A Peace-Filled Season

If you dread the December rush of parties and activities, plan ahead. Our tips will help you reduce stress and anxiety.

What are your plans for the upcoming season, and how will you enter the New Year? Whether you’ll be home for the holidays or in a whole different world, the following tips will help reduce your stress and anxiety level. The pre-holiday season is the perfect time to start infusing extra portions of peace, freedom, and joy into your life.

Be aware of what—or who—fills you with anxiety

Some of us dread the December rush of parties and activities, while others joyfully sprint from one event to another. Some of us feel our blood pressure rise at the thought of gift shopping in stores, while others happily wander through the malls every chance they get.

The first step to reducing stress is to be thoughtful and deliberate about how you choose to spend your time. Prioritize the meaningful; avoid the irrelevant.

Embrace your family’s faults and foibles

For most of us, ironically, the biggest source of anxiety is often our own family. “For many people, the most stressful holiday experience is the large family dinner or get-together,” says Adi Jaffe, PhD, an expert in addiction treatment and behavioural neuroscience. “In most families, these events are full of unresolved conflict, unmet expectations, and anxiety.”

Simply being aware that families are messy and complicated can help you stay serene during the holidays. Love your family members for who they are, not who you think they should be.

Take time to pamper yourself

How do you deal with anxiety and stress? Whatever your “self-care tools” are, make sure your toolbox is stocked for the season.

Jaffe recommends planning how you’ll take care of yourself during the holidays, before the madness begins. He also encourages us to schedule activities that we’ll actually enjoy, as opposed to ones that seem impressive or meet the expectations of others.

Flow in and out of obligations

Jaffe recalls his most stressful holiday memory, “Most of my holidays over the last decade have been immensely enjoyable—except for New Year’s Eve celebrations, which always seem to fall short.” Why have his holidays been happier overall for the last 10 years? Because, he says, he stopped placing unrealistic expectations on get-togethers with family members.

Instead, he views family events as wonderful opportunities to spend time with his loved ones. He and his wife Sophie enter events and dinners with a certain freedom of expression rather than the weighty burden of “here we go again.”

Risk something new

Personal coach Sharon Freedman describes her most enjoyable holiday experience. “One year, I hosted a Passover Seder,” she said. “I invited about 10 guests of many different faiths. I assigned everyone a food dish to bring and made my own Haggadah (a Jewish book that sets the order of the Seder).”

Freedman’s unique Haggadah contained both traditional passages and her own specially created new traditions. During the meal, her guests each talked about what they were releasing from the past 12 months and shared what they wanted to bring more of into their lives.

Delegate responsibilities

If you’re hosting a holiday event, ask your guests to contribute something. People like to feel needed and want to offer a contribution—even when they’re guests in someone else’s home. This will take the pressure off you, especially if you free yourself from the burden of having things done exactly your way.

Tap into the essence of the season

Debbie Anderson, originally from Britain, is a natural healer whose first Christmas in Ontario was full of gratitude for her new Canadian home. “I had an epiphany that season,” she said, “when I read an article about a local organization that needed volunteers to help prepare and serve dinner to homeless people on Christmas Day. It was a moment of true realization that I could do something for someone else to make their holiday a little easier.”

Anderson adds that something about giving—rather than receiving—expands our awareness of gratitude. Possessions eventually get broken or given away, but the memories of time spent connecting and sharing are forever.

If you want to find the true meaning of the season you don’t necessarily have to volunteer at a homeless shelter in Toronto or spend four days at a camp for adults with disabilities in Alberta. But you can take time to connect with your authentic self and think about what makes the season truly meaningful for you. a

Quick tips for reducing holiday stress

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Savour small portions of decadent foods.
  • Start planning early.
  • Keep celebrations simple.
  • Stick to your budget.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself—and others.
  • Carve out time for yourself.
  • Learn how to say no—and let go of guilt.
  • Spend time with friends and family who mean the most to you.
  • Savour the little moments of connection that make the holidays special.


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