A Christmas recipe for coping with holiday stress

Searching for tips on how to handle holiday stress led the writer to a surprising conclusion.

Chicago, December 4, 2011 – Holiday stress is rearing its ugly head again. This year, a search for ways to handle it turned up the website of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. Anything called the “Happiness Project” and anyone who could come up with such a concept has got to know more about handling stress than I do.

Or so I thought. Let’s take a look at the site’s 8 Tips to Beat Holiday Stress:

1. Get enough sleep. …Making an effort to get to bed at a decent hour really pays off.
OK, I can do this. I can make an effort to get to bed at a decent hour. As soon as the tree is decorated, the cookies are baked, the presents are wrapped, and the house is clean, I can make an effort to get to bed. My teenagers are always telling me that 2 a.m. is a decent hour.

2. Exercise. Studies show that one of the quickest and surest ways to boost your mood is to exercise.
Exercise is fairly easy. Push the vacuum, pull the vacuum. Bend for the dirty socks on the floor, stretch to reach the fabric softener. Run up the stairs to answer the UPS man’s insistent doorbell ringing, run back down when you realize you remembered the fabric softener but forgot the detergent. Do as many reps of the above as you can between 6:00 a.m. and that 2:00 a.m., decent-hour-for-bedtime.
The exercise suggestion goes astray when it suggests exercising outside because sunlight improves your mood and focus. Ms. Rubin does not live in Chicago. The sun set in Chicago last week and won’t break through the indomitable gray until March. Gray is a wonderful color. It gives the dust on the shelves a nice gray sheen, as it does the dirt on the windows that didn’t get washed before winter set in. But for all its attributes, gray does little to improve your mood. Living in the North, you’re much more likely to improve your mood by closing the curtains and doing the above workout indoors, where the proper lighting adds luster to the dusty gray sheen and the temperature is above 30˚.

3. Stay in control of your eating. …As an abstainer (as opposed to a moderator), I’ve decided that I won’t have even one sweet during December.
Sorry, but this chick just lost all credibility. There is no way anyone can go through the holidays without even one sweet. I would get up and walk away from this nonsense now, but there are three more chocolate-covered peppermints in the tin. Telling people I was reading sounds better than telling them I was sitting on the couch with a tin of chocolate-covered peppermints. And hot cocoa. Much less guilt involved with reading than with chocolate. Justification is a great stress-buster.

4. Take your time; plan ahead. …Try to give yourself plenty of time to do what you need to do.
This would work great with a 25-hour day. Without that extra hour, though, there’s not enough time to plan my time. I can plan what I need to do, or I can do it. I can’t do both. And that’s enough time spent on the subject of time. Time to move on to #5.

Ahhh…Christmas fun

5. Learn from the past. …Think back. Avoid your triggers. Stay out of the kitchen, stay out of the mall…

Reality check. It’s Christmas. There are cookies to make and presents to buy. Granted, cookies can be bought and presents can be made, but either way there’s a trip to a store involved, and malls don’t have a monopoly on crazy. And if I have learned nothing else from the past, I’ve learned that there are no better Christmas cookies than the ones made with the recipe my mom has used for over 50 years. My daughter will allow other cookies at Christmas, but at some point in the near future, she and I will be in the kitchen with the cookie press.

6. Make time for real fun. …include time for things YOU like to do: going to a movie, taking a nap while everyone else goes skating.

 …or “accidentally” knocking them over as they skate by you. Oops! I meant to pack my Halloween “witch” away!

Including things I like to do is easy because I actually like to do all of the holiday stuff: the cookies, the present wrapping, the decorating. It only gets stressful when I trip over the garland and set the wrapping paper on fire as I rush to get the burning cookies out of the oven.

7. Behave yourself! If you sulk, snap, tease, or shirk, you’re not going to feel happy… Look for opportunities to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” or “This is fine,” or “What should I be doing?”

Now I’m really confused. I thought the reason I was overstressed was that I was taking care of things, making everything ok, and doing too much! One thing that makes sense in this section is the suggestion to offer to run to the store. It said nothing about running back again.

8. Fill your heart with love. My Twelfth Personal Commandment is “There is only love.”

That’s just plain wrong. Yes, there is love, and it is strong and powerful and the lifeline that holds us all together. But there is also frustration. And anger…and disappointment…and resentment. It’s wonderful if you can push those aside for the holiday, but they’re all part of the package.

The key is to not forget that there is also love.
So, the Happiness Project wasn’t much help to me. I’m going back to my own tried-and-true holiday stress-buster, a personalized version of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the relatives I cannot change,

The courage to face the stores tomorrow for everything I forgot today,

And the wisdom to remember that this will all be over with soon.

Amen.

To contact Julia Goralka, see above. And be patient if it takes her a while to get back to you; she’s trying to get her tree up before New Year’s.

 

 

 


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Julia Goralka

In addition to her work at The Communities, Julia Goralka is a free-lance novel editor and has served as a volunteer board member or committee member for several local charitable organizations. Prior to writing and editing, Julia was the Division Coordinator for the interest rate derivatives marketing desk at a large financial institution based in Chicago.

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