Special Report!


Holiday Survival Guide: Five Stress Busters to Save Your Sanity
  by Dr. Eric Stephan


It’s Silent Night and Happy New Year time again. But for millions of American’s all is not proceeding so calm and joyously. You start out envisioning the holidays as a wonderful opportunity to bring your family together, shower each other with gifts, relax, watch a movie, enjoy good food, and disconnect from the barrage of news about terrorism, crime, and the uncertain economy.

Soon, however, reality sets in and you find yourself frantically running around trying to buy just the right presents for everyone, avoid overspending, prepare a variety of delicious holiday foods, plan holiday get-togethers with relatives, friends at work and neighbors, do something charitable for someone to really catch the holiday spirit, and rushing to finish up final projects at the office. What sometimes happens is that you leave regular day light saving time and switch over to a lurking nightmare called Holiday time. That means you work longer hours trying to meet end of the year deadlines, stay up later to get holiday preparations accomplished, and wake up earlier trying to get a head start on the day.

To make matters worse, your kids may be riding a wave of sugar induced hyper-active euphoria, bed time schedules fluctuate all over the place, people come to visit, and your normal schedule of regular daily activities goes out the window. Soon each day becomes an overloaded blur of worrying about this and that, running here and there, and trying to sort out what to do first, second, and third.

Holiday blues are common and some level of holiday stress is normal, so most of us adapt to it. But higher levels of stress and anxiety or poor personal strategies for adjusting to holiday stress and anxiety may bring out the worst in you. Too much stress can affect your physical and emotional well-being, and ruin the whole holiday season for yourself and everyone else. The following questions can help you decide whether you are handling holiday stress in a robust and healthy way.

Do you:

  • Wake up feeling a little overwhelmed and discouraged?
  • Worry about how you are going to spend your day?
  • Experience regular sleep problems, fatigue, headaches, or digestive difficulties?
  • Fly off the handle or sulk when co-workers and family members don’t do things right?
  • Forget things?
  • Have a hard time focusing on the task at hand?
  • Have difficulty taking lunch and supper breaks and sticking to your regular exercise routine?
  • Find it difficult to tell others that you are stressed out and need help with projects?
  • Depend on increased use of medication or drugs to get through holiday stress?
  • Feel discouraged or run-down at the end of the day?

The more “Yes” answers that you have to these questions, the more likely that you may not be dealing with holiday stress in the most efficient way.

If you are one of millions of people who are feeling distress in your mind or body, there’s good news. You can learn to manage your stress, reduce your anxiety, and regain more holiday peace, joy, and laughter by making some simple changes in your life. Use the following five tips to start the process.


Start and End Each Day in a Positive Way

You should start handling holiday stress first thing in the morning. Before you get out of bed in the morning, think of something that will put a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your heart. Think of your spouse and all the good things that happen because you are together and always willing to help each other make it a good day. Think of how delighted your children were when you gave them each a much wanted Christmas present last year. Warm your heart by taking a moment to count your blessings. And don’t forget to start each morning with a little celebration in your mind because, unlike many other people, you are able to get up, breathe, accomplish work, and find wonderful, new ways to enjoy the day.

When you do get out of bed, instead of first reading the morning newspaper or turning on the TV or some loud music, start your day with a prayer, or read something uplifting or turn on some inspirational music. Take the time to shower and groom yourself properly. Allow enough time to eat breakfast slowly, find out what the family is doing today, and if you have to go to work, leave early enough to drive leisurely to work and enjoy the ride.

Creating an effective morning ritual of activities will put you on the path to a peaceful day. If you start the day right it will be easier for you to stay on course during the day and end the day in a positive way. Before you go to sleep, review all the good things that you have been able to accomplish. Pat yourself on the back. Feel the joy of each successful accomplishment. If problems and concerns begin to crowd into your mind, don’t panic. Think about those concerns for a few minutes. Decide what you might do about them tomorrow. That’s right. Tell yourself that you can’t do much about anything tonight. But you will attend to those nagging little thoughts tomorrow. Then put a smile back on your face and possibly a little song in your heart, relax, and allow yourself to drift off to a peaceful sleep.


Get Real About the Holidays

You will never be able to do all the things that you feel that you should do about celebrating the holidays. You will never be able to give everyone the right gift, invite the right people over to your house, focus totally on the real spirit of Christmas, do many marvelous charitable acts, decorate the house and yard, send Christmas cards to everyone, help your extended family, help your own family, buy the right food for parties and dinners, select the proper activities and entertainment for family members and friends, figure out how best to celebrate the New Year, decide on new year resolutions, and on and on and on.

Don’t feel badly. You are not alone in this “not enough time mess.” No one can do all the things that they would like to for their families, work world friends and neighbors, communities and churches, and for themselves. The reason is that time is finite but the demands that we place on our time is infinite. No one can do everything that they would like to do for everyone, especially during the holidays.

