It’s in the air. The sound of Jingle Bells, the smell of cookies baking, the crinkling of paper as presents are wrapped.
Yes that most wonderful time of the year is upon us again.
It’s starting to feel a lot like Stressmas…. oops I mean Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong I love the holiday season. Especially now I am a mom. There is nothing better than the joy and wonder of a young child to bring the magic back.
My spirits start to lift as I see the decorations go up and hear the holiday music begin to play.
Then I start to think about the details. Buying gifts, making food, decorating the house, deciding who to visit.
I feel my stress-o-meter start to rise. As the stress rises my joy goes down. As my joy goes down the holidays start to feel like one big chore and I just want it to be over.
The truth is that I get no greater joy sharing and giving gifts to other people. I love that I get to spend time with the people I love most.
So if I love it so much why does it seem so stressful. It doesn’t make logical sense.
Here are some examples of what we might attribute to our rising stress.
- It adds so much more to an already busy schedule.
- The added financial pressure of the holiday season.
- The “interesting” dynamics of our families as we all gather together at this time of the year.
So what do we do when we start to feel like this?
We pull out the stress management books and take their advice.
We try to find the time to meditate, do yoga, go for a run, take a walk.
Sometimes we follow our own advice.
We have a glass of wine…. or two in the evenings to help us relax. We watch television or a movie to try to switch our minds off. We eat chocolate or whatever our favorite comfort food is.
The question is does this really work?
Yes, maybe for a while.
We may feel great at the time we are at the gym, or enjoying a glass of wine, or meditating. That feeling may even last a few days. Until the stress comes bouncing back and we have to go into the stress management cycle all over again.
Stress. Manage. Repeat.
So how can we break this cycle?
We need to get to the heart of what is creating our stress. To go beyond what we see as the obvious cause. The demands of too much to do, our falling bank account or dealing with our difficult relatives.
First and foremost we have to realize and accept that these external situations might be the triggers of a stress reaction but they are not the cause.
So then what is the cause?
Well quite simply it is us. How we react to these situations is the cause of our own stress.
What I have come to realize is that it is not that I have too much to do during the holiday season that causes my stress. It’s the thoughts underlying this situation that are.
For example when I start writing my gift list of who to give to and it starts to get long I notice my stress-o-meter beginning to rise. My first thought is wow how am I going to get all this done. How am I going to work out what to buy everyone? Or if I’m feeling the financial pinch how am I going to afford it?
Soon the joy of giving is gone.
The good news is that I have finally learnt the secret to getting my joy of giving back in these moments.
It is learning to listen to myself. To take the time to hear what I am really saying.
This is what I discovered when I listen. “They won’t like the gifts I get them.” “I’m not very good at choosing gifts for people.” “The gifts aren’t good enough.” “They will think I am not very generous because the gift is so small.”
For others it might be “Aunt Mary is going to point out again how I’m putting my family at risk by starting my own business.” “I’m no good at managing my finances.”
It is these thoughts that create the feeling that leads to our actions.
For example the thought “they won’t like the gifts I get them” leads to the feeling of “stress” which leads to the action of using a stress management technique to temporarily relieve the stress.
It does not fix the underlying cause. The thought is still there.
So we reenter the cycle.
Stress. Manage. Repeat.
The secret to breaking the cycle is to change the thoughts that are causing our stress.
Sounds simple right?
These thoughts are often deeply ingrained in us. We may have been operating with them for many many years.
So how can we shift them?
Here are 3 steps to get started so you can enjoy the holiday season again with less of the stress.
1. Stop. Breath. Ask.
The first step is to identify the thoughts that underlie the stress you are feeling. When you find your stress meter rising stop and ask yourself “what is really going on for me right now?”
For example, you might find yourself hurrying madly through the mall getting annoyed at all the people slowing you down.
Stop. Breath. Ask.
Why am I feeling stressed? You might answer because all these people are in my way.
Dig deeper. Ask: Why are people getting in my way stressful? Answer: I won’t have time to get the gifts I need.
Go even deeper.
Ask :Why is not getting all the gifts I need stressful? Answer: Because if I don’t find that fire truck little Max really wants for Christmas I will be such a bad mom.
Once you get to the heart of what is causing the stress you now have the power to change it rather than merely manage your stress.
2. Find out the Truth.
Once you are clear on your thoughts the next step is to determine their truth.
For example, ask yourself is it really true that I am a bad mom if I don’t get Max the fire truck he really wants for Christmas?
The answer is no.
There are many reasons you might not have the fire truck for Max yet.
You have been so busy taking Max to his school play rehearsal or baking the cookies he loves with him. Maybe you had to put in some extra hours at work so you could save the money to buy Max the fire truck. You will most likely find it is because you have been so busy being a good mom that Max hasn’t got his fire truck.
3. Replace the Thought
The final step is to replace the old negative thought underlying the stress with a new thought. So for “I’m such a bad mom if I don’t get the fire truck for Max” you can replace it with “I am a great mom to Max as I make sure I find the time to do activities with him that he loves.”
That way as you continue through the mall on the search for the fire truck you will be driven by the feeling of what a great mom you are rather than the voice telling you what a bad mom you will be if you don’t get the fire truck.
I guarantee you it will be a much more fun and stress free experience. You might even find yourself smiling at the other stressed shoppers rushing by making their days a little brighter!
Happy Thanksgiving and here’s to the beginning of a more joyful and less stressful holiday season.
Karen Steele is Founder of The Entrepreneurial Working Mom at www.TheEWorkingMom.com where she teaches overwhelmed working moms the confidence, courage and skills to ditch the 9-5 and leap into their own thriving business so they can create the life they want for their family. Karen is a Certified Professional Life Coach, mom and entrepreneur. Download her FREE 5-part audio series “Top 5 Mindset Secrets of Savvy & Successful Entrepreneurial Working Moms: So You Can Ditch the 9-5 and Create the Life You Want for Your Family.” Follow The Entrepreneurial Working Mom on FACEBOOK