completely normal to be a little off your emotional game when away from your daily surroundings and routine. Remind yourself that everyone in the room is probably on some sort of eggshell of his own around late December, and give yourself a break for feeling on edge.

Remember the reason for the season.

Ironically, in a season full of traditions that wouldn’t be were it not for the birth of a Savior, even Christians seem to spend little time reflecting on the infant in the manger. Other than a couple of hours in church, most of the action seems to be centered at the foot of the tree or around the dinner table, where the gifts and food are.

Take some time, if you can, to quiet yourself with spiritual meditation. Beat your siblings to the coffee pot and do a solo morning devotion, or make it a family affair and sing hymns together around the fire. As much as you can, try and re-focus your mind, and your heart, on the whole reason we call it Christmas in the first place—because of Christ.

Remember Him as a baby, shivering in a barn, coming to help us get through this life. He is here for the times we struggle to enjoy the holidays at all, and when we sing christmas songs with abandon. Remember that He came to offer grace and that we should give ourselves a healthy dose of the same.

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