Stress Truth #1:
Stress is inevitable; the only way to avoid it is to have no goals and no relationships.
Stress Truth #2:
Stress only harms you if you think it will harm you.
Don’t take my word on Truth #2—take 14 minutes to hear Stanford expert Kelly McGonegal explain “How to Make Stress Your Friend.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to maximize stress over the holidays. I wrote about ensuring you have enough bandwidth to handle stress. Another key factor in growing from stress is how hardy you are. Hardiness is a bit like resilience only more accessible and actionable. Here are the basics of using what we know about hardy people, those who grow from stress, and how to apply it to the holidays.
Hardiness: What it Takes to Grow from Stress
You’ve met them: people who go through illness or grief or incredibly stressful work situations and come out the other side stronger than they were before. Researchers have boiled down the factors that lead to this kind of growth into four steps:
Step 1: Acknowledge that stress is normal.
Remind yourself that feeling stressed truly is an opportunity to grow, not an excuse to catastrophize (again, watch the McGonegal talk if you don’t believe me). As mentioned above, you can only avoid it by avoiding relationships and important goals. Since the holidays usually involve other people, yes there will be stress! As for goals, check this blog for how to set your own priorities for the holidays rather than let others set them for you.
Step 2: Engage with life and others
Rather than isolating yourself, no matter how stressed you are. It may seem as if the holidays force this on you, but understand that isolating yourself would be even worse. A human universal—something hard-wired into our psyches via evolution that exists across cultures—is our need for other people. If family gatherings are stressful, who else might you visit with to ease this stress? Great conversations, even over Zoom, with a friend or a confidante, can help you strategize for staying positive, commiserate that it isn’t just you worried about conversations during gift exchanges, or keeping the peace among siblings.
Note that if you prefer Introversion in terms of your personality type, it’s wise to find some alone tie before a gathering you expect to be stressful. You might take 30 minutes to read an uplifting story, take a brisk walk, or engage in mindfulness (imagine thoughtfully sipping a cup of tea, noting flavor and aroma and feel on the palate, the beauty of a favorite cup…enjoy mindfully!).
Step 3: Make Choices.
No matter the circumstances, you can continue to make choices. The old adage that you can always choose your attitude has some truth in it. Anticipate what might trigger negative feelings or even a negative action on your part—and choose a different attitude and action in advance. Imagine it. Practice it. If you have trouble imagining what might trigger you, might I suggest one of my favorite coaching tools at positiveintelligence.com? Take the Saboteur assessment. You’ll find out which of nine equally nasty defense mechanisms you’ve been employing since childhood. We all have them. Then, look at the common lies, effects on yourself and others, and think of at least one way to avoid falling into these well-worn ruts. Are you a Hyper-Achiever who wants to pull off the perfect holiday? The Victim, sure that bad holidays always happen to you? There are seven more.
Step 4: Take Care of Yourself!!
Caring for yourself—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—is key to growing from stress rather than experiencing its downside.
Yes, choose to get enough sleep. Who isn’t more likely to say something they’ll regret when they’re tired? I use the app Power Nap from Northcube. Place your phone on your body after setting it for a 20-minute power nap or a longer recovery nap if you were up late, and it will awaken you before you sleep too long, avoiding grogginess and ensuring feeling refreshed.
Choose what you eat. Don’t say, “I won’t eat ___.” That just uses up bandwidth since your brain can’t tell the difference between “I won’t” and “I will.” It just keeps thinking of that forbidden treat. Instead commit to things like, “I will eat slowly, taking small bites, and actually enjoy these once-a-year flavors.” Or, “The party is three hours long. I will have one cookie each hour.” See how long you can make a glass of wine last, savoring each sip. You’ll find that food becomes your friend when you’re planful and mindful!
And, yes, choose some physical activity. Take those walks—do it with others so it’s social and a part of your holiday commitments. Do a round of Dance Dance Revolution with your daughter. Find an online yoga class or another workout that you can enjoy. I do the 7-day melt my muffin workout year-round. All of the possibilities are one gift out of the COVID-19 pandemic! If you are one who says “Exercise isn’t for me!” try the survey at my colleague Suzanne Brue’s The 8 Colors of Fitness. She researched what works for every personality type. Yes, there is something for you.
There. Hardiness. Less stress. And more gifts for growth on the other side.
May your days be merrier and brighter as you craft your own path through December!