So, get real. Decide early what is important and what is not important. If you have to, create a “don’t do list.” Think about last year’s holiday celebrations and what seemed to work for you and what didn’t. Think of your own immediate family first. Ask yourself, what activities and traditions would be of most value to them? Ask family members how they would like to celebrate the Christmas and New Year holidays. Ask them what they like and what they don’t like. Don’t get caught up in trying to do everything for everybody. You can’t do it. If you try you will end up a classical basket case! Getting real is a tough assignment. But you can do it. Figure out in your mind what matters most during the holidays. Do that and learn to let go of the rest. You will be much happier if you do, and so will everyone around you.


Simplify Your Dreams and Focus Your Efforts

So much about the holidays is special to us because they happen only one time each year. You may want to send personal messages to people instead of simply signing greeting cards. You may have special family foods and get-togethers that have become traditional in your family and help keep your family close and united. These things are not the problem. It’s when you try to have more holiday experiences than you or your family can handle. If you are planning to bake treats for the whole neighborhood, get everyone ready for a concert, drive everyone around to look at the Christmas lights, return home for special desserts and watching a movie, you have just fallen prey to a huge stressor mess-up. Instead of great enjoyment, you will end up at your wits end because the kids have had too much of a good thing, and everyone ends up worn out and dissatisfied.

Think about all the things that you are trying to do. It might be better to pick one or two of them and do them well. Ask yourself, “What would my family really miss if it weren’t part of our holiday celebration?” and then ask yourself “what I could live without?” You may find out that you are creating the over scheduling problem not everyone else. The idea is to scale back a little and simplify your dreams. You might want to forget about giving an office party if you see those people every day at work. Rather than spending your time trying to find the perfect gift for your friends and relatives, you may want to give them some of your jam or jelly. At least they will think of you when they put it on their toast each morning! What we are trying to say is that this is a good time of the year to forget perfect and embrace simple.

The key here is to be more careful about how you use your time so that you can actually do less, accomplish more of the useful things, and have time to take frequent relaxation breaks. You may not have to decorate all the rooms in your house. Possibly you could decorate the one in which you spend the most time and put poinsettias in other rooms. You may be able to reduce the hassle of gift giving by giving certain groups on your list a similar present like throws of different colors and designs, books, gourmet foods, or DVD’s. Gift certificates to a favorite eating place or a night or two in an interesting place to stay make great gifts and require practically no time to purchase.


Delegate, Delegate, Delegate and Delete the Rest

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that delegation has more to do with organizational and leadership effectiveness than it has to do with celebrating the holidays. And you also may be thinking that it is easier to do things yourself rather than trying to get someone else to do something. Well, guess what? You are mostly wrong on both accounts.

For example, most men really don’t know where to begin when it comes to planning happy, stress-free holidays. This is a unique opportunity for a husband to ask his wife what he can do to help her prepare for the forthcoming holiday. This is also a splendid opportunity for the wife to decide with her husband which specific tasks he could do and when they need to be done. When the what to do’s and the when’s to do it have been decided, be sure to report on the completion of each task so both of you know how the holiday preparations are coming. Husbands may be more able to do things like put up the lights, wrap the bigger presents, and pick up much needed items from the store. But they are also quite able to buy gifts for their side of the family as well as help keep the family under control while the wife wrestles with completing other important holiday tasks.

When your children start to get restless because they say that they are getting bored on the holiday break, give them something to do. Polish the silver, vacuum the floor, clean out your draws and closets, watch your little brother for a few minutes while I get dinner ready are good ways to get everyone involved. Better yet is to divide up household chores. Let your children do every possible thing that they can do to keep the house running smoothly. Everyone’s contribution makes them feel needed and teaches family members how to work together. And of course, when others share the workload, there is less pressure on mom and dad to get everything done. Finally, don’t forget to encourage your children to make gifts for family members. A note of thankfulness and a promise to do better makes a splendid gift to moms and dads. A certificate entitling a brother or sister to four hours of help on one of their special projects is a much appreciated gift. A promise to help grandma clean her house, or take her out for shopping is usually more valued than another knickknack. Most children are quite creative and have a pretty good idea about what kind of gift they could make for someone. They just need to be asked to do it.

If a sister in law or a brother in law calls and offers help, take it. Decide on a task that they could accomplish because of what they know, or who they know, or where they work. There is always something that a helpful person can do to take a little of the holiday preparation pressure off your back. And lastly, if you run into a problem figuring how to do something in connection with celebrating a holiday, don’t be afraid to call a friend and ask for their suggestions. Many sympathetic ears are waiting to lighten your load, but they can’t help you until you make your needs known.

Remember, decide what is most important for you and your family during the holiday season, delegate as much as you can, and forget the rest. Keep in mind that no matter how much time and effort you put into holiday planning you can not control the results. Be happy about your best efforts and enjoy the holiday season no matter what form the final results take.


Put Care for Yourself First on Your Holiday List of Things to Do

This fifth tip might sound a little selfish when you first read it. After all, aren’t we suppose to put others needs before our own. The truth of the matter is that if you let yourself become run down, fatigued, stressed out, and overanxious, you will do great harm to yourself and probably won’t be of much use to anyone else. This is the time of the year that you need to be in your best physical and emotional state so as to accomplish much and yet be patient and encouraging with others. This is definitely not the time to get so overly stressed that you find yourself panicked or on the edge of falling apart emotionally.

