Chillax! Here, your smart guide to holiday entertaining at home.
When it comes to any stressful times in our lives, it is important to take care of your physical health. Focus on eating right, daily exercise and getting enough sleep,” says Louisa Jewell, author of Wire Your Brain for Confidence: The Science of Conquering Self-Doubt and the founder of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association.
“Many people do not realize the importance of nurturing physical health to stay psychologically happy during stressful times.” Here, her tips for handling holiday stress.
1. Family tension
Navigating family issues at holiday time can be tricky. Often people tell me that family members are the most toxic people in their lives. Recognize that some people will always show up this way in your life and will never change. Rather than get upset about it, just expect it and don’t take it so personally. Find one thing you can appreciate about that person and stay focused on that. While you are not going to resolve ancient issues over turkey, understand that all family conflicts have two sides. While sitting in appreciation for the other person, ask yourself, “What is my part in this conflict?” Can you genuinely stand in the other’s person’s shoes and see it from their perspective? Showing compassion and having forgiveness are two very well-researched ways of boosting happiness and also powerful tools for removing family tension for good.
A big expense at Christmastime is gift-giving, but buying gifts just for the sake of buying something is not meaningful or satisfying. Let me share a great idea that we implemented in our family that had lasting effects for years after one Christmas. Instead of buying gifts for each other, we decided that we would write a letter of gratitude to each person in our family. We simply wrote a paragraph about what we appreciated most about each family member. On Christmas morning instead of opening gifts, we read our letters of gratitude to each other. Not a dry eye in the house! To this day I cannot express to you the impact that one experience had on our family. We cherish those letters and often go back to read them. Studies have shown that investing in experiences rather than things can make us much happier over time, and there is no better experience than group appreciation.
3. Practise gratitude
Studies have shown that practising gratitude can improve sleep, boost well-being and happiness, enhance relationships and reduce depression and anxiety. Some research has also shown positive effects on cardiovascular health. This could be a simple practice of writing down what you are grateful for once a week or writing down three things you are thankful for each day. When we navigate our day with the lens of what we are grateful for rather than what we are missing in our lives, we train our brains to stay focused on the positive aspects of our daily experience.
4. Having to host a huge dinner
Here is where I say, hire it out! I used to slave over cooking a huge dinner but soon found that my local grocery store has an amazing Thanksgiving and Christmas feast that I can order in advance. Another wonderful thing that reduces stress and expense is to have a potluck dinner. That way, everyone is responsible for just one dish, and no one has to stress too much. Because everyone brings their favourite dish, potlucks are usually delicious!
5. Alone for the holidays
People always assume that people just want to be with family during the holidays, but that is rarely the case. Find other friends who are alone for the holidays and decide you will get together and make your own tradition that day. I have a friend who organizes an “orphans’ dinner” for all of her friends who have no family in the city. It is usually the best celebration of the year for me!
6. Pushing through depression
When we are too focused on our own suffering, we can become even more depressed and feel worse about our situation. Studies show that one of the best ways to bring joy into our lives is to show kindness for someone else. Get involved with a charitable organization that is meaningful for you. Do you love to garden? Grow vegetables for inner-city kids. Do you love to knit? Knit booties for mothers and babies in homeless shelters. Getting involved in your community does two things: gets you socializing with others and makes you feel good about giving back to those in need. Every year, I play Mrs. Santa Claus for the Red Door Homeless Shelter Christmas party. It is a wonderful feeling to give back but it also reminds me of how grateful I am for everything I have in my life.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2017 issue with the headline, “6 Stress-Busting Holiday Solutions,” p. 44-46.