In 0.44 seconds, I found 2,330,000 results (0.56 seconds) hits in a Google search for “holiday stress.” Combine that with about 698,000 results (0.35 seconds) in a search for “manage holiday stress,” and you can see how widespread an issue this thing called “holiday stress” is. And just how poorly it is understood. That’s right, misunderstood. I found 991,000 results (0.50 seconds) hits when I searched for “preventing holiday stress.” Seems more attention is focused on managing, rather than preventing, the stress that many think—THINK—is inevitable at this time of the year.
Like the famed village in Switzerland known world-wide for it’s very advanced ski slopes, with very expensive ambulances and an even costlier surgery center stocked with multi-million dollar contracts for orthopedic surgeons and nurses all in place for when novices fell off the slopes, everyone thinks managing or “treating,” stress, is the way to go. Like the village that ignored me when I suggested that for less than $1,000 they could put up a fence and prevent falls, it seems people just don’t get it.
For all of this focus on managing stress, still, nearly 80% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress while nearly 75% experience stress- related psychological symptoms. Holiday stress statistics reported by the American Psychological Association show that up to 69% of people are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time,” 69% are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money,” and 51% feel stressed out over the “pressure to give or get gifts.” Debilitating fatigue, jackhammer headaches, hypertension, weight gain, a weakened immune system, gastrointestinal symptoms, vice-like muscle tension, boiling anger, frozen anxiety, “I give up” depression and yes, even impaired sex drive—these are some of the stress related costs to your wellbeing. Still want to create stress?
Why work on saying “goodbye” to holiday stress? I say, don’t say “hello” in the first place! Here’s how to train your brain to manage holiday stress by preventing it altogether! Trust it will make for a more enjoyable holidays, while staying fit, and healthy. Under the heading of “ThEaMo,” Thinking, Eating and Moving, these three legs of the stress prevention tripod will insure that you come out of January wondering just what in the world your friends, co-workers, gym buddies and family members got themselves so stressed out about.
Stress is Not Created by Anything
That’s right, first and foremost, stress is not something created BY anything…EXCEPT the way you think. In the 25th Anniversary edition of my 1988 original, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff PS It’s All Small Stuff” I explain that “the link is what you think” when it comes to inventing and creating stress. What you tell yourself about what you “just must eat” or what you think you “should be able to drink” or that it “doesn’t really matter if I skip a workout” becomes your make believe reality. People carry so many self-sabotaging, stress-inventing thoughts about eating, weight management, exercise and holiday party food. Here’s a sampling: “It’s not okay to waste food.” “If I get hungry, the hunger will get worse and worse unless I eat something.” “I’ve already blown it so it doesn’t matter what else I eat.”
“Holidayorexia.” You’ve starved yourself to fit into your zombie or vixen Halloween costume, November 1st comes and whoosh, the holiday season eating and drinking fest begins. Parties, buffets, late night drinking, office snacking and less and less time to exercise are all upon you. So is the weight gain. But “Holidayrexia” is not an inevitability. These thoughts are completely erroneous, illogical, irrational and unreasonable. They aren’t true or helpful either. Question what evidence you truly have for the veracity of your thoughts. There is none. They are just thoughts. So, create a food plan before you attend any gathering, stick to it by arming yourself ahead of time with written rational response counters to each irrational thought that you can anticipate will pop up in your own mind—pull out the written card, read it to yourself and enjoy the veggies. If you aren’t yet a fit tech believer, it’s time to start wearing at least a pedometer and keep wearing it until January 2, 2017, at least. It will help you keep focused and be mindful of finding ways to move more throughout the day. Park further away from your destination, always take the stairs, walk, jog, or run to where you are headed. Use the airport, shopping mall or pit stops on your holiday driving trip to do a ten- minute high intensity interval jog. It’s very important to schedule time with your trainer, workout “accountability” buddies, and favorite group exercise classes NOW. Make a party invitation an autopilot trip-wire for a planned trip to the gym before the party.
Speaking of parties, this won’t be easy, but I’m certain you can do it. You aren’t certain you will though. So, let’s meet half-way—it’s your health, so give it a chance. More protein, fruit and less refined carbs will get you through this season in a healthy way. Focus on friends, not food! It’s been observed that you can eat everything you want on the buffet table, OR you can stay thin, fit and healthy. You just can’t do both. That means avoid socializing at the buffet, use the smaller plates for your main choices that your host provides for desserts, stay far away from the preferable but not required chips aisle at the grocery store, and continue driving past your favorite cupcake and dessert shop. Pile your plate with veggies, lean meats, and salad. Become a “dessert splitter”—“Want to split this cupcake? It looks delicious but I only am going to enjoy a small piece of it.” Then savor the treat as slowly and mindfully as you can.
Your mood and the holiday events around you are not at all, in any way, connected. You can create any positive mood you want, regardless of your actual time schedule, financial situation or even the weather– any mood you want, REGARDLESS of your actual life situation. The link is what you think.
Here’s my handy way to remember it all and have a stress-free holiday:
S– Smile more throughout the day, especially at the first 10 people you see
T– Think rationally, accurately, logically, confidently, and positively
R– Relive the joys of your healthy relationships, focusing on what’s pleasant, the favorable accomplishments in your life, and what can go right. Keep a list of three “what went right today” items every day during the holidays.
E– Eat right and light including asparagus, avocados, blueberries, warm milk, cashews, salmon, spinach, oatmeal, chamomile or green tea, dark chocolate, garlic.
S– Sweat more through regular exercise and movement including high intensity interval cardio and resistance training and walk more to avoid being sedentary– set a timer and stand every 10 minutes if you can during work, be sure to schedule yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and/or meditation
S– Savor your life by choosing gratitude and focusing your thinking in healthy, mindful, factual ways without predicting gloom and doom, slow yourself down by finding the beauty of experiences and creating relaxing moments throughout your day. Remember what Seneca said, “Everything hangs on one’s thoughts. The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable.”
Train your brain with these tips and this holiday season will find you among those who know what real joy is all about—choosing the bliss that’s right in front of you.