It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Well, it’s supposed to be anyway according to all the hoopla. In reality the holidays are stressful. We all feel stressed from time to time and that’s very normal. However; the holidays bring on a whole new set of stressors. There are meals to plan, budgets to keep, decorations to be hung, and we feel like we have to do it all just like we see it on social media.  Perfectly plated and decorated to impress the writers of the latest interior design magazine. It’s tough and exhausting to even think about.

There are many types of stress and all are categorized as either short-term or long-term.  All of which can affect our health both physically and mentally. Some individuals manage stress more effectively and have the ability to recover from stressful situations more quickly than others. When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup.  Fortunately with conscious practice of management techniques and mindfulness we can prevent and/or reduce stress in the first place.

So what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is defined as the quality, state, or practice of awareness.  It is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are both physically and emotionally, and not overly reactive by what’s going on around us.  When we practice mindfulness we are nonjudgmental and we focus our full attention on the exact moment we are in.  Mindfulness is a somewhat newer practice in Western society.  It’s roots are based in Hinduism and Buddhism and moved in popularity to the Western world around the 1970s.  Researched based evidence of mindfulness practice shows positive effects and improvement on well-being, physical and mental health, relationship satisfaction, and helps to reduce stress and associated negative emotions such as anxiety.

The following tips can help you manage the stress of the holidays, or any day for the matter, through mindfulness practices:

Plan Ahead and Organize

  • Develop a time management plan.
  • List your projects, large and small, with no time obligations. Check items off as completed.
  • Add a time sequence to your projects, ranking them by importance.
  • Commit projects to a calendar.
  • Consider what your family really enjoys doing together as you rank the importance of your projects. Find strategies to make time for these activities, which will build memories and family unity.

Be Realistic

Anticipating the “perfect” family holiday can lead to disappointment. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year.  Traditions change and grow over time.

  • Accept people and/or the situation as they are.
  • Recognize that people don’t always get along, travel delays will happen, and the décor or food may not be perfect or to your specifications.
  • Consider asking for adjustments or accommodations to your family’s traditions if something isn’t working.
  • Limit your holiday activities by talking to family members about their most meaningful traditions and prioritizing them.
  • Talk to children about the meaning of gifts in the family and what they can expect, despite what they may hear from friends or see on TV. Shift the focus to giving gifts within the immediate family or to others in need.

Take Care of Yourself

When we feel pressure to get everything done we often overextend and exhaust ourselves.  This then leads to irrational thoughts and susceptible to illness.

  • Setting aside just 15 minutes of alone time, without distractions, can refresh the mind enough to regroup and calm down.
  • Practice meditation.  Find a quiet place and get yourself into a comfortable seated position.  Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.  Allow all outside noise to disappear for a period of time (3-5 minutes) and allow your mind to calm.
  • Find an activity you enjoy and do it. When our minds are concentrating on something fun our bodies tension releases.
  • Don’t abandon healthy habits. Overindulgence often leads to stress and guilt.  Eating healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep, and being physically active are very important at keeping stress in check.

Manage Your Thoughts

You might feel anxious about unhappy memories, conflicts, or the absence of family members. Try taking another perspective by reframing the situation in a more positive way.

  • Acknowledge absent family members by telling stories involving them, or call them so they can be included.
  • When there is conflict, treat the other person with respect, being careful with the way you look at them, the way you use your voice, how you select your words, and your choice of body language. Listen to them until you feel you really understand their point of view and feelings.
  • Be reflective by paraphrasing or repeating word for word to check for meaning. If a problem comes up, define the problem. Sometimes people are arguing about two different issues!
  • Find and try a solution that seems to benefit all.
  • Spend a few minutes each day writing down five things you are thankful for that day.

While this holiday season is likely to look a lot different it can and should be enjoyed. Hopefully, these strategies will help you have a truly joyous holiday season this year.  Be safe and be healthy.

by Melanie Thomas

Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert

Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.

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