Most people go into the holiday season with high hopes and expectations.
Before long, however, that cheery outlook can turn into holiday stress.
Holiday stress is a measure of the difference between what people expect and what they experience.
Some people expect to have a "Norman Rockwell" holiday, but cannot live up to those expectations.
Their attempts to turn their holiday into that ideal Christmas generates tremendous stress.
To add to this stress, families still have all of their regular responsibilities, such as children, work and household chores, and no extra time to squeeze in all those extras.
Too many extras, not enough time - or money.
How do you avoid getting crushed by the holiday crunch?
There are ways.
For one, find a half an hour a day to do one thing that helps you feel calm and in control, so you can relax and enjoy the holiday season. Don't laugh. It can be done.
There are other ways to stay open to life's joys during this hectic time of the year, including:
- Ask family members to put into writing the things they enjoy the most about the holidays. Post everyone's list. Put your energy into these things. Let go of the rest. Prioritize what's important to you and your family.
- Talk about past holidays. What worked? What didn't? Start new traditions. Let go of the ones that are long on work and short on meaning. You don't have to make 10 different kinds of cookies. Make the fun ones and order the others from a bakery. Or, get into a cookie exchange with friends. Or, simply don't bake at all.
- Do less. Spend less. Enjoy more. Have fun.
- Do something special for someone in need. This makes for a memorable family project. When we help others, we really help our spirits and ourselves immeasurably.
- Take good care of yourself.
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you're full. Eat only what you absolutely love for treats. Forget the green Jello, bad chocolates, greasy chips, tasteless cookies and fruitcakes.
- Hang around the veggie trays and fruit plates offered at buffets.
- Avoid alcohol, or limit it to one or two drinks a day.
- Find a way, every day, to get at least two 15-minutes sessions of brisk exercise. Do whatever you enjoy, but move it.
- Make sure everyone, every day, has enough one space (time alone), two space (time with one other person) and three space (time with two or more people. Experts say balancing one-two-three space is a key to stress management.
- Listen more, talk less. That's why God gave us two ears and one mouth. But do interact with family and friends.
- Take a holiday from the Five Cs - criticizing, comparing, complaining, competing and correcting others. Give double doses of complimenting others.
- Read something inspirational every day to remind yourself what the holidays - and life - are really about. Remember the "reason for the season."
- If you simply hate the holidays, don't fight it. Plan a vacation, a cruise or a weekend get-away, to bypass the whole affair.
In general, remember that you don't have to be Superman or Superwoman during the holidays.
Focus on what's really important, and don't sweat the small stuff.
That old saying "less is more" really comes true during the holidays.