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Winifred Lender: 10 Simple Tips for Putting Joy and Peace Back Into the Holiday Season

For many, the holidays are a time of happiness, bonding, tradition and religious observance. People look forward to this "joyous season" and the trips, family gatherings and gifts that accompany it. Often times, however, our hopes and expectations for the holidays fall short of the reality and we are left feeling down or angry. Even if our expectations are met, the demands and increased activity of the holidays can make people feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

The holidays lead to a change of routine, travel, increased time with family and a long list of gifts to purchase, all of which can lead to stress. People cite financial demands, being with difficult family members and travel during this busy time as leading factors that cause stress.

Many abandon daily routines that ground them, such as exercise or quiet time; instead, they overspend, overindulge in food and drink, and are left feeling unbalanced and guilty during this season.

In addition, due to the commercialization of the holidays, we are bombarded with advertisements and images of how to create the “perfect” experience for the holiday, which leads many to feel anxious and worried that their celebration will fall short. Many report feeling as though they are racing on a treadmill trying to get things done to create the “right” holiday experience, but never attaining their goal.

Stress and anxiety are not inherent byproducts of the holidays. Much of the stress we experience at this time of year comes from feeling we lack power to make changes in the holiday routine that cause us angst. We can still enjoy the holidays if we focus on consciously removing some of the unnecessary and unhealthy expectations we place on ourselves.

Below are some tips to consider as you embark on the holiday season. Incorporating some of the ideas that follow will have you bring more joy and peace to your holiday experience.

» Simplify your holiday to-do-list.

Create a holiday to-do list. Critically evaluate if you really need to do all the items on your list; cross out items that are not necessary and consider modifying other items. For example, instead of spending hours searching for the perfect gift, ask your recipients for a wish list. Also, consider gift cards or think about gifting a joint experience for many people as opposed to separate gifts for each person (a trip or a dinner for the entire family instead of separate gifts for all members).

» Decrease financial demands.

Focus on decreasing the financial burden by instituting cost limits for gift exchanges and organizing gift experiences instead of store-bought gifts, such as inviting others for a picnic in the park, or organizing a day hike with you as the tour guide.

» Eliminate “traditions” that are negative or overly time consuming.

We continue with routines or traditions that have been passed down in our family, even if they cause stress or upset, because we feel we “should.” Re-evaluate these traditions and consider starting new ones that may be more flexible and positive experiences for all.

» Let go of your perfect image of the holidays and adopt a more flexible and accepting present focus.

Focus on letting go of your image of what the holiday should be like and instead focus on what the holiday is like for your family. Instead of getting caught up in how far your reality is from your expectations, try to enjoy and find the good in the present experience. Be grateful for the moment, and do not worry about the past or future.

» Take a “timeout.”

Make sure to schedule time daily when relatives are with you for a “timeout” or alone time where you can regroup and engage in a relaxing activity to recharge yourself. Think of this time as a way for you to rest and be more present with the family later.

» Ask for help and help others.

Think about ways you could use help during the season and offer to help others. Don’t think you have to do it all yourself. Asking for and giving help really underscores the true meaning of the holiday season.

» Focus on being accepting and positive.

Instead of reacting to the negative comments or emotions around you, try to set aside differences and provide a positive and grateful countenance. For every critical or negative comment you hear, try to infuse a sense of levity or positive focus to the conversation.

» Maintain the routines that bring you comfort and keep you on an even keel.

While the holidays usually mean a break form the routine, hold on the routines that make you feel centered and healthy. A morning walk, going to bed around a certain time, and having time to read are examples of things that do not need to be dispensed with during this season.

» Give to others.

Giving to others can lead to feelings of happiness, diffuse negative feelings and unite people. Consider organizing a family activity where everyone works toward a common goal like helping at a charity, cleaning a park or a beach, or helping at a friendship center.

» Remember that this, too, “shall pass.”

Remind yourself that the holidays are time limited. Any stress they create will end or dissipate when the holidays end.

— Winifred Lender Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Santa Barbara and can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). She provides cognitive-behavioral therapy for sleep regulation issues, anxiety and depression, and completed her undergraduate work at Cornell University and received her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed a fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and is a past president of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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