It’s a stressful time of year when times are normal – and a second year of a pandemic is anything but normal, especially when combined with inflation, gas prices, food shortages and toys and delays in delivery.
For help with coping, CNN reached out to stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, an editor of the journal Contentment, produced by the American Stress Institute.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
CNN: Why are the holidays so stressful, even in normal times, and what can we do to relieve that pressure?
Dr. Cynthia Ackrill: We have a lot of expectations about what we’re supposed to do or feel, don’t we? We have catalogs that show we need the perfect, well-decorated home for the holidays.
We believe we should have a happy family where everyone gets along. We try to do too much, we spend too much, all with an unrealistic expectation that we can provide everything that brings us joy.
That was a lot of pressure before Covid. It’s even more stressful now. So this is not the time for self-improvement – we’ve been exhausted from processing over the past two years! It’s time to think. It’s time to be more patient, compassionate, and kind. It’s time to get rid of the negative behaviors like overeating, drinking and overspending that can be part of the holiday.
One doesn’t need five Christmas trees to get the meaning of Christmas. Instead, we need to spend personal time enhancing the behaviors we accomplish, adding meaning and making us stronger.
And I think we have a great opportunity this holiday season to focus on what’s really important to us and our families. An opportunity to reduce unrealistic expectations and only do the things that make sense for each of us and bring us joy.
Start with a meeting with your family.
Ask each of them to think back to previous vacations and answer this question: “What activities or choices left you with the most positive or meaningful memories? Things we did? Or what are the unnecessary expectations we have set for you and the rest of us, or do we feel disappointed or frustrated instead?”
Start a proactive conversation with your family.
What’s the win for you – what about you and you for this holiday? What are the things that mean the most to you? What are the activities we did that make you smile just thinking about them?
Now, stir it all together.
Each person in the group may have a different reaction, so then the family can sit down and decide how to weave all those desires together or make compromises.
We don’t want to give up the good parts of the holiday: pausing to think about what’s important, conversations with family members we don’t get to see often, sending people cards or sharing things that matter. memories to let them know we are thinking of them.
But distill the rest into a better reward-to-cost ratio. How can you make the most of this season and maintain or replenish mind, body, and spirit? What can we do to make us all smile and feel fulfilled?
Finally, make a schedule, or at least a plan.
As a family, decide how to fit those wins into the holiday schedule and eliminate – or at least set some boundaries – on anything that just uses us. Of course, there are some draining things that need to happen, so how can we build in more energy during recharge?
It was a teachable moment.
What a great lesson for the kids to watch us do it and be a part of it. What a great lesson to say: “What can we do differently this year? What if giving back to the community would make us more complete than making a traditional list of everything. what we want?”
Making changes may not be as easy as you think. The brain loves routine; The brain loves traditions and rituals. They are paths that, once created, can be made unconsciously. It takes less energy to repeat a behavior you normally do than to create a new one.
That’s why in relationships a lot of arguments really feel like a dance you’ve practiced and know well. You’re not really entering into a fresh point of view every time you argue. To change that dance takes some energy – you need to sit back and reflect and reflect. The reward is well deserved.