Stress and the Holidays: Tips and Tricks for Survival
In the midst of the holiday season, it is easy to let stress overwhelm you. In-laws, children, out-of-town friends, office parties, decorating, meal planning, travel, guest rooms, terminal illnesses, wrapping presents, shopping, shopping, shopping, debt, expectations, and, lest they be forgotten, in-laws... For many of us, time off of work for the season means lower paychecks at a time of heightened expenses. For those of us who cannot work and rely on a fixed income, it is a time of stretched budgets. For those of us in treatment, it means balancing our own well-being with the needs of others and trying to find ways to remain in the "spirit of the season" while coping with often difficult side-effects. And for far too many of us, it means facing the holidays under a specter of finality.
Your Holiday Survival Guide
We can choose to make the most of our holidays, but often stress overshadows the joy. Here are some ideas to help the stress subside so that we can all focus on what matters most.
Set the Bar Low
I don't mean that you should intend to underwhelm your guests or that you should plan on boring yourself throughout the holidays, but by expecting very little and letting others know that this year you may not quite rise to previous heights, you give yourself some breathing room. And, as a bonus, anything you happen to do, whether it is contributing to a meal or hanging a special ornament or getting over to your sister's house for the first time in years, will seem like a lot.
Appreciate the Freedom of Limits
Start with your finances. Then add in your time. When you budget these two things conservatively, and make the commitment to adhere to the limits you set, you will likely find that you have both time and money to spare. Build cushions into your initial plans, of course; by budgeting your time sparingly, you reserve more for yourself to just relax or to play or otherwise do what makes you happy. And when you keep a lid on your expenditures, openly letting people know that this year is going to be frugal, it makes it a lot easier to deal with those eventual surprises that seem to crop up as well as allowing for the impulsive splurge after all else has settled.
Make Time to Get Out
When you are creating your daily calendars, remember to set aside time for exercise and fresh air, a change of scenery whenever possible. Self-care is at the core of stress management and exercise, even if only moderate, is at the core of self-care. Our bodies require movement to operate at their peak, and our outlook is always enhanced by shifting our view beyond the usual four walls. A short stroll around the block can do wonders when weather and personal mobility allow. If it doesn't, then five gentle minutes on a trampoline near a sunny window can have a similarly uplifting effect. Modify to your physical abilities and geographic location, and give yourself the best you can offer.
Pay Attention to Your "Self"
Be in the moment and notice not only what you are doing, but how you are feeling. Write it down or just sit in it for a while, but be attentive to your own actions and what they mean -- and how your body is responding. Self-awareness is very useful for both stress avoidance and stress management. Whether you practice mindfulness through meditation or you simply try to notice your situation, remember that this is about more than stopping to take a breath. But do that, too; pause, breathe, be present, find a moment of gratitude.
Sometimes it isn't enough just to write down a schedule or figure out the finances. We all have different means and it is important not to extend ourselves beyond them. Whether that translates to cutting back on purchases or choosing which parties we really want to attend and sending our regrets for the others, it is essential to recognize just how far it is reasonable to stretch. More aptly, recognize expectations that are unreasonable and say no.
By following these suggestions, your anxiety levels, whether as a patient or caregiver, will be eased. And, appropriately applied, you will hopefully be able to focus your energies where they should be for the holidays: joyful time with those you love.
Editor's Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on October 21, 2018, Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away. Jeffrey’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. He will be deeply missed.
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