Don’t let stress steal your joy
- Written by Nancy Williams
“‘Tis the season to be jolly.” Well, that’s what a familiar Christmas song declares; and it’s indeed jolly for many people as they prepare for celebrations with family and friends. The music and lights, the gifts, the festive décor and scrumptious food all generate an air of excitement. Yet, for others, it’s a time filled with stress and depression. A season intended for joy and hope may also be a season of frustration and despair. Unrealistic expectations, overspending, overindulging, over-committing. They can lead to anxiety, disappointments and possible depression. Tensions are often heightened during the holidays, resulting in increased relationship conflicts. The strain of shopping, attending social gatherings and preparing holiday meals can cause exhaustion that can increase stress. Exercise, healthy diet and sleep – good antidotes for stress and fatigue – may take a back seat to chores and errands, leaving us more vulnerable for illnesses. If not careful, we get so caught up in making the holiday merry that we don’t experience the true essence of this time of celebration. Now, before you get too discouraged or anxious about the potential concerns I just described, let’s consider some tips to help avoid whatever stress and depression we can and manage what we can’t escape. The first step can be found by considering Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:33 (the Bible). He spoke of God’s desire to take care of our needs, cautioning us not to worry but instead to “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” It’s a matter of aligning our perspectives and priorities with God’s promises and desires for us. If we want to experience the joy, peace and hope this season is built upon, we can begin by drawing close to God and focusing on his amazing gift of love given to us through the birth of his son, Jesus. Once we center our minds and hearts there, we can determine how to celebrate that gift and share it with others. Then we’re ready to make our to-do lists and plan our holiday activities. When we have God as the center of our lives, our joys will be more joyful and our sorrows more bearable, knowing he’s with us in both. As you step into this holiday season, consider these additional tips to help manage any stress or depression that may be lurking about. • Determine your overall goals for the holiday season, and keep them solidly in mind with each choice you make. Then build your plans from that base, honoring values that are important in your life and prioritizing tasks accordingly. • Use a calendar to organize activities and help stay on track. • Recognize that every time you say “yes” to something, you say “no” to something else. Consider the cost before making the commitment of your time, energy and resources. • Develop a budget. Then stick to it. • Be realistic in expectations of yourself and others. • Take care of yourself physically with sufficient rest, healthy eating and exercise. • Be flexible. Hitches are going to happen, even with the most well-thought-out plan. Give yourself a break and don’t stress out. Instead, take a step back and reevaluate, making adjustments as necessary while preserving your overall focus. • Treat yourself with little things that bring joy and meaning to the season. Listen to music. Light candles. Take warm, soothing baths. Read holiday stories. Tickle your sense of humor. Connect with family and friends. Help someone else. Refresh your body and your spirit. • Acknowledge your feelings. If a loved one has recently died or you aren’t near family and close friends, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s okay now and then to take time just to cry or express your feelings in safe ways. • Seek support. If you feel isolated or down, seek out family members and friends, church support or community social services. • Be still and experience God’s presence. Remember the primary focus of this time of celebration. Then choose thoughts and actions that will anchor that purpose in your mind and heart as the season unfolds - a season of joy, of hope, of promise, of peace. Nancy Williams, M.Ed., LPC, is a licensed professional counselor with a counseling, coaching and consulting practice in Kingwood. Send questions or comments to her at www.nancywilliams.net.