Gail Saltz, MD: Lessen Your Stress and Enjoy the Holidays

Gail Saltz, MD: Lessen Your Stress and Enjoy the HolidaysGail Saltz, MD: Lessen Your Stress and Enjoy the HolidaysBy Gail Saltz, MD
The first step to avoiding emotional landmines is to predict them before they happen.

1) Don't Go There!
It seems that every year the potentially-joyous holiday season inevitably turns stressful. Between getting family together, traveling, shopping, cooking and trying to make everything special, there is so much to do -- and so many emotional blow-ups to avoid. While the holidays can bring back happy childhood memories, they can just as easily be the occasion for behavior patterns that have caused tension in the past. So be prepared. Here's is a list of typical emotional landmines that people stumble upon at this time of year, and the best ways to avoid them, so you can enjoy a more relaxed holiday season.

2) Emotional Landmine No. 1: Are You Taking on Too Much?
Women tend to feel that everything about the holiday rests on our shoulders; we are the doers, the creators, the implementers. And we wonder why we are feeling so overwhelmed? Doing it all is hard, and doing it all with a sense of ease and a smile on your face is impossible. Inevitably, you resent those around you for watching you carry the burden alone without lifting a hand. And that's not all: once you become irritable and crabby and start barking at others, you then begin to feel guilty. You have let yourself down -- again!

3) How to Avoid It: It's Not Too Late -- Delegate!
Give you partner a list of tasks he can do. If you don't have a partner, divide tasks and errands up with other family members, your brother, your mother, even a friend. Sometimes the reason you don't delegate is because you really want everything to be just so and aren't willing to take the risk that someone else won't things exactly as you do. That's a trap. You have to let go and let some things be done a little differently. If you can acknowledge that sharing responsibilities means that everyone else gets to feel useful, involved and successful, then they will feel happy and you will feel less burdened and stressed. It's a win-win situation.

4) Emotional Landmine No 2: You're Preoccupied with Perfection
Can you hear yourself saying, "It has to be the best?" If you have a competitive nature, it can really come out at during the holiday season. You will do your utmost to have an elaborate holiday celebration, one to remember. You get caught up in the feeling that you need to make magic happen, like you see on TV, hear on the radio or gaze at in store windows. In trying to create the perfect celebration with perfect food and perfectly-detailed decorations, we can really torture ourselves -- and everyone around us.

5) How to Avoid It: Trim Your To-Do List
Start economizing emotionally. For instance, cut down on how many desserts you are going to make, or buy them from a store, and you will reduce your stress levels. Buy group gifts and limit how many holiday parties or gatherings you will attend. Decide on the top priorities and let the rest be fungible, as the basics are covered. See how you feel and remember, the holidays are about being with the people you love. Isn't true success as simple as sitting down, relaxing and enjoying your guests?

6) Emotional Landmine No. 3: You Let People Get to You
We're are all a little more vulnerable at holiday time. We are susceptible to the relative or friend who, either out of insensitivity or perhaps competitiveness, says something that just gets our goat. The sister who comments on your weight, the mother who picks on your husband to get to you, a mother-in-law who takes note of any dust in your home... When you put old family dynamics into a powder keg, it often blows up.

7) How to Avoid It: Don't Play the Game
Mother-in-laws feel pushed aside, siblings have old rivalries, mothers nitpick -- and old emotional dynamics are not going to change without some intervention on your part. First, take a moment to map out the near-future. Think about the comments you have been hearing for years, and assume something similar will be said again this year. Now rehearse several lines of response that will mark your territory without raising hostility. For example, if your sister takes note that you have gained some weight, you might respond, "This doesn't seem like a good time to discuss my weight. How about we set the table?" By not backing down, you will feel empowered; by not striking back, you will avoid starting a war.

8) Emotional Landmine No. 4: You Put Yourself Last
"I will catch up on my sleep and eat right after the holidays." Sound familiar? The way you take care of yourself has a huge impact on how you fare emotionally. Sleep deprivation can lead to a depressed mood, irritability, decreased concentration and frustration. It will make it difficult to get done what you need to, and it will make you short tempered with the very people you wanted to spend the holiday with.

9) How to Avoid It: Take Care!
The point is not to deviate substantially from your normal routine just because it's the holiday season. Eating sensibly will not only make you feel better now, it will also deliver you from the misery of having to lose weight after the holiday. Sure, you can indulge in some treats -- in moderation. Decide before you go to a party what you feel is acceptable to eat from a nutritional point of view, and then stick with it. Don't have more than two drinks since alcohol is high in calories and can derail your intentions to make healthy food choices. It can also disrupt your sleep, and speaking of sleep, avoid naps since they make it harder to get a good rest at night.

10) Emotional Landmine No. 5: Houseguests
Family should stay together, right? Not necessarily. Here I think you have to know yourself and your guests. You have to be honest. If either you or your guests are not particularly flexible and really like things to be done a certain way, then a hotel may be a better option. Having people, even one whom you love, under your roof 24/7 is exhausting, stressful for both you and them. Everyone feels they have to be "on" all the time, leaving little room for relaxation.

11) How to Avoid It: Book a Hotel
Reserving quality time to be with your guests matters more than spending the night under the same roof. Do some research and find a couple of nice, well-priced accommodations near your house. Provide your guests with information on a few hotels, and let them decide for themselves. If you do have guests staying with you, make sure you have some down time each day when you can relax while they entertain themselves. Everyone likes a little breathing room; it will decrease the stress level on both sides.

12) Emotional Landmine No. 6: You're in Fantasy Land
Whether you are trying to recreate a favorite childhood memory or to bring a new holiday fantasy to life, you may be setting yourself up for deep disappointment. Society reinforces the idea that holidays should be a wonderful with TV shows, cards, commercials and store displays selling larger-than-life sentiments and the notion that perfection is possible. Of course, that's not always the case. If there is friction between family members, no amount of decoration or holiday delicacies will ease the tension.

13) How to Avoid It: Get Real
Give yourself a break! It would great if everyone could put aside their differences for one season of the year, but don't expect it. Instead, you can decrease the tension by thinking strategically. Consider who is staying with you and whether that mix is problematic. Would it make sense for certain family members to stay with another relative who lives close by? Similarly, think about your seating plan, and avoid putting people together don't get along. Try to enjoy the spirit of the holiday -- and appreciate the good relationships.

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