Even the luckiest of us feel a bit of extra pressure around the end of the year. In a 2006 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) over half of respondents reported that they often or sometimes experience stress, irritability, and/or fatigue during the holidays, with the leading stressors being lack of time, lack of money, and commercialism or hype (in contrast to work and money, which lead at other times of year).
It’s not just Christmas. The whole season is enough to make anyone rebel against all that pressure. I’m not the only one to invent holidays out of that stress: Buy Nothing Day and Festivus owe their origins to some of the same forces that launched Discardia. From the moment we lock the front door on Halloween night and poke through the leftover trick-or-treat candy, we jump into a wild, obligation-ridden bobsled run, whisking us through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, until we’re dumped headfirst into the cold, slushy snow of the first bleak week of January.
We feel the whirlwind begin as ads suggest “the perfect gift for the such and such on your list.” This list is assumed; of course, everyone has a list. Everyone must be buying. Post-turkey Friday comes and the retail frenzy begins. The crowds and the sensory overload of enforced commercial festivity. “Bring on the cheer, dammit!” seems to be the underlying message of the barrage of Christmas music, holiday movie promotions, and red and green advertising plastered on every surface. Sometimes it seems like you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Santa—and, as December barrels on, the temptation to do so grows.
Prioritize your energy. Emotional turmoil can almost always move to the bottom of your list. Find a little breathing space and give some to others when you can see that they need it. Ease the tension and let something other than drama take your time.
Even the very best group of family or friends can sometimes be annoying, so I encourage you to do two things when stress starts to kick in at big gatherings. When you need a little room, find a way to take it. Good techniques include walking the dog, washing some dishes, amusing the littlest kids, showing the newest family member around the neighborhood, running a last-minute errand, or having a shower. Along with taking care of yourself, make space for others. Build some alone time into your events. Don’t make a fuss over people retreating from time to time. Whether between family, friends, or lovers, making room for each other’s “me-time” builds stronger relationships
Rescue the stressed. Useful phrases include, “I need a little walk before the pie. Care to come along?,” “Mom, I’ll do that for you, but sit down for just a moment and tell me again about the trip where you got this vase. That was right after you two got married, right?,” “Okay, that’s got about an hour more to cook and everything else is all ready, so you all can relax or read or whatever and I’ll let you know when we get close to dinner time,” and “Who else is ready for a nap break?”
Create opportunities to free yourself and your loved ones for joyful engagement.
(This post is a little taste of the book, pulled from a couple sections as a seasonal tip.)
One of the best habits I've built up over the past year or so, with the most consistent payoff, has been tidying the bedroom every day. Sometimes I get it done in the morning, sometimes it's not until just before dinner, but almost every day I return the room to calmness and breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction just looking around.
I put away any clothes that are sitting on the floor, chairs, or dressers. I put the change from pockets into the coin jars (one for quarters and one for everything else) in our home office. I empty the trash basket and straighten the throw rug. Most importantly—and this happens virtually every day—I fluff the pillows and make the bed; so easy with just a sheet and duvet!
For the rest of the day and, most importantly, right before bed I see a space that's exactly how I want it: a calm, restful nest for a great night's sleep. In the morning, I'm greeted by a room with everything in its place, ready to launch a good day.