With Thanksgiving just a few days away, we are truly at the start of the holiday marathon. We all know this is supposed to be a time of gratitude and happiness. Spending time with family and friends, counting blessings and creating memories that would make even Norman Rockwell proud.
The only problem is that most of us already have a busy life and a full schedule. Throw hosting a dinner party for twelve or fifteen of our closest friends into the mix and we can easily cross into overload. There is too much to do in a normal week–it just never all gets done. Adding the stress of holiday expectations and responsibilities to the list can push us over the edge. The time that we are supposed to enjoy can become a chore that we are just trying to get through.
So what can you do to make sure you enjoy the holidays instead of stressing out? The key lies in learning to change your perspective and expectations.
We all have a daily to-do list. Some of us write it down and some of us keeping a running tally in our heads. Regardless of how you keep track of what needs to get done, all these lists always have one thing in common. They are too long. There is no way one person can achieve everything they set out to do in a twenty-four hour period. Oftentimes the size of the list relates to our sense of self-worth. The more items that are on the list, the better we feel about ourselves. At least, in theory anyway.
The problem comes in when we look at the list at the end of the day and see everything that didn’t get accomplished, plus the new items that made their way onto the list. It can be frustrating and overwhelming, leaving us exhausted and empty by the end of the day. When the holiday must-do’s are added to the daily must-do’s, it quickly becomes apparent there is no way all of this is going to get done. We essentially set ourselves up for failure before we even begin the holiday.
Here is a coaching exercise to help reduce stress at any time of year, but is especially helpful during the holiday season.
Step One: Get real. We all like to believe we can accomplish everything. However, chances are unless you have a full-time staff or even virtual assistant, it just isn’t going to happen. And that’s okay. Instead of trying to hit every item, choose three to five of the most important tasks, and focus on them. You have to be real about priorities. What has to be done? What is absolutely critical? What can wait for a few days or a week? What would be nice, but doesn’t have to happen? Again, be real–there should be no more than five items that need immediate attention in any one day. More than that and you are deluding yourself into thinking you have superhuman powers.
Step Two: Don’t judge yourself on what you did not do. Humans are genetically programmed to focus on the negative. That may be a way to keep the species safe, but it isn’t going to make us satisfied with life. There will always be a list of things that still need attention, but focusing on the length of that list can often overwhelm and paralyze us. When there is so much to do, it can seem pointless to even start. It is too easy to look at everything untouched or unfinished and feel that we aren’t trying hard enough or working smart enough. It’s a great way to keep the negative voices in our heads strong and thriving.
Step Three: Give yourself credit for what you achieve. This is the part of the to-do list that so many of us take for granted. After you accomplish the top items on your list, don’t just cross them off. Doing so gives your actions very little power. Instead, transfer them to a new list where you keep a running total of everything you achieved during the week. The list will grow as the week goes on and you will be begin to see a pattern of what items you found to be important, and how much you actually got done. It’s a great way to see if your actions match your priorities and reinforce your capabilities.
Step Four: Reward yourself each week. Once you change your perspective from beating yourself up about everything that didn’t get done to celebrating everything you actually accomplished, do something nice just for you. Just making time for reading a book, or a bath, or going to a movie will reinforce your shift in perspective as a positive behavior.
Following these four steps is a great way to lower stress during the holidays. Will everything get done? No, it won’t. Will that be okay? That depends on your perspective. Focusing on the positive accomplishments helps to keep us grounded and real about what is possible and what is important. Once we understand that, the amount of stress we allow in our lives becomes a personal choice for each of us to make.