Here is a short list of the best things that you can do to keep yourself from getting overly nervous and anxious during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

  1. Stay on your daily routine. If you have a time that you exercise, hold on to that time and exercise. Don’t change your regular schedule of eating and resting. If you like to sit down and rest several times a day, be sure to sit down and rest several times a day. If reading before you go to sleep is part of your daily routine, don’t forfeit reading just to do additional holiday preparation work. Our daily routines help to anchor our lives and provide valuable moments of calm and joy.

  2. Schedule many relaxation breaks. These breaks can range from a drive in the mountains to look at the changing winter scene or simply bundling up and walking down the street to see your neighbors Christmas decorations. Even sitting down for a few minutes and rocking away in any chair that rocks can be very soothing. Taking a few a few minutes for yourself won’t solve all your problems and concerns but it gives you a chance to feel calmer and more relaxed. You could have a quick nap, a warm bath, or read a book. Just make sure that during your break you do something that you want to do. When you take a break you can stop worrying about rushing to and fro and can think of how beautiful the holiday season really is.

  3. Say a prayer. Whether you are religious or not, the holiday season is a splendid time for taking stock of your life, looking at the greater world around you, and giving thanks. In fact, prayer is frequently cited in scholarly research as one of the . most powerful antidotes to stress. Trusting in a power greater than you is a way of gaining composure and strength. And when you are really praying, you can’t be thinking about buying presents or completing the next holiday preparation task. Prayer clears your mind which in turn calms your body.

  4. Breathe deeply. When people get anxious they tend to hold their breath, sigh, gasp or sputter. Deep slow breathing is the simplest thing that you can do to relax. You can do it any time and in practically anyplace, even while you are driving down the street. This is all you have to do: Start to breathe like a baby. We call it belly breathing because your stomach goes in and out rather than your shoulders going up and down. Slow your breathing, focus on each breath as it comes in through your nose and out through your mouth. For a minute or two, just focus on inhaling and exhaling, nothing else. When you control your breathing you will soon be able to calm your whole body.

  5. Stop thinking about your anxiousness. If you stop thinking and talking about your stress and anxieties they cease to exist. This teaching comes from the Zen Buddhists and is called, “No-thinking.” You have probably already experienced this way of handling stress but didn’t realize that you were doing it. Stop whatever you are doing, close your eyes; relax by breathing deeply as explained previously, and don’t think about anything. If you can’t stop yourself from thinking then just imagine in your mind the most beautiful relaxing place that you have been. Sometimes you can accelerate the process of not thinking about your stress by pressing the tips of your forefingers against each cheekbone, right below the eyes with enough pressure to feel mild discomfort. Press for 60 seconds then release and relax.

  6. Cut down on caffeine. Trying to get through the day on cola drinks and cups of coffee will raise your blood pressure, increase adrenaline, and may leave you in a state of agitation for hours at a time. Your nervous system, when functioning properly will keep you from overreacting to stress. Caffeine tends to inhibit some of these natural functions and may even increase your stress. Taper off caffeine by drinking a cup of decaf or herbal tea. Chamomile herbal tea can actually help relax you and if you drink it hot at least you won’t be able to gulp it down.

  7. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You are not a saint. You are allowed to run out of patience once in a while. Don’t feel guilty when something doesn’t go as you expected it. If you have to, run down to the zoo and scream at the lizards when things get a little hectic. They will probably understand you’re primal screams and keep right on eating. You can only do your best. You can’t control the way others respond to your efforts. So, forget about it. You will win a few and lose a few, so what? Most of us have unrealistically high expectations of the holidays anyway. To a great extent, we set ourselves up for failure unless we cut back on our holiday dreams and fantasies and focus on that which is most important to us.

During the holiday season more than ever, everyone needs to feel loved and supported. Many people like you put their families first. They feel that everything else can take a second priority while they celebrate a few days with their own families. They focus their time and effort expressing great love and support for each member of the family. This is a reasonable expectation from which you can derive great satisfaction. Keep in mind that the best stress-reduction strategies are the ones that relax your muscles and clear your mind of worry. Your greatest success at enjoying this holiday season more than any other comes when you apply all of the five stress busters that you have just read about.

Ideas in this special report were take from the forthcoming book Overworked and Overwhelmed: How to Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off, and Get Going! This book is endorsed by Mark Victor Hansen and Dr. Stephen R. Covey as containing a simple but powerful ways to respond to the many demands of daily living and still find a way to pursue your own dreams and aspirations.

“If you are among those people who get so tangled up in the demands of daily living that you miss out on the exciting high leverage opportunities that surround you, take a time-out to read this book! Discover how to respond to the many demands of daily living and still find a way to pursue your dreams and aspirations.”

– Mark Victor Hansen
    Cocreator, #1 New York Times best-selling series Chicken Soup for the Soul®
    Coauthor, The One Minute Millionaire

“In the frenetic pinball world of today, Eric and Wayne have shared so much wisdom and enlightenment in such a light and fun way! To relax, to focus, to enjoy is all common sense, but is anything but common practice. In short, this book will help you become the creative force of your own life.”

– Dr. Stephen R. Covey,
    Author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
    Author, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

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