Deck the Halls with Expectations! Fa-La-La-La-La Let’s Take a Breath!

Image result for holiday stress funny

It snowed in Charlottesville all day yesterday. When it finally eased off around 10pm, we had close to 8 inches of snow. The white blanket looked festive and sparkling surrounded in the neighborhood Christmas lights. I had been slow to feel much in the holiday spirit this year, but having “real snow” in Virginia before December 25th did the trick. We built a fire and made hot cocoa. This morning I made a big breakfast (on a Monday!!).

Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s and the surrounding festivities tend to put us all in warp speed from one event and obligation to the next. The forced slowing down from a snow-storm was nice for more than just its Thomas Kincade and Norman Rockwell effects. It required me to pause and live in the blizzard-y present. The truth is, this is a stressful season for many of us. There are expectations galore, and expectations are pretty cumbersome packages to lug around. From being the photo-perfect family in the holiday card, to ensuring that everyone feels remembered and cared for during gift-giving time, to watching the final sand slip out of this year’s hour glass and wondering if we’ll meet those goals we so loftily made 11 months ago. Throw in over-eating and maybe one too many candy cane martinis, and we’ve set ourselves up for an emotional slump.

No. I promise. I am NOT the Grinch! I bring tidings of great joy! Or at least some respite for our holiday weariness. Here are tips on cultivating resilience in your personal and professional life during the holidays.

Holiday Resilience Emergency Kit

  1. Put on the breaks. One of the biggest (and most difficult) skills in building resilience is having boundaries. During this season of giving, we often guilt ourselves into giving more than we can afford. Afford not only in money, but afford in time and energy. Put on the breaks and slow down before saying yes or doing more. Say no to that holiday reception that you are dreading. Have a pre-set amount on what you want to spend or the types of gifts you want to give. Determine who you want (or don’t want) to spend time with over the holidays. When you give of yourself, your time, and your treasure within your boundaries, you are able to give with generosity and joy, not resentment or guilt.
  2. Keep your healthy routines. It is tempting to give yourself a “break” from eating healthy or exercising as a gift to yourself over the holidays. You body, however, doesn’t care what date it says on the calendar. Whatever you normally do to stay healthy and manage stress, your body still needs. I know it sounds simplistic, but drink water, eat a salad in between the endless supply of party appetizers, keep taking your dog for a walk after work, don’t skip your meditation or quiet time. When you do overindulge (and we all will, let’s be real), don’t beat yourself up. Make an effort to add something healthy back in and keep moving.
  3. Invite connection in the workplace. I get it. Professional holiday celebrations can be tricky to say the least: from mind-numbingly boring, to awkward, to “Uh-oh…someone’s gotta call HR,” work events aren’t often considered stress relievers. We know, however, that making human connection bring nearly automatic reduction to stress hormones. Instead of chatting with Sarah about a project deadline or gossiping with Tom about the new manager who seems weird, make a point of making real connections. Find out something new about the people you see every day. Ask about their kids or that 10k you heard they ran last week–and mean it. Mean it by listening. Mean it by asking follow-up questions. Mean it by sharing something about yourself. When we are connected to those we work with as people first and titles second, we foster a healthy work environment. That’s a gift that lasts all year long.
  4. Be real. Oftentimes, the biggest expectation that we place on ourselves is the expectation that we believe others have of us. We see family we haven’t seen in a year or longer. We send out cards to friends from the other side of the country. We face a boss who is making end of year bonus decisions. We trick ourselves into thinking that the facade we put on for them is better than what we have to offer. The greatest gift we have to give others and ourselves is our authenticity. The first step to that is being real with ourselves. If you are having a hard time over the holidays, show yourself the same compassion you would toward a friend. The thing harder than the struggle itself is the shame we pile on top of the struggle. Be real with yourself; be gentle with yourself.


Image result for tangled christmas lights
You might feel like a tangled mess, but I bet you still shine. 

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