Holiday Stress Tip: Enjoy the Ride

Advice for managing the stress of holiday busyness has just a few variations. Do any these sound familiar? Only take on what you want to take on. Check expectations at the door. Get a healthy amount of sleep. Plan ahead. Watch what you eat.

Don’t get me wrong, we love this advice at meQuilibrium. But here’s the thing. Once you’ve dialed down your perfectionism or taken quiet time for yourself, what’s next? Simply containing the stress and getting all the tasks done isn’t the point of the holiday season, or any other time of year. What you really want, I’d wager, is to feel good and to be happy, for yourself and the people around you.

Our chief science officer and resilience expert, Andrew Shatte, PhD, speaks often about the need not only to feel less bad, but to open our lives up to feeling good. “Tackling stress, including negative emotions such as fear and anxiety, can, at best, ratchet our lives from the negatives to zero,” explains Shatte.“We need to build the positive—optimism, hope, good emotions, and meaning and purpose—to dial our lives into the positive.”

(Read more about dialing into positive emotions.)

So how do you dial into the positive of the next few days when you’ve still got a house to clean, work to finish, stress to manage?

What I’m about to suggest is downright counterintuitive. Ready? Enjoy the busyness.

Let me clear: I don’t mean enjoy feeling frantic. Instead, I mean that you’re seriously in the homestretch. You’ve worked hard to feel cool, calm, and happy, or as close to that goal as you could be. What if you took this hour, this day, this night to lose yourself in the momentum of the holidays?

Tune your radar to pleasure

One way to do that is to tune your inner radar for the pleasures that are happening around you. For every trying relative, there may be the aunt or cousin who makes you laugh. Church choirs, youth groups, school bands, service organizations are all out there giving a mighty effort to hit the high notes in Silent Night, raise enough money for a field trip, keep the homeless shelter open another year.

For those who live in rural places, holiday lights literally brighten cold dark nights, whether it’s strings of Christmas bulbs or Hanukkah menorahs in front windows. People are buying and making gifts to express their love, to make other people happy, to share joy. (This video of a mom surprising her son with a present may be the ultimate example of gift-giving with love.)

As soon as you can take a minute to yourself, write down five or six holiday moments that are worth every second of stress. What is something in your family or community that happens only because of this busy, nutty time of year? Who’s out there being generous? Where did you spot some beauty? The magic of tuning your inner radar to the gifts of holiday busyness is that the more you seek the good stuff, the more you’ll see.

Let yourself live a little

The next step is to start adding to the pleasures of holiday busyness, too. As you’re going through the day, knocking out one task after another, let yourself stop and make a lovely holiday table setting if you feel like it. Send an email holiday card, or a gift certificate, just because. Sing a carol off-key. Wish a co-worker a happy holiday and offer a genuine compliment, or try the cookies someone brought in to share. What small (or large) gesture is going to open you up to the pleasures of this moment?

Your to-do list might not get smaller. You might not finish everything on it. But the holidays, like your life, are here! Throw yourself into the good things while they last.

Want more advice like this? Read more about how to reduce the negative effects of stress.