How did that time of the year we used to regard as “magic” become so fraught with anxiety and stress? Holidays as a grown-up are very different from what they were when we were kids, says Jane Ehrman, MEd, CHES, a mind-body medicine specialist at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. “As grown-ups, we’re responsible for making the magic happen.” That means that there’s a total shift of energy: jubilant anticipation turns to anxiety and stress.
Shift the energy back and enjoy the spirit of the holidays by changing the way you approach six classic stress-inducing situations.
Scenario #1: Your flight home has just been delayed for the third time.
The key to getting through your travels unscathed is to plan ahead as best you can, and then let go of what you can’t control, Ehrman says. When travel is interrupted, instead of melting down and worrying about how it will impact the rest of your day, see the extra time as a gift. Now you have time to take a brisk walk around the airport terminal, call a friend or family member or catch up on your reading. “Just stay in the moment and use your time efficiently and effectively — instead of worrying, which will only drain you,” she says. Of course, having kids with you makes it more complicated: That’s when the planning comes into play. Make sure to pack things like playing cards, kids’ books, coloring books, travel-size board games and healthy snacks to keep kids occupied. Also, remember that most of the time, they take their cue from your behavior; if you’re calm and upbeat, they’re more likely to follow suit.
Scenario #2: Your mother gives you that disapproving look — again.
“We have a tendency to regress when we are around family,” says clinical psychologist Rob Udewitz, PhD, of Behavioral Therapy of New York. Maybe you feel like your mother (or other family member) has been critical of you and your decisions your whole life, and going home for the holidays makes all of the old wounds feel fresh. First of all, Dr. Udewitz says, recognize the pattern and try to think about it differently. “Look for buzzwords in the language you use to talk to yourself,” he says — all or nothing phrases like “it’s unacceptable,” “I won’t tolerate” or “she always makes me feel bad.” “Instead of playing the same old script, find the language of coping,” Dr. Udewitz says. Simple phrases you say to yourself, like “I can try to communicate better” or “I can tolerate this,” can make a big difference. Write some down ahead of time if it helps.
Scenario #3: You’re hosting a big holiday gathering and you can’t seem to please your in-laws.
Hosting holiday gatherings can be wonderfully fun and gratifying; it can also drain you, especially if you’re a chronic people pleaser and you worry obsessively about what others think. You may always feel that your in-laws are unhappy with your cooking, or that they think you don’t keep your house clean enough. “You can’t let those things become your issues,” Ehrman says. When you’ve tried your best to accommodate someone’s needs to make their visit pleasant and they still aren’t pleased (with your gift, with how you’ve cooked the turkey or with the dinner music you’ve chosen), it’s time to simply stop and breathe. Yoga teacher Kate Hanley, author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity, recommends that you come up with a mantra ahead of time, such as “peace” or “pure love.” Every time a guest says or does something that pushes your buttons, instead of reacting (like saying something flippant or rolling your eyes), take a full inhale and exhale and repeat your mantra slowly.
Scenario #4: It’s been a tough year and you simply can’t afford to buy extravagant gifts for friends and family.
There’s a reason January and February are big depression months: It’s when the credit card bills from the holidays start rolling in. It goes back to that pressure to make magic — especially for kids. “It’s vital that as a family — early on — you have a discussion about money,” Ehrman says. When it comes to kids, just be straight with them — level with them about the fact that you don’t have the money to buy everything they’re hoping for. Emphasize the parts of the holiday that don’t have to do with money (like spending time together baking, playing games or making holiday crafts). Money conversations are harder to have with friends (especially if their finances appear to be smooth sailing). It can bring about a sense of shame, Dr. Udewitz says. Perhaps you can set a money limit for gifts or agree to do homemade presents.
Scenario #5: You’re being dragged to your husband’s company holiday party — an event that always leaves you feeling awkward and self-critical.
First, Dr. Udewitz says, try to identify what it is about the situation that makes you feel uncomfortable. Having awareness won’t make your feelings go away, but it can help you create a plan for getting through the situation. Again, it’s often a matter of the language you use in your own head. Phrases like “these events are horrible” only reinforce those negative thoughts. Try writing a new script for yourself, whether it’s a simple mantra like “I am intelligent and charming” or “this is just one night.” Also, remember that we often tend to evaluate our social “performance” as much worse than it is (worrying that we offended someone or put our foot in our mouth), when in reality, no one else thought anything of it. “It’s called the spotlight effect,” Dr. Udewitz says.
Scenario #6: You fought the buffet table and the buffet table won.
The last thing we need to add to our psyche is guilt about the food we eat — yet we do it all the time. The first thing you need is perspective: A few days of indulgent eating can be a setback, but they don’t have to spell disaster. Second, try to remove the emotional component from your calorie splurge — it is what it is, and it’s over. “We carry way too much in our little red wagon of life,” Ehrman says. Think about what you learned and what you could have done differently (so you’re prepared next time), and then cut it loose. Every day is a new day, and you get a clean slate.
Make our favorite seasonal recipes, updated with a healthy twist!