Let’s face it. We all live pretty stressful lives.
With deadlines to meet; presentations to create; exams to study for; raising kids; caring for aging parents; the leaking roof or broken dishwasher that need to be repaired; the mortgage or rent that is due next week; and then there’s the technology that keeps changing faster than the speed of learning, providing us with the opportunity to constantly be on call, many of us are at the point where all it takes is one more stressor for us to collapse into a ball of emotion, or worse.
I have had the great good fortune to work with first and second year University and College students for the past twenty years and this time of the year is always the worst for stress levels for both students and faculty. Even friends and family who do not work around students are beginning to show classic symptoms of stress as the holiday’s approach – moodiness, anxiety, worry, feeling overwhelmed, fatigue, eating too much or losing their appetite. The scary thing is that the person under stress often does not even realize they are experiencing these symptoms or the extent to which they are being affected by stress.
So, before preparations for the holidays begins in earnest and stress levels begin to creep ever upward, here are 5 tips that I would like to share that can help you lower your stress levels and increase your ability to enjoy the holiday season:
1) Practice mindfulness: we often move through our days performing tasks and activities while being distracted by other things. We drive while reliving conversations or planning some future event; we have conversations with coworkers while trying to think through a solution to a work-related problem; we listen to our children tell us about their day while we are mentally going over our to-do list.
Mindfulness is the act of being present, in the moment. Of focusing on what you are currently doing without being distracted by other thoughts. For someone under stress, mindfulness involves being aware of not only the situation you are in, but of how you are reacting to that situation. Are you experiencing stress reactions of fight, flight or freeze? If yes, then how bad are these reactions? By noticing your reactions as they are happening, you can consciously choose to alleviate the stress that you are beginning to feel so the stress doesn’t continue to build.
2) Self Care: anyone who has traveled on an airplane has heard the steward’s speech about applying the oxygen mask to yourself first and then to your children – basically you are being instructed to take care of yourself first before you take care of others. The same instruction holds true in real life. If you do not have the energy to take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of anything or anyone else.
Self care is more than treating yourself to an occasional mani-peni or trip to the local spa. Self Care involves eating right, getting a bit of exercise every day, spending time on activities or hobbies that bring you joy.
Practicing Self Care can involve setting a weekly date with yourself to spend an hour a week doing exactly what you want to do – learn to swim, learn to paint, wander through nature, photograph beautiful local architecture, read, listen to music… the choice is yours as long as the activity excites you and is something you look forward to doing every week. Practice mindfulness during this hour, focus on what you are doing and how you are feeling while you are doing it – and on nothing else.
3) Identify how you want to feel and find ways to accomplish this: Identify your core desired feelings, tap into these core desired feelings and find ways and activities that honour them. Our core desired feelings are keys to understanding our true self. When we deny our core desired feelings, we are acting at odds with our true self and this can leave us feeling disconnected, frustrated, restless, stressed.
Identify how you like to feel – do you like to feel adventurous, creative, inspired, challenged, needed, etc – and then identify activities you can bring into your life right now to help you feel this way. Honouring your core desired feelings is a fun, effective way to begin to de-stress.
4) Delegate: A fourth way to begin to de-stress is to drop the need for everything to be done by you and only you. And while you are at it, you can also drop the need for everything to be perfect. If you are a solo-preneur, there are some magnificent virtual assistants who can provide you will all the support you need, without costing a small fortune. Eliminate the unnecessary, focus on what’s important, and delegate the rest.
5) Relax and have fun: Above all else, relax, have fun and be happy!! Take time to breathe, relax, and play. For most adults, play is something we stopped doing as part of the process of growing up. But play and fun can be awesome de-stressors. What did you enjoy doing for play when you were young – arts & crafts; riding a bicycle; video games; swimming; skating; reading; writing; drawing – whatever it was try it again. Or find a new activity that is playful and fun – kick through a pile of leaves, build a snowman, dance like no-one is looking, start that hobby you have always wanted to do. Tie play and fun to your core desired feelings and double the impact these activities can have on bringing joy to your life.
How do you relax and de-stress for the holidays, or anytime through the year?