It’s here: the ten day countdown until Thanksgiving. (Sorry!) Cue the gift frenzy, the out-of-town family visits, and the hectic schedule. For many of us, it can wind up being the most stressful time of year. But what if I told you it’s actually an opportunity to have a little … fun? (Don’t grimace). This time of year offers a golden opportunity for everyone to slow down, savor time with family, honor traditions, and take a break.
Contrary to popular belief, the holidays are not themselves stressful – although most of us perceive them to be. The complicated circumstances of life do not create stress; stress results from your response to those circumstances. Essentially, stress comes from wishing something were different, worrying you can’t change it, and feeling stuck. Helplessness, frustration, and inaction then result. The holiday hustle only exacerbates these symptoms. But imagine if you could make stress work for you, rather than against you.
Stress is a gift!
We tend to perceive stress as a negative thing, but it doesn’t have to be. Oftentimes, stress is just a natural outcome of an increased desire for a better life. Stressing about a gift budget tells you that you want a better handle on your finances. Dreading dinner with your in-laws is a good indicator that you wish you had a better relationship with them.
Stress symptoms can actually serve as an invaluable ally, an informing voice that tells us: it’s time to do something about this. The longer we try to ignore the voice, the louder and more persistent it gets. Listen to it, and learn to accept it as a positive force and motivator.
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Since the stress of the holiday season is so acute, it can act as a kind of wake-up call, or feedback from a good friend. Call it a “holiday gift.” It’s crucial to investigate the nature of your particular stresses to decide what the appropriate action should be. Here’s how to classify your stressors:
3 Types of Stress
- Circumstantial Stress is stress that comes from painful circumstances that arise unexpectedly. This could include an illness, loss of someone dear, an accident or injury, or an extenuating circumstance that you have no control over. Around this time of year, the absence of a departed relative or a by-gone family tradition can be a painful stress point – even during an otherwise happy moment. Time is the biggest factor in alleviating this type of stress, but acceptance and self-care are also key. On the flipside, ignoring, denying, or glossing over unavoidable hardships almost always has a negative consequence, such as a family fight or post-holiday depression.
- Life Management Stress involves all the responsibilities of the dreaded to-do list. This includes bills, appointments, arrangements, and many other tasks involved in making and spending money, having a family, and managing life as an adult. Although we’re used to complaining about these frustrations, there are always solutions. Consider your relationship between talking and doing when it comes to your to-do list. Rather than complaining about the holiday traffic, devise a plan to leave early and play cheerful music along the way. If you’re overwhelmed about work deadlines before the break, speak up and ask for help. Confessing and claiming ownership of your stress gives you the power to do something about it. Some choices may be difficult, such as choosing to rein in spending habits or saying no to some parties or social events. But your solutions are yours to design and fulfill.
- Inner Dialogue Stress is the one that few people talk about. This is the scary, emotional stress that lives within the context of your inner dialogue, and it’s all fueled by fear. Fear that, underneath it all, you aren’t capable or lovable. Fear that your marriage is no longer working, that you aren’t a great parent, or that you will get a terrible illness. The running list of secret fears and bad theories is long and complex, but this is where stress can be used as a tool for improving your quality of life. What you think about, you bring about!
I teach techniques on how to retrain your mind to feel better, just by changing your thinking. One way is with a negative consequence. Perhaps you should agree to throw a dollar out of the car window every time you catch yourself dwelling on a negative thought for longer than a minute. A “no harping” rule has a radical effect on stress. You would be amazed at what a difference it makes specifically around this time of year.
Take Action and Instantly Feel Better
If you can learn to view your worries as an alert that means you need to take action to feel better, you will see results. When you actually go to the gym (on January 2nd), make the phone call you’ve been putting off, or confess the feeling you’ve been bottling up, you will feel immediate relief. You will have heard what the stress is telling you and will have responded to it. Inaction breeds guilt and anxiety; taking action builds personal integrity.
Stress is an unavoidable aspect of being alive. But it doesn’t have to define your holiday. How you deal with it determines how happy you will be now and at any other time of the year.
Happy (almost) Thanksgiving!
P.S. Ready for more coaching this holiday season? Join HG Life Head Coach Laurie Gerber at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan on November 14 for a workshop featuring our time-tested love coaching method, The 3H’s Guide™ to Finding the One. Laurie’s coaching will help you uncover and express your truest self when it comes to love … and yes, hatch a plan to find what you’re looking for.