The other evening, a friend of mine was chatting with me about how to survive holiday stress. There can be unenjoyable interactions with certain people and so much commotion swirling around us that we don’t know which way is up. As she shared with me examples of what was bothering her, we were able to narrow down both the causes and solutions. In the holiday spirit of giving and sharing, she has allowed me to share with you the summary of our “how to survive holiday stress” conversation.
Stress is self-imposed.
Stress is a reaction to a situation. It can be positive stress – as in nervousness or excitement – or there can be negative stress – as in anger or frustration. Either way, our reaction is our choice. While most of us might find it hard to be completely calm at all times and never stressed, we are definitely capable of the next best thing: recognizing that we are reacting with negative stress and stopping that reaction.
Stress can be brought on by two different types of situations: those we can control and those we can’t.
In her case, we narrowed her sources of holiday stress to three major categories. Here are her specific stressors, as well as tips for avoiding them and recommendations on how to deal with them if they do happen.
Traffic – We can’t control the flow of vehicles, and we certainly can’t control traffic tie-ups. But we can control how early we leave so we allow time for traffic jams, and we can also choose to use a traffic app that will guide us through the quickest way to our destination. If, despite these preventive steps, you still get stuck in traffic, you can crank up the tunes to relax and count your blessings that you weren’t involved in whatever accident is blocking your route.
Negative people – We can’t control encountering a clerk at the check-out register who is not practicing good customer service skills, but we can control our empathy for their possible situation. Maybe they’ve just pulled a double-shift or perhaps they’ve just been chewed out for something they didn’t do. Finish your transaction and wish them a good day. That might be the first positive utterance they’ve heard all day.
Family functions – This can be a tough one, but it’s also the stress source that caused us the most laughter during our conversation – how ironic. She realized that, like most people, she loves all of her family members, but some of them she wants to be around and others she does not. She can choose to avoid the ones she doesn’t like; or sit down and have a conversation with them about how she’d like them to change and why; or attend (or host) the family functions with the realization that we’re all different, and for two hours each year, she can accept them for who they are. (Disclaimer: This is assuming that the family members are not verbally, emotionally or physically abusive. They fall more into the “he acts like an idiot” or “where’d she learn those manners?” or “don’t they know that potluck means bring more than celery sticks?” categories.) No matter which she chooses, she’s controlling the type of situation to put herself in.
We shared some belly laughs about the antics and utterances of various family members. She then realized why she labeled certain family members as those she didn’t like or those she didn’t want to be around: they’re just different from who she is and who she thinks they should be.
Once she acknowledged her sources of stress and decided how she’d like to react instead, she came to the conclusion that she truly can survive holiday stress because she can choose not to experience it.