The stress-filled time of the holidays is officially creeping up on us.  Just last week while I was checking out the post-Halloween candy sale isle in the local discount store, I overheard two women lamenting on the length of their Christmas shopping lists.  I was saddened that these two women were already consumed with thoughts of Christmas shopping even though it was only the first week of November.

As I turned the corner and went to the next ‘seasonal’ isle, I became very aware of why they had been lamenting.  The Christmas tree display was up and twinkling and the isles that once were full of costumes and candy were now full of ornaments, lights, wreaths, wrapping paper, garland, stockings, etc.  And to think that I was planning on buying an autumn mum that day!  No such luck!  Where the mums had been displayed a week before, there were now wonderful red poinsettias.  How did I miss the autumn mums on November 2nd!?  Could I find any holiday napkins and plates for Thanksgiving Dinner?  No!  I couldn’t find them anywhere.  They were replaced by napkins with snowmen, trees, poinsettias, etc.  I was too late for Thanksgiving?!  (Don’t even get me started on the television ads and mail order industries!)

It really is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

The holidays, under the best of circumstances, start triggering excessive stress.  It is undeniable.  When we start thinking of ‘family time’ and holiday schedules blood pressures usually begin to rise, almost immediately.  (Can you feel the tension tighten in your neck just as you read this?)

Holiday stress is much more common than people realize.  As a matter of fact, November 1st brings about the busiest time of year for most mental health professionals.  Our calendars will be pretty full from now through the end of February.  The primary request is almost always the same, “Jackie, please help me mentally prepare for the agony of family time/holiday schedules/dwindling money.  I just don’t know how to handle _____!”  (You fill in the name of the family members, party, friends, obligations, etc.)

I anticipate that the stress of the holidays will seem a little more overwhelming this year.  With the election, the economy, the possible (or realized) lack of job security…our Stress Platter is pretty full already and we’ve only just begun.  Add to the above the historical “button pushing” that our family members are famous for and our cup will runneth over with the stress experience.  We, as a society and individually, are on overload.  It is too much stress for any one person to handle.

I have come up with a list of 10 simple stress management techniques that (if you practice them) will help you manage what otherwise may seem like too much.  Remember (and this is important)…you have to use these tips in order for them to work.

1)         Stay focused on the reason for the season.  Between now and New Year’s Eve, focus on why we are celebrating at all this time of year.

   Thanksgiving was first designed as a celebratory way to give thanks to God for the gifts experienced in the new land of freedom.  It wasn’t an easy life.  Actually, it was a difficult and hard life, but the pilgrims gathered to give thanks to God for all they had been given.  “And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Ephesians 5:20)

  Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Savior who paid the price of our sins.  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)  God brought salvation and peace through the birth of Christ.  WOW!  A time that was originally given to us to celebrate our salvation turned into a high-stress season?!  We added the pressure of gifts, holiday gatherings and parties, and disappointed expectations – that was never part of the original package.  We sure messed up a good thing there!

  New Year is the final in the celebration trio.  To many people, the new year represents the gift of new opportunities or a time to start living true to how God directs them to live.  This gift is not designed to add more stress into the new year, but rather to bring hope and a reminder that God is still here.   Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.”  (Hebrews 10:36)

2)         Simplify!  How many trees do you need to put up and how many decorations do you really need to display?  Take a look at your calendar, prioritize and then erase EVERYTHING that you can cut out from the obligations of the season.  Take time to smell the turkey and the evergreen!

3)         Under-spend!  Take a look at your shopping/wish lists.  How much do you really need to buy and/or get as gifts?  Maybe you and your peeps can get together and adopt a less fortunate family…feed or clothe the homeless…give to those more in need.  Then, your family celebration can consist of a genuine thanksgiving of all that you enjoy and have surrounding you and you won’t have to worry about how you will pay for everything when January rolls around.

4)        Send out E-Cards and go green!   A subscription to a good greeting card website will not only save you time and money, but it will also save the world a lot of trees and energy.

5)        Remember it is ‘just another day.’  There is a lot of stress experienced by families, blended families and in families with adult children juggling their in-law family activities.  Lighten up and spread out the good cheer.  Who says that Thanksgiving can only be celebrated on a Thursday in November and that a Christmas dinner is less wonderful on December 18th?!   Be flexible in your celebration planning and who knows…you may have a longer, more fulfilling, less stressful season.

6)        Be proactive against loneliness.   For many people, the holidays serve as a painful reminder that they are not in a significant relationship and loneliness can seem overwhelming.  If this happens to be you, then you need to step up to the plate of self care and fill your time with other people.  Volunteer at a shelter, your church, call some other single friends, host a holiday potluck, etc.

7)        Take care of yourself!  Get enough sleep, exercise and eat a healthy – balanced diet.  The more healthy and rested you are, the more stress you will be able to comfortably handle.

8)        Let go of your expectations.  To many, the holidays represent a time to mourn the loss of unmet expectations – either of ourselves or others.  Examine those expectations and then evaluate how important it is to keep holding on to them.  Sometimes, by letting go, we free ourselves to enjoy the people we do have in our lives and the happiness we can experience with them.  Don’t let unmet expectations get in the way of you enjoying all of the wonderfulness you do have to celebrate.

9)        Guard your buttons.  It is important to remember they are your buttons.  Friends and family can only push them if you let them.  Know from where your buttons originate and then keep them in perspective.  Most of the time, we allow our buttons to be pushed based on memories from the past  rather than how things need to be today.  You are an adult now, so don’t let people get to your buttons!

10)    Live Love.  I Corinthians 13 paints a beautiful portrait of what living love looks like.  Make sure you are bringing your loving self to every relationship (even with strangers) this holiday season.  Start everyday with the following prayer…

Heavenly Father, please help me begin and live each day with love.  My prayer today and throughout this holiday season is that I may approach all of my relationships (even with strangers) as you would want me to, with love.  Please help me be more patient, kind, humble, polite, compromising, tolerant, even-tempered, forgiving, justice seeking, honest, perseverant, faithful, hopeful and tolerant.  With these love skills, I know that the gift of love that you have shared with all through your grace will bubble up inside of me and spill out towards all the world.  Help me free my heart of all previous hurts and pains so that I may share with all my friends and family the love that will create a sense of joy in this holiday season and prayerfully throughout the New Year.  In your loving son’s name I pray…Amen!