Tis the season to be crazed. Adding all of the holiday activities to the demands of your already busy life can cause you to feel like you’re caught in a tidal wave of obligations. Rather than happy holidays, this time of the year may become more like the hassled holidays.
Signs the holidays are causing more stress than satisfaction come on gradually. It’s not usually a single calamity that overwhelms you, but a series of demanding situations that make it more and more difficult to keep up. It starts with the feeling that you’re responsible for making the holidays great for everyone else. You’re already pushing to get your regular routine accomplished, and suddenly you’ve got a dozen other items appearing on your to-do list. In your spare time, you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself at the office party, your best friend’s open house, and your children’s holiday events.
As the pressure mounts you feel waves of anxiety and guilt building. You pretend that you’re doing just fine, but the need to get everything done can eventually turn otherwise normal people into ticking time bombs. As the number of problems you encounter multiplies, you reach a point where you’re likely to feel overwhelmed.
People suffering from holiday pressures can feel like they’re losing their mind as they experience difficulty making good decisions, setting priorities, remembering details, and managing their time. Emotionally they feel frenzied, impatient, and irritable. Behaviorally they become curt, demanding, and overly reactive to frustrations. Otherwise pleasant conversations with people become pure torture because they feel like they’re wasting time when they have so much else to accomplish.
Your brain becomes overloaded when you have too much to do and too little time in which to do it. As the demand on your time and energy intensifies, you become more easily distracted because the chatter in your mind makes it hard to pay full and thorough attention to anything. This isn’t a mental illness nor is it a character defect. It’s your brain’s natural response to excessive demands.
As your brain becomes increasingly flooded with the fear that you won’t be able to get everything done, there’s a corresponding decrease in your ability to creatively solve problems and successfully manage your emotions. Fear creates negative feelings such as anger, anxiety, and depression and limits your responses to fight, flight or freeze.
You can counteract the negative impact of being harried during the holidays by creating positive emotions. To begin, be sure to take care of your body by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating nutritiously. If your body doesn’t get what it needs, your brain won’t work well.
You’ll know that you’re getting enough sleep if you can wake up without an alarm clock. You’ll know that your body is getting the fuel it needs if you’re consuming whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein rather than sweets or fatty foods. You’ll know that you’re burning off the stress chemicals that accumulate in your brain if you’re moving your body briskly for at least 30 minutes every day.
By keeping your brain chemistry in balance, you’ll wake up refreshed and able to start each day by getting organized. Write down the important items you’d like to accomplish, and designate 20% of them as priorities to get done that day. Rather than getting sucked into the black hole of Facebook or surfing the web, attend to one of your top priorities. Do not let yourself get distracted into any other activity until you’ve completed your top priorities. When you scratch items off your to-do list, you’ll feel terrific.
Another method for generating positive emotions is to engage in interactions with people that you like. The best way to do this is with face-to-face connections. Smiles are contagious, so bring your sense of humor to these conversations. When you relate to people you trust, your brain performs at its best. Give your brain a rest every hour and a half with a minimum of 10 minutes of friendly interactions and you’ll stay sharp all day long.
The most important strategy for enjoying the holidays is to reflect on your values. What do you think is most meaningful at this time of the year – family, friends, spiritual renewal?
What are your fondest memories from past holiday celebrations? How could you replicate a similar scenario this year? During the upcoming holidays you’ll be making memories that you’ll look back upon in the future. How do you want these holidays to be remembered?