Secrets to (stress-free) holiday happiness
By Randy Cale, PH.D
Why do most of us get so stressed out during the holiday season? Okay, some of you might be saying, “Oh, I don’t stress out.”
Well, that’s great, but it’s not the reality for most of us. Our anxiety and stress is, unfortunately, fairly predictable, given the way most of us think about the holidays. Our thinking isn’t “wrong”. It is, however, stress-filled! Here are three secrets that can help you calm that stress!
1. Avoid the thought poison of focusing on events that are out of your control. Instead, focus only on what you can directly change or influence.
One of the secrets to living comfortably is to keep our attention on what we can control, rather than getting caught up in events out of our control. It’s a simple, but remarkably important secret to happiness.
When I focus on what’s in my control, I stay in my “thought business”. When I wander into your thoughts, your behavior, your decisions, your good (or bad) choices I end up in your business.
I could worry about Uncle Joe’s drinking or whether everyone will show up on time for the party or how much snow will fall on Christmas Eve. I can worry about your gifts and whether you will like them. I can worry about your happiness and surrender my happiness in the process. It’s endless and there is no peace to be found there.
If, however, I deliberately put my energy only into the activities and behaviors within my influence, I immediately experience a reduction in anxiety and worry. It also allows me to invest my energy in a life that I can actually control—my own!
2. Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want.
This is also a very simple concept; however, mastering it can bring tremendous stress relief.
We seem to have a built-in tendency to get hooked on our “don’t wants” and spend our fear-based energy generating more and more worry about imagined events we want to avoid. It’s painful and it’s stressful. For example:
• We don’t want to disappoint our children or spouses.
• We don’t want to have a party that flops.
• We don’t want to get behind or get frustrated.
• We don’t want to say the wrong thing.
• We don’t want to buy the wrong gift.
• We don’t even want to get stressed and worry about that!
Here’s a little secret: The more we focus on what we don’t want, the more we surrender our ability to effectively focus on producing what we do want! This also destroys our ability to actively seek what we do want! So what do we do instead?
Focus on what you want to experience this holiday season and consistently take action to bring those “wants” into your home.
Do you want more loving moments? Do you want your family to have more joy? Do you want to be more compassionate? Do you want more laughter in your home? Do you want to experience more gratitude?
If the answer is yes to these questions, then practice focusing your attention first, and then your actions, on the experiences that you want to have. Be persistent! Others may not be ready to join you. And that’s okay. But, it likely will not happen unless you take action to make it happen.
3. Avoid fantasy thinking and seek reality-based expectations!
Another source of stress comes from our tendency to develop unrealistic expectations and ideas about the holidays.
• “I will find the perfect gift so everyone will be thrilled.”
• “My children must have the best Christmas ever.”
• “Everyone will have to enjoy the party and really appreciate my hard work.”
• “My husband/wife/family will finally treat me like they should this Christmas.”
So what do you do about this? The answer: Wake up! Wake up and check reality. You do not have to get the perfect gift. Your children will not be happy all the time. Not everyone will enjoy his or her holiday. Your family will treat you like they have always treated you and your spouse still can’t read your mind.
You might ask, “But what if I want the holidays to be better than it has been in the past?” The answer begins with these three simple secrets:
• First, stay in your business by focusing on your choices and actions.
• Secondly, invest your energy in your deep desires, not in what you don’t want.
• Finally, get real by checking your expectations against reality. Reality will always be your friend this time of year.
Then, just step into every moment and be the loving, caring person you want to be! All the best to you this holiday season!
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.